Divorce mediation can lessen the stress of divorce on both children and parents.
Separation and divorce has lasting and varied consequences for families. For children, their coping methods are heavily influenced by their parents’ relationship. If the separation is characterized by increased conflict, it creates a stressful environment for children. Divorce will certainly have a long-term impact on children; however, the emotional turmoil created by conflict will increase the negative effects endured by children caught in the middle of their parents’ separation. Thus, it is important to curb the amount of conflict in which you are involved for the sake of your children.
Legal proceedings inevitably cause conflict for spouses, and as a result, children may be exposed to a harmful, tempestuous environment while the divorce carries on. One way couples can prevent more conflict and see lasting positive outcomes is by choosing mediation over litigation.
One mediation study followed people who were randomly assigned to traditional litigation in court or mediation. The results were remarkable, with positive outcomes for family relationships twelve years later. Parents who chose mediation ended up significantly happier with the process and results, and both parents were more involved in their children’s lives than those who litigated.
Children whose parents mediated their divorces had more contact with the parent they did not live with than children whose parents chose litigation.
Twelve years later:
- 28 percent of children whose parents mediated saw their non-residential parent once a week, compared with 9 percent of parents who litigated.
- 36 percent of litigating nonresidential parents had not seen their children in the past year, compared with 16 percent of mediating parents.
- 52 percent of parents who mediated had weekly phone contact with their children, versus 14 percent of parents who litigated. These differences in telephone contact were particularly notable since many of the children had left home or moved away.
During mediation sessions, I help parents sort through, and more importantly, identify the emotions they are experiencing. Oftentimes, those in the midst of a conflict will experience anger, but that is only what appears on the surface. Once we delve deeper into that anger, we reveal sadness and grief. Recognizing this range of emotions is an important first step–it allows parents to work through their feelings and eventually learn how to manage them, which in turn helps them become more effective communicators during times of conflict. This open communication will improve negotiation between parents, leading to a happier outlook for everyone involved.
One of the best ways to overcome the negative effects of conflict in a divorce after legal proceedings is to establish an open dialogue among the people involved. A project featured in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy targets families wherein parents are entrenched in conflict and children are often caught in the middle.
The project, No Kids in the Middle, involved the help of professional counselors at two centers in the Netherlands and sought to help resolve conflict between parents for the well-being of children who are stuck in the middle of their parents’ divorce.
Researchers worked with children torn between parents who often engaged their children in conflicts relating to their failed marriage. Parents were observed embroiling their children in arguments where they were called upon to take the side of one parent or endured negative comments about their parents. This polarizing environment is confusing and stressful for children, resulting in a less-than-healthy context for emotional development.
The professionals in the study tried their utmost to convince parents to use reason and work together; however, cooperation was not always possible. In these cases, they advised parents to parent individually, without the pressure and influence of the other parent–in other words, they advised parents to ‘live and let live’.
If you are experiencing a lot of conflict with your spouse, step back and consider how fighting affects your children. It is easy to find yourself overwhelmed by the emotion of a divorce and in turn overlook the effect snide comments or passive aggressive actions may have on children caught in the middle. If these conflicts are impossible to overlook, it may be more feasible to parent individually.
The study sets an important example for couples who argue: counseling is an invaluable resource. Talking in a safe and open environment could be integral to the long-term happiness of your children.