Mediation is the process by which families are able to negotiate about future arrangements, commonly related to children, with the assistance of a professional impartial third party “Family Mediator accredited by the Family Mediation Council”. Crucially, it is the parents, rather than a Judge or an Arbitrator, who make the final decisions.
The benefits of child inclusive mediation are clear. Firstly, the parents will maintain control of all decisions relating to their children, hopefully reaching a mutually beneficial outcome. Secondly, court can be intimidating and, perhaps more importantly, expensive.
It is often an alien environment including Court fees, Barrister’s fees and Solicitor’s fees. Costs could run into the thousands, making this an economically unviable option for many (especially given extensive legal aid cuts). Child inclusive mediation, by contrast, provides a far less stressful and expensive environment in which to deal with sensitive matters where a child is involved.
The presiding judge Mr. Justice Mostyn, when faced with a case recently where legal fees dwarfed the original sum sought by one party, said of court-proceedings (as opposed to mediation):
“Time and again judges point out the madness of litigating in this way; and time and again their admonitions fall on deaf ears.”
Seemingly then, mediation is the preferred option to determine family issues.
It is recognised that consideration should be given where there are children involved, as to whether the voice of that child should be heard. This is where the expertise of our mediators is invaluable in offering Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM).
This process involves the accredited family mediator inviting the child to meet with them, that mediator having already met with the parents.
The Mediator will not ask your children to make a decision or to choose between you and the other party; rather, they are empowered to have an input in arrangements that involve them.
It is for the parents to be working together for the benefit of their children, making the decisions for them.
The Mediator will discuss with the parents the option of inviting the child to speak with them and who should be present. This meeting will be with that Accredited Family Mediator who is likely to be accompanied by another Accredited Family Mediator. Discussions may also be held in respect to whether it might be appropriate to meet at the child’s school together with a teacher/pastoral care worker with whom the child is likely to be familiar.
Children can meet privately with a mediator in a safe environment, where their wishes and feelings can be explored. This is a meeting completely separate from the parents.
Allowing children to have a “voice” in a process likely to fundamentally change their lives is important to consider. In the words of Simon Hughes, Voice of the Child Conference 2014, “It cannot be right that parents can mediate an agreement affecting their child or children… in the absence of the children’s voices being heard.” This is why the practice of CIM is growing.
According to Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Scheme), there were 3,539 new private law cases in May 2021, 6% more than the same period the year prior. This involved 5,211 children. The value of CIM is increasingly being recognised, both in its ability to empower the child and the likelihood for parents to reach an amicable agreement absent of the burden, and personal cost, both emotional and financial, of pursuing issues via the court process.
Although the exact cost of family mediation will certainly vary from case to case, there are other factors to consider, and which make it a more attractive proposition than pursuing court proceedings.
Mediation, given it requires less time and resource than taking a case through the family courts, is often a preferable route. The value in CIM is that, by accounting for child(ren)’s wishes directly from the source, parental disputes are more likely to be child focused, which will lead to agreement to the child’s welfare.
Furthermore, as a Family Mediation Council (FMC) accredited mediators, we have signed up to the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme.
The family mediation voucher scheme is a time-limited scheme, designed to support parties who may be able to resolve their family law disputes outside of court. The Government has set up the scheme in response to Covid-19 to support recovery in the family court and to encourage more people to consider mediation as a means of resolving their disputes, where appropriate. To support this, a financial contribution of up to £500 towards the costs of mediation will be provided.
Family mediators and children are now able to meet online in new and very positive ways.
A recent Family Mediators Association (FMA) survey found those who had worked online with children reported an overall very positive experience. The greatest benefit of online CIM remains the same – the empowerment of children and families, whilst prematurely solving avoidable future disputes.
One FMA mediator said of online working:
“When all of the pros and cons are weighed up, the determining factor for me is that kindness is the quality I value above any other, and it’s a simple act of human kindness to listen to children who want to be heard.”
Furthermore, it provides flexibility of appointments, a familiar home environment and possibility of immediate feedback. The latter point means that the progression of main mediation is greatly assisted – the reassurance to parents that their child’s needs are being met makes future sessions between parents less fraught, and more productive.
Find out more about online mediation:
In general, CIM is offered to balance the rights of the child (to be heard) with the responsibility of the parent (to make decisions). Formerly, we focused only upon the latter, however this has, for some time now, been proven to be less effective. Arguably, it is the responsibility of the parent to prioritise the right of the child.
Michelle is trained to deliver a CIM service in a safe and highly effective manner.
I stress the importance of confidentiality, so the children are aware that they should be voicing opinions and desires unburdened from pressure from parents, or the feeling they are shouldering greater responsibility. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter, I discuss and agree on the best possible approach with parents, as well as gain both parties’ consent together with the consent of the child themselves, prior to meeting with the child. During the meeting I ensure the child knows and understands who I am and what my role is. I explain (in an approach dependent on parent’s wishes and an age appropriate manner) that disclosed information is kept confidential unless the child wishes otherwise, subject to safeguarding concerns. Focus, at all times, is centered upon the child’s comprehension of what is going on and giving them the space to safely express their thoughts, free from any potential parental influence.
To speak to one of our family mediator or to arrange an initial mediation consultation, please contact Michelle Bettell or a member of our family team on 01202 983999. Alternatively, you can enquire using the form below.
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