During the Covid-19 pandemic, much of the focus has been on shoring up existing delivery and, where possible, extending arrangements if it is not possible to re-procure.
As family solicitors we see many cases such as these and some which boil over into legal disputes and court proceedings. Although in court proceedings a court appointed professional called a CAFCASS officer can be directed to prepare a report within which a child’s wishes and feeling can be identified, often by this point a great deal of damage has been done and significant costs incurred.
Moreover we have seen from our own casework that there is increasing strain on the courts and the service they can provide. Primarily as a result of budget cuts and linked to this the increasing numbers of litigants in person the use of CAFCASS officers is being limited by the courts in ‘routine’ cases and there are often delays in reports being prepared or otherwise concern at the level of investigation that can take place due to pressures upon the system.
When parents separate children, especially those old enough to express their views can often feel trapped, caught in the middle of their parent’s dispute and desperate to try to please both parents. Moreover it is a sad reality that children can often feel their own views are lost in their Mum and Dad’s disputes and often, what is eventually agreed or ordered is not what the child themselves might want or what might be best for them.
It’s a sad reality that there are no winners in court battles regarding children. Research shows that children who are involved in court battles are more likely to go through similar battles as adults and their academic and career prospects are negatively impacted.
Successive governments have identified this issue and have enacted laws designed to signpost separating parents to resources that can assist them in resolving child related issues amicably or otherwise and more directly diverting potential litigants away from court proceedings all together. The government’s goal by doing this is to reduce pressure currently placed upon the court and in doing so free up the available resource for more complex matters or those where there are issues of harm and abuse.
At Anthony Collins Solicitors we have three family solicitors Elisabeth Howe, Chris Lloyd-Smith and Maria Ramon who are also Accredited Family Mediators. We routinely see separating couples who are trying to resolve matters in relation to their children. As solicitors we seldom, if ever, hear directly from the children involved themselves. It is far more routine that we hear only our client’s side of the story.
As Accredited Family Mediators we help separating couples in reaching conclusions about parenting issues, including how children spend time with them themselves. As part of that process we recommend giving the children the opportunity to speak with us and express their wishes and feeling about how they are feeling and any issues that are affecting them. This is called ‘direct consultation’ or ‘child inclusive’ mediation.
Before we can meet with children, parents have to both agree for a mediator to contact a child, and the child themselves must also be willing to speak to the mediator. After gaining the agreement of the parents, our mediators will contact the child directly, usually by post.
Our mediators will then look to arrange a meeting with the child. This is usually at a neutral venue, e.g. the mediator’s offices or another place the child feels comfortable in. We will meet the child alone, i.e. without parents being present. We will not coach or ask the child leading questions but will give the child the opportunity to share any views they have and give any messages they wish the parents to hear in mediation process. The mediator will only share with parents what the child is comfortable with being shared, the rest of the meeting is confidential. If the child gives a view of what they want, this is not determinative to the parents but does give parents a unique insight into how the most important person if feeling and how they wish matters to be resolved. Any information that a child shared is reported back to parents in a separate meeting.
We find that offering meetings with children to parents in mediation provides real benefits. Quite often when speaking to children they explain issues and concerns not considered by their parents or legal advisors. Whilst every case is different, we often see a common theme is perhaps understandably that sadly children do not want Mum and Dad to fight and they love them both.
We find that reporting information back to parents helps them take stock and find perspective. We often find that discussions then proceed on a much more positive footing thereafter.
Most importantly however, it gives the child themselves an opportunity to have a voice within the mediation and for that child to feel their views have been taken into account when decisions are being made.
If you would like any more information about family mediation, direct consultation with children or simply wish to speak to one of our team, please contact us on 0121 200 3242. You can find more information on our website. You may also like to follow us on twitter @ACSPrivateCL.
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