Written by Nicholas von Benzon

Nicholas has practised as a family mediator since 1992, and is a Family Mediation Council accredited mediator and member of the Family Mediators Association and College of Mediators. Having been a solicitor for many years, Nicholas is used to dealing with complex legal and practical issues.

Parents facing separation and divorce are often deeply concerned about the effect their actions will have on their children. This article describes how parents can reduce the stress experienced by their children, and the way in which family mediation can support them as they make arrangements for the future.

In the emotional turmoil surrounding the end of a relationship, parents easily lose sight of their children’s needs and fail to hear their concerns. Not surprisingly children’s perspectives are very different from those of their parents. Younger children will have a strong desire for their parents to get back together. Teenagers may have anxieties about their own ability to form relationships in the future, and feel ashamed about their parent’s childish behaviour. Children will frequently feel rejected and blame themselves for the breakdown of their parent’s relationship. They will be anxious about the future and in need of reassurance and love.

Parents easily lose sight of their children’s needs and fail to hear their concerns.

Parents can help their children by listening to them and responding to their needs, offering love and reassurance. Where possible, parents should sit down together with their children, and talk about what is happening, allowing their children to ask questions and voice their concerns. Parents need to protect their children from their own adult issues and avoid blaming each other. Children are able to pick up on their parent’s anxieties and disagreements. They will want to please their parents, and may only tell them what they think their parents want to hear, thereby inadvertently adding fuel to their parent’s conflict.

Children are able to pick up on their parent’s anxieties and disagreements.

Family mediation can help parents minimise the conflicts which can so seriously damage their child’s healthy development. Mediators provide a safe place where parents can discuss their children’s needs and make arrangements for them. Mediators are trained to resolve conflict, to offer a different perspective and help parents find creative solutions to apparently intractable problems. Disagreements about where the children are to live, when they will see their parents and other parental concerns can be resolved. In appropriate cases mediators can talk with children and give voice to their views.

Family mediators also work with property and financial issues: helping parents work out how to deal with the family home, the family income and assets, and enabling the couple make the best possible arrangements for themselves and their children. Some couples come to mediation before they separate to plan how they can split up and rearrange their affairs with the least possible acrimony and disruption. Others come before commencing divorce proceedings, and others only after years of litigation. Whenever they come, they find the mediator will help them to find solutions which minimise the personal and financial cost of separation and divorce.

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