24th Jan 2020

Keeping control of your children's future during separation

This Family Mediation Week, I’ve been sharing what I think about mediation, but what do other people say?  Here, I share (anonymously) what former clients, other professionals and judges say about family mediation and its benefits for separating families.

Mediating about children

The message from the courts is loud and clear – court is that this is not the place to sort out arrangements for children.  Unless there are welfare or safety concerns, the judges’ views are that parents remain the best people to make decisions about their children. 

Ultimately a court imposing arrangements on a family takes that away. In a case which is worth highlighting, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC changed a child’s living arrangements – moving them from living with one of their parents in one house to the other parent in a different house.  This was after years of litigation and 36 court hearings.  He commented that, whatever the parents’ difficulties with each other, they are adults and parents with parental responsibility.  The parental responsibility, which father and mother share, requires them to act in best interests at their children and promote the relationship between the children and both parents.  Failure to do so is a failure to make the necessary adult choices and, instead, is making bad ones which will be deeply harmful to children.

This view is backed up by others who are involved in the courts:

“Decisions about children reached with the agreement of both parents often have a more secure and enduring quality than those after long drawn out litigation” - Mrs Justice Theis
“There is no case, however conflicted, that is not capable of being resolved by mediation” - Lord Justice Thorpe
“To engage in mediation is not a sign of defeat” - Mr Justice Mostyn

So, parents have to be able to take a step back and detach themselves from the conflict in the adult relationship – and maintain a strong focus on the children and promoting continued, healthy relationships post separation. They should not be rushing to court to sort out their difficulties; they should be working on them themselves in mediation.

Keeping control through mediation

Mediation conversations mean that parents are able to stay in control and, together make decisions about their children. Here – usiin anonymised names – is feedback from clients who have engaged in that process.  

“I don’t know what you said to him in that last mediation session but, whatever it was, it worked.  Things are so much better now.  Things are far more open.” – Tania
“It felt so scary bringing our children into mediation.  But I am so glad we did it.  I feel so much better to know there is nothing major wrong and, in their eyes, we are doing alright with the separation.”- Jay
“Mediation was hard work but I realised that it helped us get beyond the ‘he said / she said’.  You were very direct with us as a mediator, but it really made me realise that we go round in vicious circles, blaming each other; she says that I don’t offer to do things for the kids and I come back with ‘You don’t ask me’. We both realised in mediation, for the sake of the children, that had to stop.” – Matthew
“Mediation created openness.  We looked at options.  Between sessions there was time to reflect on these options and come back with more ideas of what would and wouldn’t work for the children.” – Bill

Conversations during a separation can be hard, but the mediation process thanks this into account and, by addressing anonymity during the separation process helps to improve future relationships which – something particularly important when children are involved.   

Sarah Smith is an Eminent Practitioner in Family Law and has been supporting separating couples for over 20 years.

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