Mediation in divorce helps everyone, not just Mum and Dad in family situations. The children are living, breathing partakers in the whole process and the aftermath. Choosing to undertake your separation and divorce in conflict free way without going to court is certainly helpful for all concerned, but even better is when we hear the child’s voice in mediation.
When a couple divorces and are unable to come to agreement about the settlement of property then mediation is suggested as the best means forward. It costs less and is usually a lot less painful then going to court. In Australia, if a couple are unable to agree on child custody arrangements (by formulating a parenting agreement themselves) then before commencing Court Proceedings concerning children the parties are usually required to first attend mediation. This is also referred to as Family Dispute Resolution. Mediation is not compulsory in the case of domestic violence or when the matter is urgent.
Mediation involves you and your former spouse sitting down with an independent third person (a mediator) to attempt to resolve issues in dispute. This usually helpful process does not necessarily require that you and your former spouse face each other in same room. The mediator may move between you in separate rooms.
The aim of family dispute resolution, says QUT family dispute Resolution Practitioner Jennifer Felton, is to minimise the damage caused to children caught between divorcing parents by cutting down on time spent squabbling before a magistrate. She said negotiations before a qualified mediator gave former couples the opportunity to rationally resolve problems arising from their separation, without the added stress of doing it in a courtroom. “Mediation and family dispute resolution is increasingly used in Australia and offers a much more beneficial way of parents making decisions than using the legal system to argue against each other,” she said. “Going through the Family Court process is extremely expensive, not only financially but also emotionally. Court costs can quickly run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Family mediation, on the other hand, can be done in a quick timeframe, at a more affordable cost, and allows people to move on with their lives and give stability to their child.”
Family Works Resolution Service is a New Zealand based mediation service for families. Timothy McMichael, the Family Works Resolution Service Manager, says, “Children come first in our mediation process. When the Family Mediation Service gets involved, outcomes can be very positive for children of marital or relationship breakdown. It is a huge plus for these children to not have to go through the family court system, which can be very traumatic.” After families utilise the Family Works’ mediation service, children often feel more secure knowing that their Mum and Dad are working together with less conflict to make decisions about their future and their wellbeing, said Mr McMichael.
In the Family Mediation meetings at Family Works the needs of the children are firmly placed at the centre. There are negative effects on children when a marriage breaks down, but when they are part of the mediation process their outcomes are often much better. Mr McMichael says, “Children often have more consistent attendance at school, and have improved or resumed engagement at school and with after school activities.”
A UK law firm has recently published a book called Splitting Up – A Child’s Guide To A Grown Up Problem. It highlights the effects of marital breakdown and encourages the voice of the child to be heard at a time when they are often not engaged by parents in the divorce process. Dame Benita Refson, President of Place2Be (a children’s mental health charity in the UK), said:
“This book has been created to give children’s voices a platform. We believe they are not heard soon enough. The children who contributed represent the views and experiences of other children in our society who find themselves caught between parental conflict and separation. We want to encourage adults to engage with their children to really understand how their actions affect them, both in the short and long term. Here, we are offering a necessary insight into what children of separated parents are going through, advice on how to help them and an opportunity for parents to start a dialogue with their children. Without an outlet for their pain, young people will continue to suffer, and often this suffering will be in silence.”
It’s not just the parents’ stories that exist but the children’s when it comes to an account of a failed marriage. But often the children’s voices are lost. While adults often find someone else willing to hear their story, children are often too frightened, unable to express their emotions with the right words or are too embarrassed to talk to friends and are left in their silence. What often happens is the outward show of their inner turmoil through things such as bad behaviour, withdrawal or overly wanting to please.
Learning to Listen
Dr Jennifer McIntosh, a family therapist specialist, says, “A child’s truth is a great leveller.” Richard and Glenda Taylor found this out when they became part of a mediation process that offered a child therapy specialist for one or two private sessions. The therapist then reports back to the parents about how the child is going and how they’re feeling. “It’s astonishing that otherwise lovely, sane parents who have divorced and are in conflict have absolutely no idea what their children are going through,” said Clive Price, the executive director of Unifam Counselling and Mediation. “When they get the feedback, it’s like scales falling off their eyes.”
Both Richard and Glenda believed they were fighting for their childrens’ best interests as they fought their way through the Family Court and found it hard to not let their animosity for one another seep through in any interactions with one another. Richard and Glenda heard their divorce story through the therapist that had spent time with their 12 and 11 year old children. Richard says it was ‘a kick up the bum’ and Glenda called it “a reality check”. Child-inclusive mediation meant that they heard the stories of their own children. The mediation where all stories were heard has now meant that relationships are much better between everybody. Hearing how children of divorce really feel can have a massive impact on the way forward.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we believe that it is best to put children first and encourage families to mediate rather than go to Court. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation with our family lawyers who are experienced in family dispute resolution. Please contact us today!