Preparing for family mediation can sometimes be a daunting task. What you are going through is tough and we understand that sometimes there is stress and heightened emotions which can make it difficult to think clearly.
As mediators, we take on the role of facilitating the conversation between you, the parents. You are the best people to decide on the future of your children and our role is to help the conversation take place. Mediators are there to help that process in a way that is neutral and impartial. We don’t take sides and we can’t advocate on your behalf.
What helps the mediation process is if you are putting the children first in parenting decisions. It can be hard to separate your own needs from those of the children, so I’ve prepared some questions to keep the kids in mind.
For the purpose of this exercise, I will use a case study of Sally and Rob who have two girls who are 8 and 10. Sally has been offered a new job and she is has asked for mediation to formalise a parenting plan. Rob has been unable to understand why they can’t continue with the flexible agreement they have. He works shift work and needs flexibility.
1. What outcome do I want from this, and why?
Sally wants a parenting routine which has set days to accommodate her new job. This is so she can earn some extra income to support herself and the children.
Sally has been finding it stressful that she never knows when Rob will have the children in advance. She will not be able to accept the new job if this can’t be formalised.
Rob doesn’t want things to change. His employer has refused set working hours in the past and he will risk losing his job. This will naturally impact him, and therefore his capacity to pay child support.
Being able to explain or articulate ‘why’ you hold the position you do will help each of you, and the mediator, to understand.
2. Am I being child focused and if so, how?
Sally is trying to provide a better, more stable financial future for she and the children.
Before the children were born, the couple had decided that Sally would be a stay at home Mum, while Rob worked to provide for the family. They made this decision based on what they felt was best for the kids. Rob still believes this is what is best.
Sally’s desire to work is child-focused when viewed in isolation, however, their previous decisions were also made with the children in mind. Working out what’s best for the children, now there is a new family structure, is the challenge for the couple to work through in mediation. Being child focused can mean many different things.
3. What will the impact on the other parent be?
When Sally thinks about Rob’s employment, she understands that his shift work presents the main conflict. Rob has always been able to work and have the freedom to see the kids whenever he has days off. However, this is no longer going to work as Sally’s work hours will be set.
Sally feels like it’s time for her, and while she understands this will impact Rob, she feels she is entitled to work and wants to take up this opportunity. Sally wants Rob to understand this isn’t just about him.
Rob is concerned that he won’t get to see the children as often, and he feels this isn’t best for the kids. He is distressed at this thought as he misses them living with him full time and it’s already very difficult for him. He can understand Sally wants to work but he doesn’t agree this is best. Rob wants Sally to understand this isn’t just about her.
Considering the other parent can be a challenge because it requires you to take a bigger picture perspective. Your mediator doesn’t expect you to be an expert at this. However, when both parents feel heard, you are more likely to reach an agreement. Your children want both of you to be stable and happy. So with this in mind, being considerate of the other parent is being child-focused.
4. What will the impact on the children be?
Sally is worried about their financial security and so although she realises there will be some disruptions, she considers this to be most important.
Rob is concerned that he will not have as much time with the children and that ultimately this is not in their best interests. He feels Sally should get a job that can work around his hours until the children are much older.
Both parents agree that the children love spending time with each of them and Sally knows they will be sad at losing precious time with their dad.
The children’s experience of parenting decisions can sometimes get forgotten. Of course, they are children and they have to adapt. However, after parental separation, they have already experienced significant changes and it helps them if they know they are being considered in decision making.
5. What are the possible alternatives?
When Sally initiated mediation, she had not considered alternatives. For her, the only decision was that Rob would have to make sacrifices and she hoped the mediator would help him to see that.
Rob was also stuck in his position of expecting Sally to stay home or get a job to work around his.
The mediation was at an impasse.
When Rob realised that this was important to Sally he started to think of alternatives to spend more quality time with the children in the holidays. Sally agreed this would be worth discussing. Rob also suggested that his parents would like more time with the children, and perhaps he and the children could all stay there when he is working. This opened up a whole new conversation with options.
When the focus shifts to alternatives it can ease the tension. Parenting disputes can often get stuck in opposing positions. However, when each parent is willing to negotiate and to consider alternatives, the conversation can shift toward one which is solution-focused and resolution is possible.
6. What will happen if we can’t agree?
Try as we might, mediators can’t wave a magic wand. Family mediators are there to facilitate the conversation, but they can’t force the two of you to resolve the dispute. So it’s beneficial to consider what will happen next if you can’t agree.
Sometimes it’s not a single issue as in this example. Equally, alternatives aren’t always easily discussed.
When parents can’t agree they sometimes initiate the court process to have the disputes resolved in court. This requires careful consideration as it is both time consuming and costly and may not result in the outcome you want.
Before entering into mediation it is beneficial to consider what will happen if you can’t agree. In family mediation, if the court is the only other option, the potential emotional impact and financial drain on the family may not necessarily be in the children’s best interest.
This is one example only and you may have very different issues. Try writing down your own answers to these questions before your mediation, or when trying to come to an agreement with your co-parent.