Divorce can be a painful and difficult experience, and as parents we may agonise about what happens to our children. How are they feeling? Do they understand what is happening? Will they get over it? What will the future effects be? Mediating with children can feel scarry.
The good news is that research by the Rowntree Foundation indicates that short-term distress is common, but this usually fades with time. Long term distress applies only to a minority of children whose parents separate. But children who do suffer long-term distress are roughly twice as likely to experience things like behavioural problems and performing badly at school compared to those in families which have not split up.
There are two main ways in which mediation can help.
The first is in making child arrangements between parents in the safe and confidential environment of mediation. Clients are free to float ideas and propose plans, knowing that the mediator is there to listen, make suggestions, take notes, and provide information, while the decisions remain completely in the clients’ hands.
The second is Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM), an option which can work well in conjunction with couples mediation.
It is now generally accepted that children from the age of 10, and sometimes younger, should have a say in the way their future is decided. Child Inclusive Mediation is aligned to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and The Children’s Act 1989. The emphasis is on the need to consider the children’s wishes and feelings, and their right to be consulted about decisions which affect them.
CIM Mediators are used to working with children and young people. They are specially trained and DBS checked.
With the agreement of parents and child the mediator will usually write to the child proposing a meeting, and then will meet the child or children under the usual rules of mediation. The process is voluntary and confidential, mediators are impartial, and children come first. The child can tell the mediator what s/he would like their parents to know, whether it be how they are feeling, what would make things better for them, or what arrangements they would like to have for the future. The mediator will then, and only with the child’s agreement and permission, pass on to the parent what their child wants to say.
None of this means that children are in charge of proceedings, or can decide what will happen. That responsibility will always rest with their parents, or ultimately, sadly, sometimes the Courts. The aim of Child Inclusive Mediation is to help maintain good relationships, and find the best possible outcomes for children and their parents.
Jane Mace bio
Jane grew up in Norfolk and moved to London at the age of 18. After graduating from London University with an honours degree in French and German, she joined the Civil Service fast stream and trained as a tax inspector. She investigated all types and sizes of business, and interviewed thousands of people. Her legal and accounting knowledge inform her mediation, and she is a seasoned negotiator. She attributes her ability to assimilate large amounts of complex information to this part of her career, and is delighted now to combine her hard skills with a natural warmth and empathy.
Jane cares passionately about justice and fairness, and her experience as a Mackenzie Friend in several race equality complaint cases helped her obtain a post as the Chairman’s right-hand person in what was then the Commission for Racial Equality. Jane continued to work in equalities, heading up the diversity drive for two government departments for several years, before taking a career break to spend time with her two teenage children.
When her marriage ended, followed by a successfully mediated divorce, Jane was so impressed by the mediation process that she decided to take up the profession herself, and now mediates online and in person.
In her spare time Jane enjoys cooking, yoga and gardening. She is a member of her local Race Equality Council, and writes to a death row pen friend.
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.