There are many potential decisions which need to be made by parents in relation to a child’s upbringing. All such decisions require the exercise of joint parental responsibility and include those relating to a child’s health, education, or religion. Possible topics which could give rise to disagreement between separated parents include:
In the absence of agreement between separated parents in relation to such matters, it is necessary for the court to intervene to determine any such disputes. However, pursuing such disagreements through the court system can prove both costly and time consuming - often when the subject matter of the dispute may need to be determined quickly. One option for separated parents in resolving disagreements is to consider mediation. But what are the benefits of doing so?
Where specific disagreements arise relating to a child’s upbringing, parents’ views may become polarised quickly. A mediator is a neutral third party who is trained to facilitate discussions between parties, including by exploring possible ways in which an agreement could be reached. It may have proved difficult for parents to have constructive discussions directly, and legal correspondence may not have promoted open discussion either.
Mediation provides the opportunity for parents to hear one another’s views directly, for the mediator to explore those views, and for periods of reflection to be built in, between each mediation sessions. Separated parents are often surprised at the progress made when they have a forum to hear the other parents’ perspective with a mediator promoting and encouraging those discussions.
Many of the child-specific issues arising between separated parents will require a swift resolution. This may be the case, for example, if disagreement has arisen in relation to a holiday or a school application deadline which is approaching. There continue to be significant delays in cases being heard through the family courts, partly as a result of a backlog following the Covid-19 pandemic. It also remains that the case that court proceedings are costly and place a significant emotional burden on parties. If both parties agree and mediation is deemed appropriate, mediation can normally be set up far more quickly that waiting for a court listing.
In appropriate cases, parents want to be able to hear their children’s views to inform their discussions – furthermore, many children want and ask to be heard. Subject to a child’s age and maturity, and provided parents agree, it is possible for a child to be spoken to by a child-inclusive trained mediator as part of the mediation process. Such an approach may be helpful in assisting parents in their discussions, provided the process is undertaken sensitively, and where there is no risk of pressure being placed on the child by either parent.
It is possible for separated parents to commit to using mediation and the same mediator as a forum for seeking to resolve future disagreements. This may be helpful if, for example, there are difficulties annually in agreeing the allocation of school holidays, or the parents are seeking to make decisions about a child with special needs, when the need for decision making may arise frequently. Having the ability for parents to reconsult with the same mediator who has a knowledge of the child and family can be very helpful.
Our family law department includes trained mediators who can assist in resolving differences through constructive discussion. For further information please contact a member of the team, or visit our online tool for a useful start in understanding your legal position.