Government cut backs in the public sector have had an impact on family cases. It now takes longer and is more expensive to resolve a case through the court system. People are increasingly looking to “keep it out of court”. Increasingly, former couples are turning to mediation as a way of resolving the issues arising from their separation (including financial and children).
The mediation process involves the couple working with normally one mediator, (but in some cases two mediators/co-mediators,) who encourages the couple to come to a solution that works for them both. The mediator is impartial, ie will not be advising either of them, but will give the couple information as to the law and, for example, how in his or her experience the court might deal with a particular issue.
With Children Act proceedings, if the case is being decided by a judge, he or she will want to know what is in the best interests of the child(ren) concerned. This is often achieved by the court appointing a CAFCASS officer who normally visits the child(ren) with each parent before preparing a report, including a recommendations for future child(ren) arrangements.
With mediation, some mediators, are qualified to see children as part of the mediation process. Having had an initial meeting with the parents, (who both have to agree to the mediator seeing the child(ren)), the mediator will then have a meeting with the child(ren) without the parents, although another adult will be present. Having seen the child(ren), the mediator will report back to the parents points that have been specifically agreed with the child(ren). If the child(ren) asks for some things not to be repeated to the parents the mediator must respect this. The only exception to this confidentiality is if the child(ren) discloses he/she or another child is at risk of harm, in which case the appropriate referrals, eg to social services, is made. This is explained to the child(ren) at the start of the process.
Children as young as four might be involved in the process and children often appreciate having had the opportunity to talk about their wishes and feelings in a neutral environment. It may enable the child(ren) to discuss worries that they do not feel comfortable talking about in front of either of their parents, eg if one has a new relationship with someone the child likes and he/she is worried the other parent will take offence.
The mediator will make an effort to ensure that the environment is relaxed, including providing appropriate soft drinks (perhaps even fizzy if the parents agree) and child friendly refreshments (Maltesers are a popular choice). The child(ren) will also be given the opportunity to doodle or draw a picture. Most mediators will also write to the child(ren) with an invite in advance of the session (in a way that is age appropriate) inviting them to attend.
It is important to emphasise that the child(ren) is/are not being asked to decide what will happen, but told that mummy and daddy want to know what the child(ren) feel(s) about the current situation and any suggestions the child(ren) has with regard to arrangements going forward.
The feed back from both children and parents who have been involved in mediations where the children have had direct involvement and the opportunity to discuss with the mediator is extremely positive. A mediation can be concluded very quickly enabling the whole family to move on and hopefully the parents to co-parent more successfully.