Posts Tagged: children’s perspective in divorce

Family Mediation Week 2018: Day 3

I’m a bit late with posting…. yesterday was a busy day!!

The theme for Family Mediation Week Day 3 was: “Listen, be listened to and stay in control!”

Again, there have been some very interesting articles, all of which can be found on the Family Mediation Week Blog.

This, from Bill Hewlett, is an insightful look at the benefits of including children in the mediation process:

So why should children be included in mediation?

Written by Bill Hewlett

I have been thinking about the many reasons that separating parents in mediation should be encouraged to give their children an opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling. Giving children a voice in mediation allows the parents to make decisions from an informed position. If they know how their children are feeling, they can, with the help of the mediator, work to make things better for all the family, creating a better parenting relationship that will leave the children free to grow and develop without concerns about how their parents are getting on with each other.

Parents usually try to shield their children from conflict, but invariably the children know that something big is happening when their parents separate and they can often feel left out. Including children in the process and letting them feel that their views and feelings are important is a very positive thing and can help alleviate their anxiety and confusion.

Bear in mind that these parents are probably struggling to understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives and they may also be finding it hard to focus on how their children are coping. The challenge is that, even though these parents are currently unable to talk to each other constructively and reassuringly about their children, they still have responsibility for making decisions that influence where the children live, what they eat, what school they go to, how they feel about themselves, how well they sleep, the list goes on. It appears that nothing matters more to children than what their parents think of each other.

When parents are fighting with each other they seem to lose their ability to be fully aware of how their children are feeling. The children may not want to say anything because they don’t want to add to an already stressful situation.

I often feel when we hear parents speaking harshly about each other, that we are hearing a description of a world that must be very difficult and dangerously stressful for their child and I feel that we should be reacting with immediate and urgent concern. This is what we should be thinking about when we hear the lack of respect that the parents have for each other, when we hear them question each other’s morality, when they tell us that they hate each other. The dangerously toxic environment that these children are living in could cause them lifelong harm, seriously compromising their wellbeing and their capacity to thrive now and in the future. We know that these parents are often so stressed and full of anxiety, thinking catastrophic thoughts, terrified about their future and afraid of what the other parent might do, that they are often only barely coping. And, while they are going through all this, they have absolute and ultimate responsibility for the mental, emotional, physical wellbeing of their children. In mediation, we take these concerns really seriously and want to do all we can to help the parents make a safer world for their children.

The Bottom line is, that regardless of how the children are choosing to talk about how their parents are managing their separation, if things aren’t good between their parents, then they won’t be good for the children. The reality is that ‘there’s no such thing as a still child around chaotic parents’ (Winnecott).

We need some way to draw the attention of the parents to what is happening to their children. When the parents are aware as to how their relationship is impacting on their children they will naturally be concerned and want to create an environment where their children can thrive

Children don’t want to be the decision makers on what arrangements are made for their care and welfare, but generally, (if they don’t think it’s going to make things worse), they would like to talk about it. If they could talk to someone who is committed to taking their perspectives into discussion with the parents, someone who they can feel confident will not make it worse, someone who can tell their parents things that maybe they haven’t been able to, then they often feel like a heavy burden has been lifted.

When children are helped to talk about their feelings, they begin to understand more and more about what’s going on for them. Children have a need to talk through things so that they can get a sense of how they should think and feel. They are designed to link up their young brains with a grown up adult brain to help make sense of things, to get a bigger picture perspective. When someone helps them to put a word to something they have been feeling but not perhaps not fully understanding, they feel better. We call it ‘naming it (the emotion) and taming it (the fear)’ (Seigel).

If you are thinking of using mediation to help you work out your parenting arrangements for your children now that you have separated, why don’t you ask your mediator to arrange for a child consultant to meet with your children? This will help you both to make plans that will allow your children to thrive, safe in the knowledge that they will appreciate being asked.

Bill Hewlett

Family Mediation Week 2018: Day 1

We are supporting Family Mediation Week 2018.  The theme for Day 1 is ‘Somebody, please help!’

There are lots of really interesting articles to read relating to this theme that discuss the value and benefits of mediation on the Family Mediation Week Blog.

My picks of the day are the video from Fegans: Counselling Children, Supporting Parents and Wells Family Mediation, which gives a realistic sense of the impact of parental conflict on children…

… and this article from Glynne Davis that rings true with my professional experiences.

