The government has recently agreed that children and young people involved in cases before the family court will be able to voice their own views and feelings.
The announcement follows calls from the Family Justice Young People’s Board, that for too long children have had little or no say on what happens to them through the court system. Whilst the courts improve child consultation, this is something that mediators have done for years.
Children like to be involved and are keen to know what is going on but many find that their concerns are not considered. Children want to know what time they will be spending with each parent, where they will live or when they will see their extended family. They may feel unable to voice their feelings for fear of upsetting their parents or they may feel that one or both parents are not listening to them.
Child inclusive mediation allows children to voice their views, wishes and feelings without the burden of decision-making. Children are not forced to talk about things that they do not want to and if they do not want to be part of the process, they are free to make that choice. If they want a place in the process (and their parents agree), they will be invited to speak with a legally qualified mediator who specialises in child consultation. Research shows that children are reassured and feel that their views matter if they can have a say. It is also a valuable resource for parents to hear how their children feel as this may influence their decision making in the future.
Any decision to consult with children in the mediation process is given serious consideration and is not a decision to take lightly. The mediator ultimately decides if it is appropriate to invite the children to meet them. If the mediator does not feel this is appropriate (for whatever reason), the children will not be spoken to.
At the first meeting, the mediator, will meet the children and speak to them in an age appropriate manner without their parents. Children of different ages have different needs and even the youngest of children can be spoken to although this will depend on their parent’s views as to the children’s understanding. Throughout the process, the children are reassured that their meeting is confidential and that what they say will not be shared with their parents unless they agree. Naturally, there is an exception to the rule and any disclosure made by a child that might indicate they are at risk of harm will not remain confidential as the mediator is under a duty to report to a relevant authority.
Child inclusive meetings usually last between 30 – 60 minutes, depending on how many children are involved, although time is not restricted and there is no limit to the number of meetings.
Despite the Government initiative in most family court cases a child’s needs, wishes and feelings are brought to the Judge’s attention in written form by a Cafcass Officer. Cafcass are appointed by the court to act in the child’s best interests and unless the parents can reach an agreement, it will be a judge who will decide the future arrangements for the family.
For many, mediation is quicker, cheaper and less stressful than court and parents engaged in the mediation process will have the advantage of being responsible for deciding the future for their child and the mediator will help them to focus on facilitating their co-parenting relationship moving forward.
For further information in respect of family mediation or advice following a separation then please contact a member of the Family team at Steele Raymond or please contact Michelle Bettell on 01202 424234 or email [email protected].
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