Why is mediation best for your children? Encouraging divorce that is low in conflict has been an important issue in Australian Family Law for a long time. The Family Law Act 1975 established the principle of no-fault divorce in Australian law. This means that a court does not consider which partner was at fault in the marriage breakdown. The only ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship, demonstrated by 12 months of separation.

This is a system that does not encourage mud-slinging or calls parties to play ‘the blame game’.  Litigation is not a requirement to settle property matters and child custody arrangements.  Unlike many other countries, in Australia, mediation is encouraged from the outset for divorcing couples to negotiate their property settlements and to decide between themselves what parenting arrangements will be best for their children.  It is only when the separating couple cannot agree that they need to seek orders from the court.

Choose Mediation over Litigation

When there are children in the family, it is much better for them if divorce is mediated rather than becoming a battle through the courts. Children often become victims and pawns when parents who are separating can’t agree on who ‘gets’ what, including the children. In fact, it is sometimes so bad that the manipulation of a child against a parent has a name – parental alienation.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), warned against the danger of “parental alienation”. He said the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other has become so common in family breakdowns that it should be dealt with like any other form of neglect or child abuse. According to CAFCASS, parental alienation is responsible for around 80 per cent of the most difficult cases that come before the family courts. I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking.

These are strong words with a clear message.  Children are vulnerable and need adults to be responsible during and after a divorce; not just with their actions but in the way they speak about one another as well.

Carl Pickhardt​, a psychologist in Austin, Texas, who has written extensively on parenting – including advice for divorced parents – breaks down the impact of that change in a child’s life into what he describes as mediation, separation, divorce, parenting arrangements, property settlementfour, normal mental health challenges: “Obviously kids have a certain amount of despondency because of the loss – they’ve lost the intact family,” he says. That’s one. “​There is anxiety, because now the world has changed and all of a sudden the family system is being reorganized and there’s a lot that is unknown.” Add to that: “There’s usually some anger, because there’s been a violation … Kids assumed that their parents would always be together, and the family would always be intact. Now all of a sudden what’s happening is the parents are deciding to separate the family.”

As difficult as it may be, Pickhardt adds that parents need to work to reconcile their emotional differences post-split to create a new foundation for kids. ​That way, ​he says, they can work together to move forward in the newly divided family state. Of course, that can be especially tough for two people who couldn’t come to terms in their relationship, but experts say coming to a working relationship is an important step to providing kids with stability anew, notes Steven Harris,​ a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. The best way to achieve this is through mediation.

Choose Mediation For Your Children

Part of creating that new foundation for children – one that is built with integrity and stability – means parents need to be honest in divorce property negotiations and the settlement of parenting arrangements. This sounds fairly obvious, but the honesty and objective thinking needs to be about not just the faults and flaws you see in a person or their suggestions, but also the good. What are the good ideas or suggestions being presented by the other person?

mediation, separation, divorce, parenting arrangements, property settlementObjective thinking can be hard to do when we are often such emotionally driven people.  Being emotionally driven can be a big help and a massive hindrance, depending on the circumstances.  A ‘blind rage’ (for example) is called that for very good reason. In the middle of that full-blown anger the person experiencing it cannot ‘see’. This is a very unproductive way to function and the anger affects all those within the dispersion area, not just the object of their anger.  Going ‘head to head’ with the other party in court during a divorce takes a lot of energy when it’s fueled by anger and often for not much gain.

On the other hand, when we are motivated by the love we have for our children to seek what is best for them, we are channeling a powerful emotion to be a big help at a time when we’re probably carrying a LOT of very different emotions in the wake of our separation and divorce. Choosing which one to focus on can be the difference in being able to move on and to move on in a positive and productive way which benefits our children.

Research shows that respondents who went through mediated divorces reported less conflict in co-parenting a year after the divorce, whereas parents who had litigated divorces reported an increase in conflict (Sbarra & Emery, 2008). “Mediation is based on a model of co-operative dispute settlement,” explains Nina Mensing, a counsellor and FAMAC accredited mediator who specialises in family matters. “The process aims to prevent the escalation of conflict between the parties, which is so easily fuelled by litigation. . . This is vital when there are children involved. In any divorce involving children, the relationship between the parents has to be maintained at a mature and suitable level so that they are capable of co-parenting effectively,” says Mensing.

At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we encourage mediation where possible.  We believe in putting children at the heart of parenting arrangements and encourage you to do the same. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers. Please contact us today!