Separation and divorce of one’s parents are two life experiences that for a myriad of reasons, unfortunately has a detrimental impact on a large number of children. The effect hereof is undoubtedly exacerbated by a child’s exposure to domestic violence whether before, during or preceding the decision to divorce. It would also be exacerbated by the parents’ heightened verbal and psychological acrimony towards each other as the divorce litigation gets underway.
A sad reality of our current divorce scenario is that contested divorces can take between twenty-four to thirty-six months before the matter is granted a trial hearing. The impact of this long wait for a trial date, is not only that finances will, in the process, be significantly depleted, with emotions between parents often being frayed to the point of extreme dislike, but for the child caught in the middle of the family conflict, the waiting period to trial invariably increases anxiety, annihilates identity, and destroys confidence in self, self-worth and the world at large. A child’s recovery from divorce can in such instances last a lifetime.
Despite what many mediators and other professionals may say, mediation is not a cure-all or magic bullet for every family conflict and every family woe. It is however an alternative that should not be disregarded at first instance, especially when one considers the impact of contested litigation on a child.
Mediation in the family realm has as its primary focus the interests of the children. Parents are encouraged to recognise and accept that whilst a divorce may terminate their personal relationship with one another, they remain nonetheless the children’s parents and as such need to learn to work together in harmony for the sake of the ongoing psychological well-being of the children. The mediator, who it is noted remains neutral throughout the process, is required to assist the parents in airing their issues of concern regarding the co-parenting of their children. The mediator would also facilitate the parents’ process of putting forward and deciding upon creative parenting solutions which they believe would invariably contribute towards the future welfare and happiness of their children.
In countries where family mediation is an accepted adjunct to litigation, research has shown that whilst mediation may not be appropriate for every family dispute, in those cases where it is utilised, there is greater potential for the development of optimal co-parenting relationships as well as ongoing parental co-operation. Additionally, research shows that agreements reached through mediation are more likely to be adhered to by the parents, due to the fact that parents, having control over the process, are often better able to develop custom-made outcomes to meet their and their children’s unique needs and requirements.
Current opinion on this issue is that the children most likely to cope post-divorce are the ones whose parents have been able to move on past the acrimony of the divorce and work together for the sake of the children.
The advantages of mediation for children who are, have been, or perhaps in the future will be exposed to the acrimonious break-down of their parents’ relationship, are far too profound and extensive, for family mediation not to be the process of first choice when break-down happens.