A Childs Voice in Mediation & What Most Children Say

What Do Children Go Through When Parents Separate or Divorce?

Whether we as parents intend it to happen or not, through no fault of their own our children can get caught up in a family dispute that has been brought about by a Divorce or Separation. The information that can be found on this page is aimed at helping parents understand the emotions and feelings that children can be going through. Many children will try to cover up their feelings if they want to avoid upsetting, or hurting their parents. This can be very damaging to them and it is something that can be avoided by parents taking time to understand what their children are going through and to speak to the children about how they feel about things. Children can feel like they are caught in the middle when their parents separate. Attending Family Mediation after a family break up or parent separation can be very helpful to children, as it helps parents to focus on the children’s needs and puts children at the forefront of the mediation process. Children can be invited into the family mediation process which can be beneficial in getting the parents to listen to what the child wants after his or her parents separate or divorce.


Kent Family Mediation are proud of our ‘What Most Children Say’ books


These handy, pocket sized Parents Guides have proven to be very popular, with over 20,000 of these already having been sold in the UK and Brazil. 


Many of these have been translated into Spanish, with plans already in place to translate them into other languages, in order that they can then be sold to parents and organisations with the aim of helping parents, children and their extended families all around the world!


The Effects of Divorce and Separation on Children


Divorce and parental separation can have an adverse effect on children’s adjustment and future life chances.  This need not be the case if parents consider the messages from children that are contained within the Parents Pocket Guide, ‘What Most Children Say’.


To order this booklet online, please click here to submit your information


Giving Your Child a Voice in Mediation


For many years Kent Family Mediation has ensured that children have the opportunity to have thri hopes and fears expressed during the mediation process.
Kent Family Mediation Service family mediators have been specifically trained in this field after having mediated for two years.
Children are usually represented by their parents during the family mediation meetings, but some children prefer to have the opportunity to express their own hopes and fears and to be able to help their parents come to the best contact arrangements possible. Child related mediation agreements are built with a degree of flexibility and they can be adjusted to take into account a child’s changing needs as he or she gets older. E.g. a child may not necessarily want to spend every weekend with his or her parents, when they reach an age where they want to spend more time seeing their friends, or their interests or hobbies change.

Why Involve The Children in Divorce & Separation

Separation and divorce is one of the most stressful experiences a family may face. Sadly, it can have a lasting impact on the health and welfare of parents and children, as well as the extended families and friends.


It is not unusual for children to feel isolated and alienated when their parents first separate. Children can be very resilient to change providing the change is introduced correctly by both parents, the child feels like he or she is being listened to and that the child’s feelings are taken into consideration.


It is common for children to feel the need to protect, or align with a particular parent, because children are able to sense the deep distress and hurt that each parent is feeling.


The new and ever changing emotions that a person goes through when they experience a relationship breakdown, family separation, or divorce is hard to come to terms with and children find emotions particularly difficult to cope with. A child’s divided loyalties can result in overwhelming confusion, anxiety and sadness, as well as anger and despair. A child’s behaviour can change as a result of his or her parents separating. Some children may become withdrawn or clingy, while other children may become very emotional and their behaviour may at times be very challenging. This can lead to problems at school, challenging behaviour at home, bed wetting, playing up to the other parent, being disrespectful to parents new partners, or the child may not want to spend time playing with their friends or doing things that they would normally enjoy doing.

Whilst parents naturally believe that their children tell them everything, children can feel compromised, ashamed and confused about their thoughts and reactions. All children love their parents unconditionally, and as we may say to our children “I do not like what you are doing, but I love you”, the same applies to our offspring! Anybody who knows your child will want to help, and offer advice and guidance, but a child can feel that what they say may be passed on to their parents and even more sadness can ensue as a result of this. 