The seven habits of successful mediation participants

Written by Glynne Davies, College of Mediators

The seven habits of successful mediation participants. The following mini case studies are genuine, although the names have obviously been changed to protect…well me really!

1. They are sure that the relationship is over permanently

Mediation is a process designed to help couples, as famously said by Gwyneth Paltrow, consciously uncouple. If you are harbouring secret thoughts that your ex is just going through a mid-life crisis, and as soon as he/she comes to his/her senses he/she will come running back to you, then mediation is not for you. You may be able to go through the motions, but at the moment when you have to make a decision, the primeval part of your brain will take over and shout “Don’t do this! As soon as you do this it will all be over.” If you are ambivalent about separation, then if possible take a bit more time to come to terms with what’s happening.

Case Study: Anthony and Cleopatra had 5 sessions of mediation, at the end of which we had several options, any of which were “approved” as fair by their respective solicitors. But Cleopatra couldn’t let go of the relationship and kept prevaricating. In the end we put mediation on ice for 6 months, at which point they returned and settled in one session.

2. They want to minimise solicitor costs and avoid court costs?

Well, duh. Everyone wants to minimise costs and avoid court…don’t they? Strangely enough the answer is no. Some people are so hurt/angry that they would sooner spend every penny that they have rather than share it with the ex that has broken their heart. Others that like to think that their situation is so difficult that only a judge can unravel it. Mediation is unlikely to help them, but for those who simply prefer to allow their solicitors to negotiate on their behalf, mediation can help save time and money.

Case Study: Heathcliff and Cathy used mediation to complete their financial disclosure and listen to initial proposals for settlement, They agreed several important issues and narrowed the gaps on others, but Cathy wanted her solicitor to conclude negotiations. They still saved hundreds of pounds by using mediation to complete their financial disclosure, agree their “Form E” information and listen to each other’s proposals.

3. They can put the needs of their children first

In the horror of separation it is easy to lose sight of the needs of the children. They become pawns in the worst game of chess ever. Research tells us that separation doesn’t hurt children, but conflict does. By resolving the conflict, you put the needs of your children first

Case Study: Porgy and Bess had sent their daughter to Hungary to be with grandparents because neither parent wanted the other parent to “have” her. They took the stance “If I can’t have her, neither can you.” As a result the child was away from home for 8 months. They sorted out a shared care arrangement in one session of mediation that meant that the child could return home

4. They are honest and open

It’s not uncommon for one party to deal with “the money side of things”, and for the other party to feel at a disadvantage. Mediation ensures that financial disclosure takes place fully and openly, and at a pace that promotes equal understanding and informed consent.

Case Study: Bonnie was nervous about using mediation because Clyde had always taken care of the finances. We took financial disclosure at Bonnie’s pace. Clyde was relieved that he had an opportunity to explain things in a non-confrontational way, and Bonnie appreciated having a greater understanding of their situation.

5. They are flexible/willing to listen

If you believe that there is only one solution, and that mediation would be a good way for the mediator to convince your ex of the rectitude of your position, then mediation is not for you

Case Study: Fred and Ginger each attended a separate MIAM. Ginger was happy to keep an open mind about options for settlement, but Fred was adamant that there was only one solution and that he wanted to go to court to get it. By attending the MIAM Fred and Ginger complied with the statutory requirement to consider mediation.

6. They want closure

Some people feed off conflict with their ex. They feel safe being angry; a conflicted relationship is better than no relationship. But for mediation to succeed, there has to be a degree of emotional neutrality. To put it simply, you need to be sick of the fight.

Case study: Elsa and Anna separated 3 years before they came to see me, referred by court. Theirs had been a story of constant bickering over trivia. They had settled the major things fairly easily, but continued to make spurious applications to court for minor changes to their ever more detailed contact order. In mediation we established that there was almost nothing in dispute, and talked about the fact that they had never got “closure”. I signposted them to couples counselling to talk about the end of the relationship, and how to “let it go”. They returned to mediation and agreed a parenting plan.

7. They have the stamina to stay with the process

Mediation is not for the faint-hearted, but if you can practise the above 6 habits in mediation, you will get there.

Case study: All the clients who have ever successfully concluded mediation