When we talk about child-inclusive mediation, it is important to recognise that nobody is trying to take control away from the parents or to complicate the situation – quite the opposite, in fact.
This case study shows how asking children for their opinion can often be the best step forward, whereas parents may be dealing with other complications that can make it difficult to see the situation clearly.
In this instance, a divorced couple with twin girls aged 14 decided to share residence on alternating weeks, beginning each Monday.
But the girls wanted a couple less days with Dad and a couple more with Mum – and despite Dad’s initial misgivings, after child-inclusive mediation the mediator was able to recommend that the girls’ wishes were taken into account.
There were several reasons why the girls felt this way: a lack of civility between their parents, and especially between their Dad and their Mum’s new partner, made the weekly handover particularly stressful.
Dad was also less supportive when the girls wanted to talk about difficult and emotional issues – he often felt that their mother had instigated such discussions in order to make things more difficult for him.
Mum also made things challenging at times, particularly when she spoke to the girls negatively about their father, and neither parent considered that the girls might want to spend some of ‘their’ week speaking to the other parent.
The child-inclusive mediation sessions revealed that more regular contact with both parents, rather than the existing week-on, week-off schedule, would help the girls to feel more ‘at home’ in both homes.
With GCSE exams approaching, regular support in their studies was also important, particularly for one of the twins who did not feel that Dad helped her enough with her dyslexia.
Importantly, although the parents’ relationship had broken down, both girls very much loved their parents, and just wanted to be listened to.
The process ended with a fully child-inclusive mediation session where both parents and both girls were all present, and this immediately lifted the girls’ spirits when it became apparent that their views were being heard and taken into account.
Both parents agreed to move forwards in the context of their new family structure, rather than dwelling on the breakdown of their relationship, and this allowed them to make changes to the residency arrangements for the girls’ sake.
Within a few weeks, Dad called to say that the girls were much happier. One of the parents told us: “This was like breathing fresh air again and we could all experience the positive effects.”