Understanding Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM) - Marcia Mediation

A family law mediator requires a diverse set of skills to effectively facilitate the resolution of disputes between parties involved in family law matters. Some of the key skills of a family law mediator include: 1. Communication Skills: Mediators ne...

Divorce is a difficult ordeal for all parties involved, but even more so when there are children in the mix. Being caught in the middle, experiencing a lack of routine, and feeling as if you don’t have a say in the matter are a few of the most common issues children report during a separation. That’s why it’s crucial to consider ulterior perspectives and explore avenues like Child Inclusive Mediation. 

What is Child Inclusive Mediation?

Child Inclusive Mediation, or CIM for short, is a structured and therapeutic process in which the youngest members of the family have the opportunity to voice their opinions. It’s a way to consider their feelings and experiences, as well as how the separation will affect them. Their answers may not legally impact the divorce procedure but it could influence concerns like parenting arrangements or custody. 

The Importance of CIM in Divorce and Separation

Children always come first, and CIM offers parents a supportive environment to include their child(ren)’s feelings while reducing the level of emotional distress they experience. Contentious divorces can cause a wide range of negative effects on children which persist all the way into their adult lives, ranging from feelings of guilt and anger all the way to poor performance in academics or mental illness. 

How CIM Differs from Traditional Mediation

Traditional mediation does not involve children or their overall thoughts on the matter. Instead, it solely focuses on the perspectives, concerns, and preferences of the parents. CIM offers a child-centric approach as it prioritises the best interests of the children. For example, CIM may take into consideration factors like: 

  • Living arrangements 
  • Attending school and extracurriculars
  • Maintaining relationships with extended family 

The Theory Behind Child Inclusive Mediation

The general theory behind CIM is that children have a right to express their opinions, wishes, and feelings, especially when decisions are being made about them. Traditionally, children were rarely included in the overall divorce process. Parents would make decisions and the children would simply have to put up with the consequences. CIM aims to create a smoother transition for children during the separation process and prioritise their overall interests. 

Psychological Impact and Benefits of CIM

Child Inclusive Mediation has a positive impact on children navigating significant life changes such as separation or divorce. Some key psychological impacts and benefits of CIM include: 

  • Validation of thoughts, feelings, and needs
  • Reduced levels of stress or anxiety 
  • Greater sense of security 
  • Development of coping skills 
  • Improved communication 
  • Promotion of better parent-child relationships 

The Process of Child Inclusive Mediation

CIM sessions are set in a neutral environment so that your child(ren) can express themselves without fear or hesitation. The mediator will always assess the subject’s emotional state and use language or concepts that are age-appropriate. 

A trained mediator will lead the conversation by asking open-ended questions that paint a greater picture of what family life is like. The mediator will never ask harsh or direct questions, such as which parent do you want to live with or who do you like more? 

Instead, a mediator may ask: 

  • How do you feel about mum and dad living apart? 
  • Imagine you could create your ideal schedule, what would that look like? 
  • What are your worries about school and changing routines? 

Once the mediator has a better idea of the child’s experiences and needs, they will relay the information back to the parents. Conversations discussed during a CIM session can influence factors like visitation schedules or even highlight areas of conflict between the parents that require additional attention. 

The CIM Process

Although CIM processes will differ according to individual cases and mediators, most will follow a few similar steps: 

  1. During a parenting meeting, the mediator will suggest CIM as an option and parents can ask any questions they may have. 
  2. Once agreed upon, both parties sign the parental agreement and a CIM mediator is assigned to the case. 
  3. The CIM mediator conducts a 30-minute screening meeting and, if suitable, the process moves to the next stage. If not, the initial costs are refunded. 
  4. Next, a CIM meeting is arranged at a neutral venue and the child(ren) can either accept or decline. The session lasts around an hour and can also be conducted online. 
  5. The mediator books another 30-minute feedback session with the parents to relay the details discussed during the meetings. It’s worth noting the child(ren) has a right to confidentiality and can decide what information is relayed back to the parents. 
  6. Once the parents receive the feedback, they can finalise parenting plans or decisions while taking into consideration the wishes of their child(ren). 
  7. Upon reaching an agreement, the mediator will draw up a parenting plan or create a Child Arrangements Order which is submitted to the court. 

