Family mediation – can my children be involved in child arrangements?
Mediation is the voluntary process of discussing and making arrangements after separation without having to go to family court with an impartial third party mediator there to aid discussion and help to reach an agreement.
Any separating couples must undergo at least an initial mediation meeting before they are able to take their case to a family court for it to be heard in front of a judge except in the case of domestic abuse.
Although the mediation sessions themselves are not legally binding, a legally binding document, known as a consent order, can be drawn up in light of what was agreed at mediation. For parents who are separating the mediation process will certainly involve trying to reach an agreement on child arrangements.
What is involved in child arrangements?
child arrangements focus on two main things:
Any new or revised childcare arrangements
Child maintenance payments and finances
These agreements may be temporary to be looked at again when circumstances change, or they may be made more permanent. The idea is that mediation is a less stressful, less costly particularly if you are eligible for legal aid and therefore get your mediation costs covered for free by the Government. The Family Mediation Council have more information on this and the family mediation voucher scheme.
What is child inclusive mediation?
Child inclusive mediation is the process of allowing children’s wishes and feelings to be taken into account during the mediation process and for a decision to be reached as a whole family. This can really help children understand what is going on, have time to process and express their thoughts and feelings without worry, and feel like they are getting their voice heard, all things which are key to their welfare at such a stressful time.
The option of child inclusive mediation will be outlined to you by your family mediator in the mediation initial assessment meeting (MIAM).
How old does my child have to be to be involved in mediation?
The Family Mediation Council’s Code of Practice states that all children aged 10 and above should be allowed to have their say when questions regarding their future are concerned in family mediation. However, in some exceptional circumstances, a younger child may be seen. Children are able to meet with the mediator alone or with their siblings, it depends on the preference of the family and the children themselves.
It is assumed that for most cases, the older the child, the more right they have in the say of their living arrangements. There is no upper age limit for children to be involved in family mediation if they are still living in the family home.
Does my child have to be involved in mediation sessions?
No, whether your child is involved in mediation is yours and their decision.
Can any mediator meet with my child?
Any mediator working with children needs to be trained to do so, be registered with the Family Mediation Council and carry an enhanced DBS check for safeguarding purposes. You can rest assured that our mediator here at Woollcombe Yonge is fully trained and vetted as well as having plenty of experience working alongside children during child arrangements.
What happens before a mediation session with my child?
Before they attend a meeting the child(ren) will be formally invited to attend, an invitiation they are within their rights to decline if the do not wish to attend.
Your mediator will also ensure that you fully understand the rights of your children during the mediation session and be prepared to deal with and effectively use the feedback from the meeting with your child(ren). You may be asked how you are likely to respond to certain types of feedback and will both need to be prepared to use what the child(ren) has said within childcare arrangements and respect the views of your child.
What happens during A mediation session with my child?
Your child(ren) will speak to the family mediator on their own so they don’t feel pressured to answer what they think you, as the parent, want to hear.
Consulting children requires tact and the questions need to be age appropriate, especially for younger children. Your child will never be asked to choose which parent they wish to live with. The questions asked will be more general and aimed to seek out their thoughts and feelings, for example; “What do you know about what is going on at home?” and “what would you like to change at home and why?”. These types of questions also help see through any “coaching” the child may have had on what answers to give if that is something of concern.
The same rules as adult mediation apply – it is a completely voluntary process and the child can decide that they no longer want to be involved, in which case the meeting will be stopped.
What happens after a child inclusive mediation session?
The next stage of family mediation after the mediator has met with your child or children is to meet again with both separated parents to discuss points raised by the children, all things they want you to know but may feel they are unable to say or unable to get across but the mediator cannot disclose anything the child says in confidence to them, any concerns arising from the meeting may have to be .
This feedback should help you both come to an agreement that takes into account the views of the children to make a child arrangements order which can be signed off .
What are the benefits of child inclusive mediation?
The child gets a voice at a time where they feel they have no say in a situation.
The child gets to have a conversation with the third party to discuss
You get insight into what the child is thinking and feeling, sometimes things they may feel they cannot bring up with you at home.
It can be a decision that the whole family has been involved in, something which may help relationships going forward.
Are there drawbacks to child inclusive mediation?
Occasionally the parents hear something that they might not be prepared for or hadn’t considered when it comes to their planned child care arrangement or the wishes of the child. Although things like this might be seen as a drawback, with the right support, it can help the child(ren) feel valued and heard when their thoughts and feelings are taken into account. A mediator will always ensure the parents are prepared for child inclusive mediation as much as the child is.
Further information and resources
A video made by the University of Exeter called The Rights Idea? Children’s rights when parents separate can be a good resource to show young people who’s parent have separated to help them understand the mediation process and be able to make a decision about whether they would like to have their say.
Our family mediator Will Giles has lots of experience in family and child inclusive mediation, you can contact him on 01752 660384, or email Will Giles on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Here at Woollcombe Yonge we also have two highly trained and skilled Childcare Specialists that make up our Childcare team. It is their job to offer legal advice to help determine the safe keeping of your children. For any questions on this difficult issue please contact our caring experts on 01752 660384.
"As a family we found the service provided to us was delivered with ’empathy’ and was in fact ‘outstanding’, we would most certainly recommend Woollcombe Yonge to friends.”