Depending on their age and ability to understand what is going on, yes, children can have their voice heard as part of the mediation process.
All FMC Registered mediators are trained to help parents to make the transition from being a couple to being separated parents in the best way for their children and how to put their children at the centre of their decision making. They can also provide specific information about what support children might need when parents separate.
FMC Registered Mediators will also explain the rights of any child aged 10 and over to be consulted as part of the mediation process, and to have their views taken into account by the parents when making decisions for them. This is called ‘Child-Inclusive Mediation’.
The Family Mediation Council’s Code of Practice requires that all children and young people aged 10 and above should be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard directly during the mediation, if they wish.
This is because the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has signed up to, says that all children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to express those in relation to matters affecting them.
It is also because research has shown that consulting children about their views during or following a time of family separation is helpful to them and their mental health. It’s important for them to know their voice has been heard when parents make decisions which affect them. Research also shows that this is helpful to the parents too and enhances the chance of parents being able to resolve issues between them in mediation.
It can be helpful for a child to talk to the mediator because:
- A child may not tell a parent what they really think, especially if the child is aware of any conflict between the parents.
- A child may not have an opportunity to talk to both parents at the same time and may be very worried about saying things to one parent rather than giving exactly the same message to both parents at the same time. It is not uncommon for children to say one thing to one parent and something completely different to the other parent.
- In families where emotions are highly charged, children are preoccupied in keeping the peace, and may not feel that have had space or permission to dwell on what their own feelings are. Speaking to the mediator gives children in this situation a chance to think about their own views.
- It gives all children a private space, to be asked how they are and if they have any views to be taken into account. Both parents are given this opportunity when they meet the mediator on their own; children should have this opportunity too.
- A parent is deeply involved in the emotional nurturing and wellbeing for a child and is not in an impartial place to hear or provide feedback of a child’s views. Even with the best will in the world, the parent might not understand or convey the child’s feelings to the other parent or mediator in the way the child would wish.
- The things that the parents are worried about, including their worries about how the child is feeling, may make it more difficult for the child to talk freely about how they are feeling and what they think is important.
Offering a child consultation is about treating children with respect and being willing to listen and take into account a child’s views in the decisions being made about the child. Talking to a professional who is working with the whole family gives a child a feeling of being genuinely involved and listened to. It can also lead to more sustainable arrangements, with all parties including the parents feeling that arrangements are in the best interests of the children, putting the child at the centre of decision making.
There is no requirement that children attend if they do not want to. They have a right to be consulted if they wish, but are always free to say no if they don’t want to meet the mediator. In practice, mediators find that few children say no; many welcome the chance to talk to someone neutral about what is happening in their family and what is important to them.
Your FMC Registered Mediator will explain exactly how the process of speaking to your children might work and whether it is appropriate, for your family. If you both want to organise a meeting between the mediator and your child, the mediator will send the child an invitation.
If an FMC Registered Mediator does meet your child to hear their views, they will agree with the child what is to be fed back to you at the next mediation session. Usually, children who accept an invitation have some thoughts that they want the mediator to pass on. A feedback session will be arranged with the parents so that this can happen. This allows parents to take their children’s wishes and feelings into account when making decisions about the child’s future. It does not mean that parents simply do what the child says they want – decision-making never passes to the child and parents always retain responsibility for making decisions about their children’s futures. It does mean that parents have some very valuable additional information which should help them to make decisions that will work for the family.
Watch Tom’s Story
Tom’s Story was produced by the University of Exeter’s The Rights Idea? project, an innovative collaboration led by Professor Anne Barlow (with Dr Jan Ewing) (Law School) in partnership with the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).