Confidentiality of the communications that occur between the child and the mediator is an area worthy of discussion.
It would seem that in order to advocate for a child, the child needs to feel comfortable that what is shared is not to be disclosed. After the interview is completed, the child may be unwilling to have some or all of the communications disclosed. The mediator should abide by the child’s preference.
The child may be unwilling to directly speak to the parents and would prefer the mediator to act as an advocate for them. If the mediator feels it is appropriate that the child share their feelings, the mediator can invite the parents into the room.
Cautions needs to be exercised if the feelings the child is about to share may be damaging to the relationship of the child to their parent(s). The mediator would need to speak with the parents before speaking in an attempt to minimize the potential problems associated with the sharing of information for the child.
There are some serious issues that need to be considered when contemplating involving a child in the mediation process of child custody disputes.
The child will be at the center of the custody battle between the parents. How detrimental will this be if the child is included in any part of this process? Is the information gleaned worth the potential damage to the child? Should a mental health professional be present at the mediation? Is t is appropriate to suggest that after the mediation process has concluded, the child see a mental health professional as a follow up?
Children are often confused about their parents’ divorce. They have a limited amount of coping strategies available to them at every given age. The younger ones, up to the age of 5, may react by regressing. The children ages 6-8, tend to cry more or long for the absent parent. The older ones, 9-12, tend to get angry and blame one or the other parent for the divorce and the adolescents tend to be slightly more expressive and accusatory, blaming their parents for leaving.
Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms are most readily apparent during the earliest stages of divorce, the time when mediation is often employed as a means for the parents to cope with their changes. Is it appropriate to involve a child at this phase of their life?
By involving the child, is mediation already adding to the difficulties that are already being experienced? Many children will feel guilty for choosing one parent over another or for causing additional tensions between their parents. They may be criticized or punished after the mediation session is over.
A mediator needs to be, mindful of these issues and address them directly with the child and with the parents. It may be helpful to have a mental health professional present to assist the child if they run into difficulties, or to make a follow up appointment with a counselor after the mediation has concluded to insure proper behaviors are being exhibited by all parties.
What is the involvement or lack thereof in the mediation process saying to the child? There are some children who will feel an inappropriate sense of power as a result of their ability to influence their parents’ decisions. They may also feel that they have some form of control over their parents and exploit it for their own benefit.
On the other hand, some children may feel a sense of powerlessness, because, they were unable to have their feelings and/or preferences heard and will hesitate to express them in the future. If they are left out of the process altogether, there may always be a question in the child’s mind as to what was said and how accurately their feelings were represented.
Being an advocate for the child in mediation is a delicate role. The decision to advocate should be made after careful consideration is given to all factors. If any of the steps above are omitted, I believe a mediator role as an advocate will be compromised.
The paramount concern to the mediator should be the effect both short and long term on the child. For if the child is adversely affected by the process, the mediator who advocates for the child’s best interest will have failed to do so.
As trained and experienced mediators, we take all parties into consideration. If you have questions or concerns, please call us today at 818-483-6786 for a confidential consultation.