In previous bulletins we have focused on the different scenarios when schools are asked to get involved in issues surrounding parental disputes. It’s often the school that is left having to pick up the pieces when a parents relationship break down. Our advice to schools is not to take sides and get involved, however what practical support can you offer? The most important thing is for parents to be encouraged to co-parent and communicate, this is where family mediation can help.
The distinctive features of mediation which make it helpful are that it is not an adversarial process: no one has to be right or wrong; and that it seeks to promote a solution that the parties concerned essentially devise for themselves.
The process does not put the parties face to face exchanging views until the very end, when the parties meet to agree the arrangements they have already accepted. The mediator acts as a diplomat ‘Sherpa’ at an international summit meeting: finding out what each party can accept so that the leaders or, in this case, the parents, can move smoothly into face to face agreement.
During the family mediation process, couples are encouraged to make arrangements together that will work best for their children post separation. The focus is on the children, whom it is hoped both parents can be brought to see are the core of the matter. A family mediator will help the parents to look at ways of communicating in future as parents, rather than trying to heal the division between the two of them as individuals, and focuses on practical, but vital issues on how they will organise issues such as the time that the children spend with each parent, schooling and what they are going to tell the children. Parents may already have tried mediation for their own benefit so in that situation the school may need to stress that it is about the children and not about the parents’ relationship.
The great advantage family mediation has is that it is a far more amicable approach than traditional legal routes and it enables the parents to decide the outcome rather than through an adversarial process with the court adjudicating an outcome that may leave both parties aggrieved. That should help a school, which can apply agreed arrangements rather than trying to moderate a struggle between parents who are each trying to get an advantage over the other.