What happens in Mediation for child visitation?

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Most families are required to consider mediation if they cannot agree on how much time a child is to spend with each parent after a separation. Family mediation has many benefits and is a much better approach to agreeing the arrangements for your children than relying on the courts to decide as it enables you as the parents to discuss and agree what is to happen to your children with the help of a professional. Although the title of this blog includes the words ‘child visitation’ we don’t use these words in family law or mediation anymore. We use the term child arrangements and so this blog covers how mediation can help you to make arrangements for your children following a separation or divorce.

Mediation in relation to your children is hard. The children are the most important people in your lives and it can be very emotional to come and speak with a mediator about them. However, as a parent, you will want to act in your children’s best interests and will want to try to agree a way forward if possible.

To start mediation each parent would have an individual meeting with the mediator. This will often be the only time you will speak to the mediator on your own. The main purposes of the individual meeting are:

  1. This is your opportunity to speak to the mediator in confidence and tell them any particular background you would like them to be aware of. It is also your opportunity to meet the mediator and hopefully, it will make proceeding to a joint meeting easier.
  2. The mediator will tell you more about the mediation process and give you information about the other resolution processes available. The mediator will also ensure that mediation is suitable for your circumstances.

We would then proceed to a joint meeting. Ideally, the three of us will be in the same room together (or if via video call on the screen at the same time) but on some occasions, you may be in separate rooms and not meet with your ex-partner. This is called shuttle mediation. The first joint meeting will be used to create an agenda of what needs to be discussed. We will talk about the children so that the mediator can learn more about them and we will begin discussing items from the agenda. The mediator will usually decide the order in which we discuss matters. You may find that at this first meeting you do not make significant progress about the main areas you need to agree in relation to the children. We need the introduction to understand what you are agreed on and why the differences are arising. Very often the differences between you arise because communication is not as good as it could be.

At this first joint meeting, if any of your children are aged 10 or over then we will also consider whether Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM) should take place. CIM is where the children have a confidential meeting with the mediator to talk about how life is for them now their parents have separated. Often the mediator is the only person speaking to both parents. CIM is for the benefit of the children. However, if the children agree that messages can be fed back to the parents then it is very helpful in moving the discussions forward. There are strict rules relating to CIM:

  1. Both parents have to give their consent to the meeting
  2. The children are then invited to the meeting and they can choose whether they want to meet with the mediator.
  3. The meeting is confidential for the children. It is their chance to speak to someone independent about their parent’s separation. They choose what information, if any, is fed back to the parents.
  4. The parents sign an agreement not to ask the children questions about what was said in the meeting.

Once the CIM has taken place a further joint meeting will take place with the parents. As a mediator, I always find this meeting very powerful, and often a lot of progress is made. It may take more than one further joint meeting to finalise the discussions but it is rare.

Mediation is hard work, it requires compromise on the parts of both parents and the focus is on what is best for the children. If you attend mediation about your children and reach agreements in this way then you are better able to explain to your children what the two of you have agreed. It reassures children to hear that their parents have been talking about them and most importantly, have agreed what is best for them. It is rewarding for you, the children, and the mediator if you can agree a way forward

Hazel Manktelow is a Consultant family law solicitor and mediator with Family Law Partners. Based in Hampshire she advises clients in Petersfield, Clanfield and the surrounding areas.

How can we help?

Our team of experts are highly experienced in family mediation. We regularly advise clients on how mediation can be used as an effective way of resolving family law issues, including arrangements for children. Sarah Jelly, Hazel Manktelow, Jayne Llewelyn, Gemma HopeKate Elliott and Mark Harrop are the teams qualified mediators. Please get in touch for a confidential discussion about your personal circumstances.

 

 

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