Don’t overlook the children during separation or divorce – it is important their voices are heard
For all family lawyers and mediators, on-going refresher training is essential if we are to ensure our knowledge and skills remain relevant and up-to-date. I recently undertook training in consulting with children to boost my family law mediation skills.
It is a long established principle first set out in the 1989 Children Act’s welfare checklist that during divorce the feelings and wishes of children should be taken into account in light of their age and understanding. In 2015 the then justice minister Simon Hughes announced that children of divorcing parents would have even greater say as their future was discussed in the courts following the publication of a report titled ‘Voice of the Child’. Mr Hughes was then stopped in his tracks by an election.
The Voice of the Child report was a significant piece of research into the impact on children of family breakdown. Overwhelmingly, children reported that they felt they were not heard, were not given an opportunity to express their opinions, and were not asked how they felt about the arrangements being made for them.
At the time, the government may not have risen to the challenge of endorsing the report’s recommendations in law but, since its publication, organisations such as Resolution and the Family Mediation Council have been working to bring about a change of ethos in legal circles. From September 2018, all family mediators will be required to practise child-inclusive mediation. Family mediators will be required to discuss with parents the importance of children being able to express their views, and being heard – although not all mediators will consult directly with children themselves and some may choose to ask a third party to meet with the children if the parents decide it could be useful.
Personally, the training demonstrated to me that seeking the views of children can have a powerful impact on the parents’ discussions regarding their separation or divorce. Providing children with a confidential and neutral channel to report back to their parents is a privilege that should be valued and taken extremely seriously. I am looking forward to continuing to work with families to help ensure they get their arrangements right from the start.
For more information on family law and how it may affect you, or to find out more about our divorce, separation and mediation services, contact the George Ide team on 01243 786668 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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