Child-focused mediation offers better outcomes for separating parents

November 11, 2015  |   Posted by :   |   Blog


A recent US pilot study suggests that family mediation focused on the needs and feelings of children leads to a more cooperative outcome, reduced conflict, better communication, and twice the amount of parenting time with fathers.

The trial took place at the Indiana University School of Law Family and Children Mediation Clinic and involved a small, randomised, controlled group of separating parents who took part in ‘Child Informed Mediation’ (CIM). There were two approaches to mediation during the research: ‘Child Focused’ (CF) mediation, in which parents considered the effects of separation on their children throughout the process of negotiating an agreement; and ‘Child Inclusive’ (CI), in which the children of separating parents were interviewed by a child consultant, who then passed on these responses as well as their own observations to the couple in mediation.  The two child-based approaches were then compared with ‘Mediation As Usual’ (MAU), in which a neutral mediator acts as a neutral party for negotiations between the separating couple.

The study found the Child Inclusive method ‘more moving’ for parents, giving them a stark realisation of the effects of separation on their children, and providing a child’s point of view on the situation. The mediators also preferred CIM, while all forms of mediation provided similar levels of satisfaction and fairness in parents.

When it came to comparisons of mediation agreements, however, the differences were more significant:

  • Parents who used Child Informed Mediation were more likely to agree to cooperate and state an intention to ensure both parents continue to have a strong relationship with both parents in their mediation agreement;
  • In 61.5% of CIM cases, the mother’s home became the primary residence for children, compared to 92.9% under Mediation As Usual;
  • 5% of parents agreed that custody should be shared or primarily with the father under CIM;
  • The average time agreed for fathers to spend with children doubled from 2.7 nights every four weeks under MAU to 6.9 nights under CIM;
  • Parents who used CIM took less court time and initiated fewer hearings and motions in the year following mediation;

The researchers stressed that ‘we should not read too much into one small study’, suggesting that self-selection may have attributed to the positive results found in CIM, as the sample ‘could have included a disproportionately large group of cooperative parents’, and these child-based approaches were not tested with cases involving family violence. However, the optimistic results should provide an important insight into the potential for cooperative outcomes when parents consider the effect of separation on their children. The researchers hope that large-scale studies will replicate these results, and “raise questions about how best to support separating parents in facilitated negotiations,” concluding that “this research suggests that we should take a closer look at whether a more child-informed approach to mediation can save courts time and money, produce less adversarial separations, and achieve better solutions for children.”

Mediator and family law solicitor Frances Lindsay is experienced in helping couples through the process of separation, and is familiar with the challenges parents face while dealing with children’s issues: “If you have children, however much you dislike your ex, you are still going to have to deal with each other for years to come. Mediation can give you the tools to co-parent and provide your children with the stability and reassurance they need. If you go to court to sort out your children issues remember this: the judge neither knows nor loves your children. You wouldn’t normally allow a complete stranger to make important decisions about your children, so why should you allow it during separation? In many cases, it is far more beneficial for couples to work together to come to a considered and mature agreement for future co-parenting.”

For more information on mediation and collaborative family law, get in touch with Frances Lindsay & Co in Maidenhead, Beaconsfield and the Thames Valley. We offer a different kind of family law – our friendly, down-to-earth family lawyers are here to take the weight off your shoulders when it comes to negotiating the sensitive issues of divorce and separation, particularly when there are children involved. Give us a call on 01628 634667 to speak to a solicitor, or visit to get in touch online.

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