Having children participate in the child custody mediation process is controversial. However, the vast majority of mediation experts agree that there is a time and place for certain children to participate as their parents decide upon a visitation schedule and parenting plan.
If both parents and the child’s court-ordered representative all agree that it is a good and beneficial idea for a child to share his or her input during the mediation process, there are four basic ways that this input can be communicated:
- Personal participation in a session. In some cases, a child may be invited to a mediation session and asked to actually participate in person. This form of participation is reserved for older, emotionally mature children and for parents who are going through a largely amicable divorce or separation. Your mediator can share the pros and cons of personal participation with you regarding your individual case.
- Mental health professional interview. In order to minimize any harmful affects of your child participating in your mediation, you may wish to have a professional counselor or other mental health professional speak with your child about his or her thoughts on custody and visitation—and that professional can report back to the parents and mediator. The benefit of this approach is that the counselor can gently secure information from your child and analyze your child’s answers from his or her professional viewpoint.
- Mediator interview. Alternatively, the mediator can interview the child privately and ask a series of questions regarding the child’s feelings and preferences. The major benefit of this approach is that the mediator is a neutral, unbiased participant in the process who can serve as a messenger to the parents. In addition, the child will not be exposed to the actual mediation process.
- Written or taped statement by the child. In order to most limit exposure, some families choose to allow their child or children to submit a written or videotaped statement regarding their thoughts, feelings, and wishes. While this approach allows children to voice their needs and concerns, it also prevents them from being pulled into the decision-making process itself. However, the children do not get the opportunity to answer specific questions or interact with the mediator or the parents.
How Can I Know If My Child Should Have a Say in Mediation?
Whether or not your child should have an active role in your child custody mediation heavily depends on your child – while some children can make a vital contribution to the discussion and feel a positive impact from the experience, others may be traumatized by participating or simply contributing information useful to the creation of a parenting plan.
Here are four factors to consider before allowing your child to participate in mediation:
- Your child’s age. Obviously, a 16-year-old will have more to say about your divorce and child custody agreement than a two-year-old. But where do professionals draw the line? Many mediators believe that children around the age of 12 may be old enough to give their opinion on their primary residence and other related information. However, other factors other than age are also important to consider.
- Your child’s maturity. Maturity counts for much more than age when it comes to helpful participation in mediation. Can your children handle something as serious as a custody discussion, and do they understand the implications of their input?
- Your child’s emotional stability. Ask yourself how your children have handled the divorce or separation so far – are they extremely sensitive, angry, or withdrawn? While all children will struggle with their parents’ breakup, some are able to handle the subject better than others. If your children are struggling, it may be best not to expose them to more potential conflict – or to make them believe they are choosing sides or causing trouble.
- Your child’s level of input. Are your children likely to request the parent who has later bedtimes and lax rules? Or are your children aware of what is actually in their best interests? If you believe your children have the ability to articulate real, honest, and helpful thoughts and feelings, they may be ready to participate.
Do you need a Bellevue child custody attorney to assist you with your divorce and mediation process? Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny today to schedule an appointment: 425-460-0550.