Children and Divorce – Why Mediation is Better

Children and Divorce - Why Mediation is Better by Susan Ingram

{3:36 minutes to read}

Last week, I heard Dr. Robert Emery speak at a symposium on parenting and divorce sponsored by FamilyKind, the NY Chapter of AFCC and Hofstra University School of Law. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to hear about his insightful and continuing work with divorcing families and their children.

As it happens, I wrote a blog article some time ago about the challenges of parenting for divorcing couples in which I discussed some of Dr. Emery’s findings and opinions. The concepts I enumerated in that blog are as relevant today as they were when first published. I’ve included it below and believe you will benefit from taking the time to read and reflect on this very important topic.

Why Mediation Is Better for Couples and Their Children

The majority of the couples I see in divorce mediation have children. Early on in the mediation process, when I ask them to identify their most important concerns, they invariably say that they are most concerned about the wellbeing of their children during their separation and divorce process – and continuing after they are divorced.

There is no question in my mind that mediation is the best process for most couples when they are divorcing. I’ve found that approximately 90% of the couples that come to me for divorce mediation complete the process and obtain an uncontested divorce. With an uncontested divorce, the couple reaches an agreement through mediation that they both feel is fair and equitable – and that focuses on the best interests of their children. Thus, by choosing mediation, they are the ones making the important decisions about their children.

Contrast this scenario with a litigated divorce case, in which each of the couple’s lawyers, in battling for only his or her client’s interests, end up making the divorce more contentious and costly. And, of course, in a litigated divorce case, the judge would likely be making decisions about the children that, in the vast majority of cases, are better left to the parents.

A recent New York Times article, “How Divorced Parents Lost Their Rights,” written by Robert E. Emery, a professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, aptly points this out. He refers to litigated divorces in which judges routinely decide where the children of divorced parents will attend school or worship, and they “… may even decide whether they play soccer or take piano lessons.”

Although this may sound ludicrous, this type of scenario happens all the time when couples are involved in a contentious, litigated divorce. Is this in the best interests of the children? Clearly, it isn’t. As Professor Emery points out, cooperative parenting benefits children, whether the parents are still living together or are living apart (when they are separated or divorced).

Decisions regarding the best interests of the children should reside with the parents. As Professor Emery states, “Instead of telling parents how to bring up their children, we should honor – and encourage – agreements between parents.” He further cites a 2001 random study of child custody conflicts in which he compared litigation and mediation. The findings showed that 6 hours of mediation resulted in huge improvements in family relationships a full 12 years later!

When you think about it, that is certainly a very powerful motivation for divorcing couples to use the mediation process for making decisions that are in the best interests of their children.

Do you really want a judge to decide whether your children can play soccer or take piano lessons? Or, as parents, wouldn’t you rather make those decisions yourselves?

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