February 26, 2015, by Robyn D. Weisman
“I want to do what’s best for my children”: a phrase that is so often heard when I start mediations with couples with children. A concern both parents have for their children is to keep the children healthy during the divorce process and beyond. Why is mediation so beneficial for families with children?
Dr. Robert Emery, a professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, did a 12 year study of couples going through a divorce. The results were quite significant for the families with children. Choosing the right path as a means to an end, divorce or separation is key to the health of the family as mediation was found not as disruptive as going through a litigated divorce. Each party has a voice in the long term planning. Working together to come to a mutual parenting plan is the ultimate mutual goal of both parties. Communication between the parties remains intact and a goal of staying “a family” is at the forefront.
In mediation, discussing the children’s needs and the road to co-parenting is much healthier than having attorneys fighting over potential conflicts or having a judge decide what is best for the family. Should a judge decide where your child goes to school or how and where they should be brought up? Should he or she decide if your child should play soccer or a musical instrument? The judge very often makes decisions not based upon your individual case but what is easier for him or her and faster to get the case off of the desk. Instead of what you hear very often in the court battle, “I never want to see you again or I never want to speak to you again”, the conversation in mediation becomes how can we cover up the hurt, grief, anger and pain and work together for the sake of the children.
Divorce mediation or family mediation does work and in 90% of the cases that come through my door mediation becomes a completed process. An uncontested divorce becomes the goal and the end to most of the mediations. The focus on the best interests of the children and family allows the couple to reach an agreement they both feel is fair.
As Professor Emery stresses, parents who cooperate with each other clearly benefits children, whether the parents are still living together or apart. Who are the most competent people to make decision about their children’s future? The parents, who know the children the best including the relationships to all family members, should be encouraged to come to agreements on the welfare of the children. “Instead of telling parents how to bring up their children, we should honor – and encourage – agreements between parents.”, cites Professor Emery.
Walton, Oliver, and Griffin (1999) discussed the distress associated with divorce stating that it could cause a shift in mood and trigger anxiety in children as well. Despite these concerns over the psychological well-being of children of divorce, Walton et al. (1999) found that after being involved in divorce mediation, parents had decreased levels of distress and anxiety, which may overall be beneficial for children, as they may benefit from their parent’s decreased anxiety.
So when thinking of whether you want to “take your spouse to Court”, think of mediation instead, especially when you have children to consider. It can be especially helpful in divorce cases with children and has the ultimate goal of conflict resolution (Emery, 2004; Kaslow, 1984), creating harmony, and improving cooperation among participants (Lowenstein, 2009).