In general Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners are legislatively mandated to act in children’s best interests. However FDRP’s are also meant to be neutral and in facilitative mediation, non-directive. Child focused mediation means a mediation where the parties are encouraged to consider the needs and interests of their children as paramount. However child focused mediation, as opposed to child inclusive mediation, does not involve the children directly in the mediation process. Rather the mediator learns about the children via their parents.
When attending mediation be mindful that it is possible the mediator may use the following techniques to help focus parties on their child:
- Writing the child’s name on the board.
- Asking parties about the child’s needs and personality, age, stage of development and activities and writing this on the board.
- Providing educational material about social science research regarding the impact parental conflict has on children’s development and referrals such as post separation parenting classes.
- Explaining that children may feel conflicted in their loyalty between parents and parents need to minimise this.
- Proposing “management of parental conflict” as an agenda item.
- When the parties revert to positional or distributive bargaining asking them to visualise the child and ask “what would your child be feeling or thinking?”
- Parents can be asked questions such as:
- what is it like to be your child at the moment?
- what will your child’s best and worst memories of this time of separation be?
- what hopes do you both share for your children?
In preparing for a mediation it may be a good idea to consider what your responses to the above would be.
Similarly when parenting matters proceed to Court under the Family Law Act 1975 the Court must consider the best interests of children as the paramount consideration when making decisions. In determining best interests the primary considerations for the Court are that children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents and that children be protected from risk of harm, abuse or neglect.
The Court has discretion and each situation is unique. S60CC of the Family Law Act outlines relevant factors in deciding what arrangement is in a child’s best interests. Such factors include a child’s views, relationship with the parents and other persons, effect on the child of a change in circumstances including separation from someone the child is attached to, practicalities of time occurring, capacity of parents to provide for the child’s needs, cultural issues including if the child is Indigenous, family violence, reducing future litigation, parents involvement with the child.
The Court will often be alert to if parents appear “child focused”. In either mediation or Court, the focus for both the mediator or a Judge in Court proceedings is what is in the best interests of the children in the matter.