While the people I help in mediation often find it hard to agree on anything, the one thing they do tend to see eye to eye on is that they both want their children to be happy. In this article, I explain the ways in which mediation can help ensure the future happiness of not only the parents but the children involved, too.

Can children be involved in the mediation process?

Mediation can help parents to make arrangements for their children following separation or divorce. Parents are the best people to make these decisions because they know their children best. However when parents are disagreeing, the views of the children are often not heard very clearly. Here are a few quotes from children that took part in some research recorded by Professor Smart of Manchester University:

“If I asked my Mum and Dad to change the arrangements, they’d probably go mental about the amount of time I was spending at each house. I’d just feel under pressure not to say anything. They’d fight over it every day. They argue over whoever had had one long day. It’s relentless. I just wish they would stop it.” 14 year old boy

“I wanted to keep my Mum happy and I wanted to keep my Dad happy so I thought a week with each. But my Mum didn’t want that. It didn’t work. It was dreadful but I couldn’t change it because I felt responsible for it.” 17 year old girl

 “If I had a wish for me and my family, it would be that there were two of me. Then I could be with my Mum and I could be with my Dad at the same time and I could see my friends.” 12 year old girl.

Including children in the mediation process allows children to voice any worries or thoughts that they have about the proposals being discussed. And don’t worry, because the children will not be asked to actually make decisions; it is up to you as the parents to do that.

How does it work?

If you want your children to be involved, raise this with your mediator who can talk to you about it further.

A mediator will only meet with the child or children with the permission of both parents and in circumstances that the mediator feels are appropriate. If a child does not wish to see the mediator, they won’t be forced to.

First step is the mediator will meet with the child or children without the parents present, although we would ask a parent to bring the children to the meeting and to remain in the building. Siblings may be seen together and separately.

The meeting with the child is confidential and, at the end of the meeting the child and the mediator will agree what can be relayed to the parents.

Why is it important?

Almost all parents coming into mediation say that they want the best for their children and for their children to be happy. Many parents will also say that they feel their children are coping well and getting on with life.

But we are all human and we all experience high emotions surrounding separation and divorce, especially when there are children involved. Even though we try our best, the best interests of our children can get confused with what we want and need. And children are much wiser and aware than they are often given credit for. They may seem to be coping well and getting on with life, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have views on the situation and how we as parents are dealing with it. Sometimes their views may be difficult for us to hear – but their views are important.

The Family Justice Young People’s Board is a group of children and young people with experience of their parents separating and of family law proceedings. They have devised some top tips for parents to help them think about matters from their child’s perspective (click here for the full list). They include:

  • “Remember I have the right to see both of my parents so long as it is safe for me.”
  • “Don’t say bad things about my other parent, especially if I can hear. Remember I can often overhear your conversations or see your social media posts.”
  • “Remember it is OK for me to love and have relationship with my other parent.”
  • “Don’t make me feel guilty about spending time with my other parent.”

Is involving children in the mediation process always appropriate?

No. In order for it to be appropriate for the children to be involved in mediation, the mediator will want to feel confident that the parents will be willing to hear the feedback from the child and to take it into account in their decisions. It will not be appropriate if the mediator feels that one or both parents will try to influence what the child says or ‘grill’ them afterwards about what they have said. It may also not be appropriate if there are other professionals already working with the child e.g. a school counsellor or Cafcass officer. It will clearly not be appropriate if there are any child protection issues or if the child does not wish to meet the mediator.

Click here to read about when mediation is not appropriate.

How do I involve our children in mediation?

Talk to us confidentially via polly@abingdonfamilymediation.co.uk or 07706 513496.