Direct Consultations with Children: Bringing Children into the Mediation Process & Giving Children ‘A Voice’ in Mediation

At Kent Family Mediation Service, our Family Mediators have offered a listening and consoling ear to many children over the past 30 plus years. Mediation meetings are structured and are intended to allow a child to express their fears, wishes and hopes for the future. The family mediation meeting is confidential and what is discussed during mediation can’t be used as evidence in court proceedings (unless a child indicates that there has been harm occurring, or there is a perceived possibility of harm or risk to them). The family mediator will listen to the child, without the parents being present and will help them to express their thoughts and feelings, knowing that only what the child chooses to be shared with their parents will be relayed back to the parents at a later meeting.
The family mediator records the words the child would like the parents to hear and the family mediator decides how this should be fed back to the parents at a later mediation session, when the child is no longer present. Things that can be discussed may include how much time the child will spend with the other parent, how often they see the parent they don’t live with, whether they have overnight stays with the other parent, whether they will visit the other parent at the other parent’s house, or whether they want to see the other parent.

If You Aren’t Already Involved in the Court Process, Have You Given Any Thought To Attending The Cafcass and Family Court SPIP (Separated parent Information Programme) Course?


The SPIP is designed to be supportive in helping parents understand what children need when they separate, to think about the impact that conflict has on everyone and to find ways of managing that conflict.


It is delivered in mixed groups consisting of mothers, fathers, grandparents, court ordered and private participants. You don’t attend the same programme as your ex partner or where relevant, your new partner.

Most people find it very helpful and often say that they wished that they’d attended earlier.


Please note: the private SPIP is unlikely to be appropriate for you at this time if you are currently in court, there is a non-molestation or occupation order or if you think your children are at risk of harm.


The Private fee for attending the SPIP course as a Non-Court Orderd parent is an upfront fee of £98.00 per person including VAT. We hold the SPIP courses in Kent at the following locations:-


  • Ashford
  • Canterbury
  • Chatham
  • Dartford
  • Maidstone
  • Sittingbourne


If you are currently in court, Cafcass will decide whether it is appropriate in your situation, if it is then court ordered it will be free to attend. Please visit the Kent Family Mediation SPIP page for further information.


Are The Children Fine After a Family Breakup

Research detailed in our booklet “What most Children Say” indicates that children can suffer emotionally, educationally and psychologically as a result of family breakdown. Parents may witness this in aggressive behaviour, withdrawal, anger and regression.
John Winslade noted in his research that children whose parents separate will have disturbed behaviour for up to two years after the event, even if they are spending time with both parents.
If a child loses contact with one parent, the child’s behaviour may never returns to normal and the child can be seen to express his or her distress, in the same way as they did when the parents first separated. This can continue into adulthood!

How Do Direct Consultations With Children Work?

During family mediation, parents may offer the opportunity for a DCC (Direct Consultation with Children) or a parent may wish to ask about it yourself.
Both parents will be asked to provide written permission that they are happy for their child, or children to speak to the family mediator on their own. With both parents consent, the child (or children) will also be written to and asked whether he or she is happy to speak to the family mediator. This letter will give a brief description of what the child can expect to happen at the meeting. It is really important that children do not feel pressured to take part in a direct child consultation, or sense that they will be letting their parents down if they refuse to speak to the mediator.
Some family mediator’s like to ask a child to bring a personal item of significance along to the meeting, e.g. a favourite toy, or game, so that the child can feel a link between home and the place in which they are being seen. It also provides a subject to talk about when the family mediator first meets the child.
The family mediator explains the boundaries of confidentiality and reassures the child that this is their time and that they will decide what (if anything) is reported back to the child’s parents. The process of recording and reading back is explained, so that the child can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they are in control of what is to be said to the parents.
The family mediator will then ask the child what it is that they been thinking about and what they would like to say about it. This information will then be shared with the parents at a later mediation session.

Will My Child Be Able To Choose Where They Live, Or Which Parent They Live With?

