Mediation or in a family law context, Family Dispute Resolution, is a common way for parents in Australia to resolve disputes relating to parenting matters and there are many benefits to it. Mediation is cost-effective, timely, informal, confidential and you decide (in agreement with your ex) a parenting plan that best accommodates you and your children.
You also have the benefit of a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (mediator) to guide you through the process, a sounding board to help navigate you through issues of conflict relating to parenting. The mediator remains impartial, and does not give advice, but can offer some perspective and reality if you get stuck, sharing current research in child development if this helps. The mediator encourages you both to, consider a range of options, keep focused on your children’s best interests and to keep you focused on the future rather than going over old history!
Sometimes the thought of being in a mediation with your ex-partner can be overwhelming. This is normal! The reality is that it’s hard to tell EXACTLY how things will pan out in a mediation. However, there are some things that YOU can do to get the best out of the mediation process beforehand so you can more confident about ‘Mediation Day.’
1. Seek Legal Advice
Get some sound legal advice before you come to mediation. It is important that you have a good idea about what a judge might say about your situation if the matter went to court. Legal Advice can help you be more confident that you are not dismissing reasonable options and solutions or accepting options and solutions that a judge would say are not suitable. There are many places to go for some free initial legal advice that your mediator can refer you to. If you don’t feel comfortable with the legal advice you have been given, then seek a second opinion.
2. Understand child development
To make child focused agreements it is important to have a sound understanding of child development. Make sure you don’t have unreasonable or unrealistic expectations of your children; this can be stressful for them. Understanding child development will better equip you to help your child through their learning and development and prepare them for the challenges of life. Your parenting plan needs to reflect and account for your child’s age and stage of development and should be flexible to accommodate their growth. Arrangements for your infant will look something quite different to arrangements for your 5-year-old or high schooler. If you have more than one child with your ex, be mindful that each child is at a different stage so you may need to be flexible to suit each child’s needs. The internet is a great resource for this information.
3. Be realistic
Live as a single mum is hectic and hard work. Following the parenting agreements, meeting the everyday demands and then dealing with those unforeseen sticky issues tis a challenge. Work together to find solutions that can accommodate you both and understand that parenting is give and take. You are both responsible for the good times, bad times and in-between times. Be realistic about what you can do, encourage your ex to step up - you need it and it is good for your children that both parents are involved.
4. Have Perspective
Arguing over the number of days/nights or percentage of time is draining and ultimately futile. From your child’s perspective they will not look back on their childhood and count the number of nights they spent with either parent and they will certainly not be upset because they spent 5-6 less nights per year with either parent. Your child is far more likely to remember the great quality times they spent being with each of you walking the dog, riding bikes, reading together, camping etc. Think of quality rather than quantity. The number of nights can alter child support, and this can be important to some parents. If it is possible, consider setting a child support amount that remains constant regardless of any changes in the number of nights your child spends with you.
5. Understand Financial Costs
Before you come to mediation have a good understanding of the costs involved in raising your child. Child support in general covers only the basic costs of raising a child - accommodation, heating, basic clothing and food. Unless there is some other arrangement you have with the Child Support Agency, child support does not cover private school fees, specialist health costs or any extra activities that your child may wish to do or you would like your child to be involved in. Be realistic about this, just because your child may not be primarily in your care it does not mean the other parent has the financial resources to provide everything for your child and nor are they obliged too. Think about what your child needs to thrive and develop and think about how you can both contribute to this. If one of you is reluctant to contribute are you okay with your child not having access to a required health service or not being involved in an activity that they love or that helps them in their development.
One of the biggest reasons why parents come to mediation is because somewhere along the line communication has broken down. Prior to mediation reflect on the past communication with your ex. Is it where you hoped it would be? Are there areas you could improve on? Poor communication often leads to conflict, and exposure to parental conflict can have long lasting negative impacts on your child. Whilst understanding that we cannot control the actions of others, is there anything in your communication with your ex that is contributing to the conflict. Note: abusive behavior and communication is not condoned, and should you be experiencing this please seek assistance and support.
Your communication in mediation could be assisted with the following and you might like to incorporate some of this into how you communicate going forward:
Be attentive: Try and listen before responding to your ex. Take turns to speak as if you would with a work colleague, your child’s school teacher or people you respect.
Listen actively: Rephrase what you heard to ensure you understood what your ex meant and vice-versa.
Share intentions: When approaching a difficult topic, firstly share your intentions. “I want our child to have a healthy relationship with both of us”. When you share positive intentions, you will help your ex understand that you are initiating the conversation to solve problems, not to criticize or complain.
Use “I” Statements: Using “I” statements creates accountability for your own feelings as opposed to “you” statements which implies blames. For example “I get frustrated when you are late to pick-ups” as opposed to “you’re irresponsible and I’m mad at you” which can only invite resentment and defensiveness.
Agree with the truth: Take responsibility for mistakes, this can increase credibility and diffuses the situation. By denying, problems can intensify and you may appear weak and guilty.
Praise where appropriate: Everyone likes to be appreciated occasionally. Praising your ex on positive things where warranted is powerful and can enhance communication.
Clearly state preferences: Clearly identify and share your expectations with your ex. Ensure these are realistic and are not things that you would not be able to do yourself if your ex asked you the same or you were in your ex’s shoes.
Your best mode of communication: Be clear about the mode of communication you think will help reduce conflict. For some written communication is best, text message, social media messaging, email, parenting apps or it is a starting point, building direct phone contact. There are a variety of choices. Above using your child as the messenger. This puts unreasonable and unnecessary pressure and stress on your child and sometimes they may feel they have to be the mediator!
Yes, we agree some of these are easier said than done, that’s why it takes practice to develop good communication habits. Practice makes perfect and if it doesn’t work out the first time do not get disheartened, try again. If discussions become heated, then resume them later.
To ensure you’re in the best mindset for mediation, it’s important that you take some time out for yourself leading up to the mediation. Self-care is vital in reducing stress and anxiety. Whatever it is you enjoy to relax will be important in your emotional and physical preparation for the mediation. If you are struggling, it’s important (if you haven’t already) to seek some support from either professionals or others that love and care for you. Your mediator can provide referrals for support if you’re unsure where to turn.
Once you’re in the mediation, it is normal to feel anxious or nervous about how the session will pan out. However, if you feel overwhelmed you can make a request to the mediator to have a break, speak privately to the mediator or legal advisor (if you have one) or request to continue the session if not already as a shuttle mediation. A shuttle mediation is where both parties are in separate rooms or telephone lines/online breakout rooms (where applicable) and the mediation progresses separately. The mediator is better equipped to manage the process if you are in a space that you feel safe and comfortable, so do not hesitate to share with the mediator if you may be struggling at times with the process. If you feel negotiations have gone as far as they can on the day, you can request to come back for another session to continue the conversation (if both parties and the mediator agree).
Brief Bio - Experienced Mediators - Beanstalk
Latoya Percival and Anna Oxford, Experienced Mediators are as our name suggests are experienced family dispute resolution practitioners (mediators). We are passionate about mediation as a positive and collaborative option for parents to discuss and resolve parenting matters. Our mediation backgrounds place us well to support and assist parents through general and complex parenting matters. We offer friendly support, guidance and advice around matters related to mediation.