If you are trying to agree child arrangements as part of your divorce or separation, it is recommended that children of a certain age have their hopes and wishes taken into consideration. If this is done through family mediation, it is called Child Inclusive Mediation.
In this ultimate guide, we explore how this works, when it is used and the process involved.
What is child inclusive mediation?
It is a structured process where a qualified mediator speaks to the children to ascertain their wishes and feelings. Where the children give permission, these wishes and feelings are then shared by the mediator with the parents in a separate feedback meeting. The parents can then use this information to agree the child arrangements moving forwards.
The theory behind child inclusive mediation
The basic theory is that children, generally speaking, have a right to have their voices heard when decisions are made about them. They like to be consulted in the process. They like to share their opinions, their wishes and their feelings. If, as the parents, you are formulating plans for your children, it is considered best practise to have consulted with your children.
Who can see a child in child inclusive mediation?
For a family mediator to see any child in child inclusive mediation, they must have undertaken a specialist course where they will have learned the correct procedures and protocols that they must follow
- before a child is invited
- during the consultation process
- after the process is complete and the feedback is given to the parents.
Child inclusive mediation is not a process to be concerned about. It's a positive process, soundly structured to provide benefits to all those involved. Why wouldn't you want to give your children a voice? To hear what your children think and feel?
A child inclusive mediator has a responsibility to safeguarding and their overriding priority is to protect the children involved in child inclusive mediation.
What does the law say about child inclusive mediation?
Child inclusive mediation is aligned to The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as The Children's Act 1989. Each piece of legislation emphasises the need for children's wishes and feelings to be considered and their right to be consulted in decisions that affect them.
Children also have a right to speak to a child counsellor or child inclusive mediator - but either parent can exercise a veto on this.
The recommendation is that children over the age of ten should be made aware of this right. However, the parents must be aligned and in agreement before the children can be invited to speak to a mediator. This does not exclude children younger than 10 from being involved, but the parents maintain the right to decline child inclusive mediation.
How does child inclusive mediation work?
At your MIAM meetings (your initial appointments), the mediator will outline the basics of child inclusive mediation. At your first joint meeting, the mediator should ask both parents to share and discuss their views of child inclusive mediation.
If both parents agree to child inclusive mediation, then a CIM Mediator will be appointed and the parents through some screening questions. These may include:
- Asking the parents to think about how they will react if they hear certain types of feedback
- How they will use the feedback within their child arrangements
- Asking them to confirm that they will respect the views of the children
- Confirm that they understand the rights that the children have
- The mediator will assess that child inclusive mediation is being used for the best and right reasons.
The mediator will write directly to the children inviting them into the process and explaining how the process works. If the children do not want to do child inclusive mediation, they will not be made to do it - ultimately, it is their choice.
The mediator will try to make the meeting age-appropriate so as to give the children a worthwhile experience as well as an informal way to share their wishes and their feelings.
Will my children be asked to make a decision on who they want to live with?
No, at no point, will a child ever be asked by the mediator to make a choice or a decision. They will be asked a series of open questions designed to seek out their wishes and feelings. For example:
- Please outline what you know about mum and dad's situation?
- How does the routine of contact between mum and dad work for you?
- Give me an idea of what life is like for you at the moment
- What do you enjoy at school?
- What don't you enjoy at school?
- What could change at home that you would find helpful? Why?
Why choose child inclusive mediation?
You are making plans for the future. Integral to those plans is the welfare of your children. Child inclusive mediation can be a positive experience for the whole family.
The children have an opportunity to meet an independent person who has no agenda. They can express their wishes and their feelings without fear or worry. It can empower them in the process and help at a time when they may feel they have no control over their future.
You will receive structured feedback which you can use to make the choices and decisions that you need to make as parents. Sometimes you will have to explain to the children why it isn't possible to meet their wishes. But you will be surprised at how often a child feels unable to say something to their mum or dad - usually not out of fear, but more that they just do not want to disappoint you and they want to show loyalty to you both.
Giving your children a voice; letting them contribute to the process and allowing their wishes and feelings may well help you make even better child arrangements. There may be something that is upsetting them that can easily be resolved but they are worried about talking to you for fear of upsetting or hurting you.
What do you feedback to us following child inclusive mediation?
