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Stuck in the middle

During a divorce or separation, where there are children involved, the priority should be their well-being. Unfortunately, on occasions the children find themselves stuck in the middle of their parents arguments and hurt.

It is important to recognise from the outset that children will be impacted by a separation and react to stressful situations in very different ways to adults. They usually have no frame of reference to work from and feelings of abandonment, confusion, loneliness and even anger are not unusual and can be completely overwhelming. Children regularly blame themselves for the break-up of their parents’ relationship, and it can be very difficult to convince them otherwise.

Children will often struggle to explain how they are feeling and therefore will express their feelings differently, some will misbehave and cry out for attention, others will keep their feelings hidden and “shut down” which makes it difficult for a parent to gauge the impact their break up is having on the children. 

There is no doubt that all parents would agree that they have a responsibility to shield their children from the adult issues connected with their separation and to keep confrontation to an absolute minimum, especially in front of the children, however ,this is not always easy.

As difficult as it may be, putting time aside to sit down and talk as parents about the children is often the most productive step forward. Children want to know that they are still loved by both parents and that their parents are working together to plan what will happen.

The popularity of family mediation has grown over recent years because it gives parents the opportunity of sitting down together and discussing the arrangements for the children with the help of a trained mediator. The mediator is impartial so they are not there to push one parent into an agreement, instead they are there to help both parents’ to reach an agreement that they feel could work in their circumstances. The mediator also helps keep the discussions focused on the best interests of the children and can help parents think about other options that they may not have considered previously.

What are the other options?

In most cases, the parents will be able to come to an agreement about where the children are to live and when they spend time with the other parent, whether that is with or without the help from a family mediator. If this can be agreed amicably, then there is no need for a court order.

If no agreement can be reached then either parent can make an application to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order. This is an Order that sets out where the children are to live and the arrangements for them to spend time with the other parent. Parents should think carefully before making an application to Court as they should understand the Court proceedings can be lengthy, lasting for 6-12 months or more, and can be costly and stressful for all involved.

Other than in limited circumstances before making an application there is a requirement to consider the option of family mediation and to attend an assessment meeting with an accredited mediator. This is a one-to-one meeting, without the other parent being present, where the mediator will explain how mediation works as well as take some information to consider whether mediation is suitable. The mediator would also have a similar meeting with the other parent before arranging a joint meeting if everyone is willing.

It is far better for children if their parents can come to an amicable agreement following their separation and mediation has helped many parents reach an agreement. If you would like further information about family mediation then please contact us on 01484 821 300. 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.