Child inclusive mediaiton infographic explaining the steps taken during the process

The Dos and Don’ts of conducting a CIM session

During a CIM session, mediators should… 

  • Respect confidentiality and ensure responses are kept private 
  • Use open-ended questions to avoid impartiality 
  • Build a rapport and establish trust 
  • Validate the subject’s feelings and offer support

And should not… 

  • Pressure the child(ren) into taking a stance 
  • Interfere with parental relationships 
  • Overstep boundaries that are unrelated to the case 
  • Delve into topics that are inappropriate 

Legal Framework and Compliance

To ensure the utmost integrity and effectiveness, CIM procedures sit within a legal framework of child protection and family law. For example, CIM aligns with the key principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which highlights a child’s right to freely express their views across matters that affect them. Similarly, The Children’s Act of 1989 in the UK requires courts to prioritise the interests of children during mediation processes, which is ultimately the overarching goal of CIM. 

How to Prepare for Child Inclusive Mediation

To get the most out of Child Inclusive Mediation, it’s important to educate your children, build transparency, and adjust your expectations during the feedback process. Here’s how: 

Educating Children about CIM: Age-Appropriate Discussions

Before sending your child(ren) into a CIM session, it’s worth having a brief conversation about what they should expect. Provide them with plenty of reassurance by letting them know their thoughts and feelings will remain confidential at all times. Share the benefits of CIM with them and encourage them to ask questions they may have. 

Building Trust and Transparency: Tips for Parents

As parents, building transparency and trust is essential, but so is finding a balance. You may want to be honest about your divorce, however, delving into the details may not be the best approach. Make sure to keep your child(ren)’s best interest at heart at all times. 

Preparing for Feedback: Managing Expectations

Don’t forget to be patient during the feedback process. There may be a few surprises or emotional reactions along the way, so adjust your expectations and widen your perspective during parent sessions. It’s important to acknowledge your child(ren)’s feelings and experiences but remember you will always have the final say. 

Evaluating the ROI of CIM: Long-Term Benefits vs. Short-Term Costs

You can’t put a price on peace of mind, but if you had to, the return on investment of child inclusive mediation is worth the cost. High-conflict divorces can cause severe long-term consequences on the lives of children. 

In fact, a study conducted by the University of Cambridge argues that acrimonious parental conflict is a common childhood factor in adults who experience: 

  • Ill mental health 
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Academic struggles 
  • Criminal behaviour 
  • Substance abuse 

Plus, actions designed to reduce the level of inter-parental conflict are associated with positive long-term outcomes, such as improved mental health, relationships, behaviours and so on. Although parents should be wary of mediator fees and time commitments, they should also consider how these short-term sacrifices will provide an array of long-term benefits in the future. 

Conclusion: Embracing Collaboration and Empathy

All in all, child inclusive mediation aims to improve outcomes for all parties involved, but especially for the youngest members of the family. By enlisting a mediator to guide your child(ren) through the separation process, you can practise more effective parenting while improving the well-being of the entire family. It’s a collaborative practice that will improve communication between parents and provide a greater understanding of your child(ren)’s needs. 

If you’re currently undergoing a separation or divorce, and you’d like to enquire about child inclusive mediation, don’t hesitate to reach out. Start your journey towards a low-conflict and child-centric resolution today with Marcia Mediation. 

CIM Quick Explanation

Child-inclusive mediation is a crucial intervention in resolving disputes within separated families, ensuring that the voices and needs of children are not only heard but also prioritised in the decision-making process. In this approach, trained mediators find opportunities to consult directly with children, creating a safe space for them to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns regarding the family’s situation. Through this consultative process, children can see that their perspectives hold significance and are taken into account when finding solutions that work best for the entire family unit.

Mediators who undergo specialised training in child-inclusive mediation are equipped with the necessary skills to facilitate meaningful conversations with children, guiding them through the mediation process with sensitivity and care. This form of mediation doesn’t merely focus on resolving the immediate dispute but also works towards long-term solutions that address the needs of all family members, particularly the children. Research has shown that involving children in the mediation process can be a useful tool in reaching agreements that are more sustainable and tailored to the family’s unique dynamics. By integrating child-inclusive mediation techniques into their practice, mediators can offer families a comprehensive approach to resolving disputes, one that considers the well-being of children as a primary concern. Parents can download resources and books on child-inclusive mediation to better understand its principles and how it can positively impact their families. Additionally, mediators may offer coaching and therapy services as part of their intervention, providing families with the support they need to navigate the complexities of separation while prioritising the welfare of their children.

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