In short, we will feedback anything the children want to tell you!
Encouraging children to open up in a positive, constructive manner is part of this process. As is retrieving information that enables the parents to consider alternative ideas.
We can let you know those things that your children cannot say to you directly. You are their parents, usually the two people they love most in the entire world. They will likely want to please you both. Perhaps they won't want to give you what they think is bad news themselves. All this can be feedback to you after they see the mediator and will help you make important decisions.
Does child inclusive mediation work?
Yes, in the vast majority of cases it has a genuinely positive effect. How can we be so sure? Because we have seen child inclusive mediation in action man times. We have also given many difficult feedbacks to parents. We have seen how much this process can help the family dynamic. We have conducted child inclusive mediation sessions that have gone well over 60 minutes, just because the children were speaking so freely - the first time their voice had been really heard.
When wouldn't you choose child inclusive mediation?
There are times when child inclusive mediation would not be considered right. It is difficult to generalise because every situation should be assessed on its merits. Some instances might be:
- The children are under the age of ten
- There are a number of agencies involved already and one more may just confuse the situation
- Where there are clear signs of child abuse
- When child services are involved and, in their opinion, child inclusive mediation would not be suitable
- Where parental alienation might affect the feedback
- Where the child is receiving counselling and the counsellor's opinion is it would not help them
- When both parents cannot agree to child inclusive mediation
- The child has emotional or cognitive understanding that would make the process difficult for them to understand.
How to use the results from child inclusive mediation
The first thing to do is take a step back. Look at the feedback objectively, it is a way to improve your child arrangements, so why not see it as a constructive contribution? Your children will know that you are prepared to listen to their views and that you respect their views. That can be very powerful when you are separating.
Be prepared for some tough conversations. The children may express wishes and feelings that just cannot be met.
It is best if you can present a united front - jointly and openly discuss this with the children - explain, empathise, and be enthusiastic about their feedback.
Your children will take great comfort from the fact that their mum and dad can talk to each other constructively and agree a way forward in their best interests.
What child inclusive mediation is not
You should not see child inclusive mediation as a way of delegating your parental decision making to your children.
Choices and decisions should be made by the adults, in consultation with their children. Time and again research highlights that children do not want to have to make choices - especially when that choice supports one parent.
Child inclusive mediation is not a cure-all to your child arrangements - it is merely one tool that can be very effective. However, more opinions thrown into the mix can make matters more confusing. You - as parents - need to work through this maze and create clear, structured arrangements for the children.
How is child inclusive mediation conducted?
It can be carried out in one of two ways:
- In person
- At one of our offices in Berkshire (Bracknell), Surrey or Hampshire.
- The children are seen alone by the mediators – the parents are not present
- Feedback to the parents should happen within 5 working days after the child inclusive mediation has taken place
- The mediator will write to the children to let them know the feedback has been delivered
- This is usually done using zoom
- A laptop or tablet is preferable to a phone
- A good WIFI connection is essential, otherwise the mediator might have to terminate the call
- The parents must decide where the children will be sat. At whose house? Sometimes, schools are able to facilitate zoom mediation, so the children are in a neutral place
- The parents must ensure relevant safeguards are in place to protect the confidentiality of the children
- Mediator will write to the children to let them know the feedback has been delivered
See our flowchart above - to see the process for helping your children have a say in their arrangements.
Parental agreement and written authority
Child inclusive mediation requires the approval of both parents and you will be asked to sign a specific agreement giving that approval.
If either parent withholds their approval, then the children cannot participate in the process.
Also, it is best that the children are not told of the option to participate until both parents have formally signed the agreement. At that stage, you can agree on how to tell the children and when.
The mediator has a responsibility for ensuring the safety and welfare of any child undertaking child inclusive mediation. They will ask the parents some questions during the screening process that will help the mediator assess the suitability of the situation and the individuals concerned. If the mediator has doubts as to why the child is being asked to speak to the mediator, they can decline the opportunity to invite the children.
If the children are involved with child services or receiving counselling, then the mediator will need to know this. It is possible that the mediator will need to speak to the social worker or counsellor prior to child inclusive mediation being arranged. This is because the mediator would not want the parties to reach an agreement in mediation that the social worker would not support; or hold child inclusive mediation, where the social worker or counsellor actively felt it would not be helpful.
