Should Children be Involved During Divorce?
By Erica Deines
At Fairway Divorce Solutions, we are constantly encouraged to obtain more education that helps us advance as the leading experts in our field. I recently attended the Child-Centred Continuum Seminar and believe that a lot of the topics mentioned in the seminar should be shared publicly. One of the questions that were brought to our attention was:
Should children have a voice when their parents decide to split up? And if so, how can we incorporate that in the decision making process?
Lorri Yasenik, a Canadian child specialist, and Jon Graham, an Australian family mediator, are adamant that children should be seen and heard in the family law process. This debate is a controversial one but so important that we need to understand and find a solution.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an agreement between nations (not all nations) to extend to and define the rights of children as human beings. Article 12 states:
Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
Ms. Yasenik and Mr. Graham are pioneering a child continuum model that allows children to be heard during the divorce of the parents.
The question is when should they be involved and how to involve them? Yasenik and Graham explained that they should be involved from the beginning and their voice be shared with their parents at the moment both parents are ready and/or capable of hearing their children speak.
Or, the children can work directly with a Mediator who will facilitate the child’s expression of their needs, wants and concerns to the parents. Therefore, when the parents find the right Mediator for their divorce facilitation, the child can get involved. These methods, however, cannot operate effectively in every case. The more complex and the higher the conflict in a family, the less likely that the child can directly communicate their needs, wants and concerns to the parents. The only way for a child to be involved in high conflict cases is if a Mediator is the one translating the children’s experiences, wants and needs. In addition, the more high conflict the case with the child involved, the more skillful the Mediator will have to be.
Now that when a child should be involved has been defined, Ms. Yasenik and Mr. Graham go into detail on how the child can communicate effectively with both parents. Remember, the parents are often in an emotional disarray as well so the how is very important. Depending on the child’s age and ability to communicate and their parents’ capacity to hear them, a variety of approaches are used to gain and understand what the child’s needs are. Ultimately, Yasenik and Graham explain that it is important to understand how the child is experiencing the separation and/or the new family structure. These approaches can be through drawings, letters, interviews etc.
The goal of Yasenik and Graham’s method is to develop parenting agreements that “Recognize that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”.
Now that I have experienced this seminar, I do believe that the children should have a voice. It doesn’t mean they are the decision makers. At the very least parents should be made aware of how their behaviours and decisions impact the children and how it affects the children’s ability to develop into the best human beings they are capable of being.