Direct Consultation with Children in Mediation
The government has suggested that children aged 10 and above (but in exceptional circumstances younger children may be suitable) should generally have access to a mediator when questions about their future are being resolved in mediation. During the course of mediation, it may be suggested by parents, or a child may ask to be involved in the mediation process. It is important that parents understand the views, needs and desires of their children and involving them in direct consultation may be the appropriate way forward. Children like to be informed and they appreciate having their views and options heard but not to be responsible for the overall decision.
Involving children in mediation can be very complex and a great deal of preparation may be needed before a mediator can speak to a child of the family. Different considerations may apply according the age and maturity of the child and in discussion with parents.
Direct consultation with a child means that the child is talking face to face with the mediator separately and in complete confidentiality from anyone else including their parents. In many instances, children wish some of their views to be fed back into the decision-making process and this will be facilitated with their permission. Here is a link to a video example of direct consultation with children in mediation..
The benefits of children being seen in the mediation process are:
The children can know their parents are seeking to reach agreement. It is stressful for children if they know their parents are in dispute and the Court are involved.
- The children can know that both parents support them giving their wishes and feelings to a nominated mediator. In the Court process the Judge may demand a CAFCASS officer speak to the children regarding their wishes and feelings. If one or both parents are unhappy about this the children may either feel reluctant to speak, reluctant to give their true wishes and feelings or may feel they have to present the wishes and feelings of a parent rather than their own.
- The children will be speaking to a mediator agreed by the parents. If the proceedings are before a Court then the Court will simply ask CAFCASS to report and you will not know and cannot have any input in to who the person is the children will be speaking to.
- In mediation there can be flexibility as to when, where and on how many occasions the children speak with the mediator (and whether siblings are seen together or separately). In the Court process CAFCASS is a Government agency with limited resources and it will be the CAFCASS officer who decides when, where and on how many occasions (usually only one short visit) they will see the children.
- In mediation the children decide what, if any, information is passed back to the parents. This gives the children greater confidence in saying how they really feel and what they really want. In the Court process the CAFCASS officer will report back what the children say and this may mean the children are reluctant to say anything or give their true wishes and feelings.