The mediator will ask some questions of you as they need to assess that child inclusive mediation is being used for the right and positive reasons. Also, you need to confirm that you understand the parameters under which the mediation is conducted and that you’ll respect the integrity of the process and the right to confidentiality that the children have.
Inviting the children
The mediator will have asked you to describe how the children address you - mum and dad, mummy and daddy, first names, etc. - and, where there is more than one child, they will check if the children should be addressed in one letter or separate ones.
Once the agreement is signed by both parents, the mediator will write directly to the children. This letter will seek to reassure them and tell them what to expect. It will mention that it's a voluntary process as well as being confidential. If the children do not want to do it, they do not have to.
Wishes and feelings vs choices and decisions
Child inclusive mediation can be beneficial for all those involved. It is, though, very important that all participants understand their role. Children enter child inclusive mediation to enable them to express their hopes, desires, wishes and feelings.
It is vitally important that children understand that in child inclusive mediation, they will not be asked to make choices or decisions or to pick a side.
Talking to the children in advance
When telling the children about child inclusive mediation, try to do it together as parents. This way, the children will understand that you both support the process and they may have more confidence in it. Encourage them to be open and transparent, but don't coach them in their answers.
All feedback will be given verbally. You can take notes but must not record the meeting. Notes taken by the mediator during the child inclusive mediation are deemed confidential and will not be released unless instructed by a court.
The alternatives to child inclusive mediation
If you felt that child inclusive mediation was not the right choice for you, but you did recognise that the family could use some help, there are other options
- SPiP course - run by CAFCASS.
- Separated Parents Information Programme designed to help you understand how to put your children first
- If you make an application to court for a Child Arrangements Order, the court will usually invite CAFCASS to become involved
- A case worker will be assigned to you and they will speak to both parents
- The case worker may also talk to the children, which may include their wishes
- The case worker will file a report at court for the judge
- The judge can accept the CAFCASS report in its entirety, accept parts of it or even reject it if they have good reason
- Independent help - these resources can all help with supporting children in the process
Get in touch to find out how Mediate UK can help with your parenting or financial dispute, or with a divorce, separation or legal advice.
FAQs - Child Inclusive Mediation
What if we cannot agree on the arrangements, once child inclusive mediation has taken place?
There are other options if mediation breaks down, including a barrister review or arbitration. However, if you do go to court having submitted a C100 application, then the judge may ask Cafcass to speak with your children as well and compile a report for the court. There have been examples where the judge has criticised a parent for not taking into account the child's wishes from child inclusive mediation. Our guide to mediation before court can help show the importance of acting reasonably and responsibly prior to any court hearing.
Will my children be safe?
The mediator must attend specific courses in order to see children and in the majority of cases such mediation is co-mediated. Prior to agreeing to child inclusive mediation, the mediator will ask the parents a series of questions to help assess the suitability of the case.
Do we really need child inclusive mediation? Surely, we can just ask the kids.
Often young children will tell their mum and dad what they think they want to know - and for no other reason than they want to please you. Most children do not have the advanced communication skills of adults and often you might find that you get better results from the involvement of a third party. But all children are different, as are all family situations.
How much will does child inclusive mediation cost?
Child Inclusive mediation costs £199 per parent and includes the following:
- 30-minute assessment meeting between the parents and the CIM mediator.
- 1 hour meeting between the child/children and the CIM mediator.
- 30-minute feedback session between the parents and the CIM mediator.
When does child inclusive mediation take place
At a time that is best for the children.
Where is child inclusive mediation conducted?
The ideal is on neutral ground, face to face, in an office. Zoom can work very well too. Sometimes schools, or other neutral places will provide facilities for the online meeting to take place. The key is the child must feel comfortable to talk freely to the mediator.
Do the parents have to agree to child inclusive mediation?
Yes, each parent has a right of veto where the parents cannot agree on child inclusive mediation. It must be a joint decision. Do bear in mind that if you case subsequently goes to court that you will not have such a right if the judge decides to instruct CAFCASS to talk to your children.
Are the parents present when you talk to the children?
No, the children are seen in a separate room, or online, with just with the mediator(s) present.
What if the children do not want to be involved?
