Children of parents who are going through the process of a separation and divorce experience a myriad of emotions that include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, resentments and fear. Although it may be nearly impossible to avoid any negative emotions at all for these children, it is possible that the process of divorce mediation over a traditionally litigated divorce can minimize the intensity of these. To understand how the traditional process of divorce can more negatively affect children, we need to understand the key differences between these two paths leading to a legal divorce.
In a traditional divorce one party will retain an attorney to represent them, who will then draft up a Petition for Divorce typically demanding that their client be awarded everything: custody, child support, alimony, the house, the cars etc… Once the Petition is drafted then it is filed with the family court and served to the other spouse, thus provoking a response from the other attorney. This is a process that typically elicits anger and resentments from each spouse, likely reflecting in their daily activities, specifically their children. Parents can become so overcome with managing these emotions that they may have less patience for their children, who can be exacerbated by difficulties with getting proper sleep and increased financial concerns. It is not unusual for parents to discuss their anger towards their spouse with friends or family on the phone, unknowingly being overheard by their children. Some adults will even use their children as a pawn in the games that ensue in the process of a couple getting a divorce or even try to get their children to side with them in the dispute. In litigated divorces processes, the spouses are generally told not to have any direct communication with one another because the lawyers are paid to represent their party. Finally, the judge is the final voice deciding the outcome of each line in the case, thus parents are forced to have an outside party to make their major life decisions. Clearly co-parenting can become quite difficult or nearly impossible as tempers flare and children often suffer as a result.
The divorce mediation process does not necessarily eliminate all of the problems associated with a traditionally litigated divorce; however it can reduce the tension, thereby reducing the stress level of both parents. In the process of mediation a nonbiased third party who does not represent either party helps the husband and wife negotiate the terms of their divorce in a way that is fair and equitable to both parties. Couples that use mediation are more content with the existing child-care arrangements, and less likely to have disagreements about child contact. Agreements reached in mediation are vital to making and maintaining cooperative relationships between divorcing parents. Mediation increases aspects of positive co-parenting after the divorcethus improving their ability to manage their emotions. Simply put, happier parents, happier children.
No matter how it is done, divorce will likely be a traumatic event to any child as they struggle with the instability of their once secure world is turned upside down. Clearly the more cooperational process of a mediated divorce provides an advantage to the adversarial process of traditionally litigated divorce both for the parents and for the children. Parents that are encouraged to negotiate the terms of their divorce on their own are overall more cooperative with the plans for co-parenting. In a mediated process the goal is not to “win” the divorce and the winners are the various family members who will benefit from a more cooperative process.