Child inclusive mediation is a voluntary and confidential process. The children have a right to not be involved.
Are the children seen together or separately?
This is one of the questions asked of you in the screening process. We would encourage you to let the children decide, because it is about them being comfortable with the environment. We can always offer them the opportunity to speak to the mediator privately for part of the meeting. We have come across situations where the parents want one thing and the children another - we will discuss this with you before proceeding.
Why is child inclusive mediation seen as being so important?
If you are making arrangements that concern your children, it would be considered best practice to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the children before you finalise those arrangements.
At what age is child inclusive mediation relevant?
Children aged 10 upwards should be made aware of child inclusive mediation, where both parents agree, but that does not prevent younger children from being involved.
The children are seeing a counsellor. Do they need to see a mediator as well?
This depends on a number of factors. A good starting point would be to discuss it with the counsellor. For instance, does the counsellor provide any feedback to you? Does their process allow for that? If they can provide feedback to you, then child inclusive mediation might not be needed as well.
I want my child to make the choice. What's wrong with that?
Research over many years suggests that children do not want to be put in the position of having to make a choice, where they feel the adults should be making that choice.Especially, where that choice comes down to making a decision that might be seen to favour one parent. Consulting children to understand their wishes and feelings is far apart from taking the next step and asking them to make a decision that, as a parent, you should be making.
What happens at the feedback session?
It is important that this session is completed shortly after the meeting with the children. The feedback will be given by the mediator who spoke with your children. All feedback is given verbally - you do not receive anything in writing. The mediator will let you know what the children said and what they want to let you know. However they cannot share anything said in confidence to them by the children. The feedback is given at your next joint meeting in the first 30 minutes of that session.
I disagree with what my child said in the feedback, what can I do?
You should use the feedback from the children to help you both agree an arrangement for the future. You do not have to accept everything your child says, but you should take it into account when formalising your child arrangements. Additionally, you should not simply disregard your children's wishes when making your child arrangements. If you completely disregard the feedback from your children, ask yourself how this might be regarded by CAFCASS and the Court, should you pursue the matter through this route?
What if we cannot agree on the arrangements once child inclusive mediation has taken place??
There are other options if mediation breaks down, including a barrister review or arbitration. However, if you do go to court having submitted a C100 application, then the judge may ask CAFCASS to speak with your children as well and compile a report for the court. There have been examples where the judge has criticised a parent for not taking into account the child's wishes from child inclusive mediation. See Case Study 3 for more details of a real life scenario.
Is there an upper age limit for child inclusive mediation?
In theory no, there is no upper age limit. We have spoken to someone who was 18 through the child inclusive process. Their feedback was very important in helping the parents decide their living arrangements. A court would not usually allow a child arrangements order for a child over 16, so child inclusive mediation can work well in such cases. Indeed, the older a child is, the more input they should have in deciding their future plans. Also, if your child was, for example, 20 years old, still living at home and an integral part of the family situation, we would consider CIM if both parents agreed.
Will my mediator be the one who talks to the children?
Not necessarily, as the mediator needs to have completed additional training for child inclusive mediation. If this is important to you from the outset, then let our office know and we will ensure your mediator is one trained in child inclusive mediation. Otherwise, a mediator specially trained in child inclusive mediation will speak to your children and feedback to you and then you would continue the mediation with your existing mediator.
I am worried that the other party will coach my children on what to say
The mediators are trained to engage and ask open questions to the children as part of the process. If you believe that parental alienation is taking place, then you may need a higher authority, such as the family court, to make a decision.
Where can I find a child inclusive mediator?
Want to find out more? Why not give us a call on 0330 999 0959 or email us email@example.com to see how mediation can help you agree a great parenting plan that puts your children at the heart of the agreement.
This Ultimate Guide has been compiled by Ian Lovatt and Chloe Evans. Chloe and Ian are both accredited family mediators, trained in Child Inclusive Mediation and have experienced first hand the advantages to the whole family of undertaking the process.
This ultimate guide has been produced by Ali Carter Dip M.(B.inst) F.inst.Pa.
Ali is the Founder of Divorce Ltd, a Mediator, Divorce Negotiator and has been previously through a divorce himself. He has helped clients in over 2000 divorce or separations since 2010.