Kent Family Mediation Service Family Mediators believe that decisions about where children live should be the responsibility of the parents. Family mediators will not encourage conversations about this topic, but if a child said that they wanted to choose which parent they lived with, the family mediators would help them to examine the implications of this decision.
Family mediators also believe that whilst the parents have given the children the chance to say what they are thinking, the decision making remains with the parents and that the parents are the ones who will talk to the children about their wishes and eventually take them into consideration when they make any final plans or agreement. Any agreements made during mediation can be made legally binding without the parents, or any children of the family, having to appear in court.
Conversations during mediation are intended to support the children during a parent’s separation and family mediators are measured and considerate in their responses. Family Mediators never exploit the differences between parents. The benefit of mediating is that parents are empowered and are able to make their own decisions that affect the future of the family. Family Mediators do not judge parents. It is the family mediator’s role to remain completely impartial. Family Mediators will support the notion that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities and that it is the parents who are the eventual decision makers.

What Do The Children Think About Speaking To A Family Mediator?

Kent Family Mediation Service have met with many children over the years and our family mediators are able to say that children have always said how much they have enjoyed and appreciated their meeting. The decision remains with the child after speaking with the family mediator, whether the parents will be told what has been discussed during the direct child consultation meeting.The majority of children spoken to have given their consent for the family mediator to feedback their wishes and feelings to the parents.
There have been a number of emotional occasions after a direct child consultation has taken place, when children have renewed contact with a parent or grandparent during the feedback meeting (with the support of the other parent).

What Do Kent Family Mediators Say About Direct Consultations With Children?

The family mediators at Kent Family Mediation Service are trained to see children during the mediation process. The combination of direct consultation with children training, their ability to communicate with the child, at a level that the child understands, in addition to their experience as a family mediator, enables them to relate in a positive way to the children of separated parents. One Kent family mediator describes their work with children as, ‘Children see me as being safe. We can talk about how much they love each parent and how they would like their life to be. A child may often speak about how much time they would like to spend with each parent.’
Some children have spoken to the Kent family mediator about how they miss members of their extended family; for instance, a child may say that they may miss seeing their Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles and Cousins. Direct Child Consultations have helped many parents to understand how their children might be feeling about their separation and mediation agreements can be made that reflect the child’s wishes.

Other Useful Information To Assist Separated or Divorced Parents

Sorting Out Separation – Helping You To Make The Right Decisions After a Break Up. Click HERE to go to the online app.


This handy online tool offers helpful advice to parents and has been used as part of the Cafcass Separated Parents Information Plus Programme.

Research Articles Which May Assist Parents After Separation or Divorce

The research articles are listed numerically in the same way as the Pocket Guide.  Some of the articles are available via links.  Those that are not are detailed below.


Implications for Practice Butler, I G; Scanlan, Lesley; Robinson, Margaret; Douglas, G; Murch M

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Date of Publication 2002


The paper reports findings from a research study that explored children’s experience of divorce.  It shows that children experience divorce as a crisis in their lives but that they are able to mobilise internal and external resources to regain a new point of balance.  In doing so, children demonstrate the degree to which they are active and competent participants in the process of family dissolution.  The implications of the data are then considered in relation to engaging with children involved in divorce and in relation to some of the cultural presumptions that might militate against hearing what they have to say about their experiences.

Current Research on Children’s Post Divorce Adjustment: No Simple Answers Family Court Review, Volume 31, Issue 1, Page 29 – January 1993

Author : J. B Kelly


This article reviews the current research on the effects of marital conflict, parent adjustment, custody and access on children following divorce.  Evidence from research demonstrates that significantly more adjustment problems confront children, especially boys, of divorced parents compared to those in never-divorced families.  However, when assessed in years following the divorce, these children are functioning in normal limits and do not appear ‘disturbed’, although the media report the opposite.  The article discusses an important British study finding that marital conflict and not the divorce affect children and that divorce may mitigate some of the more destructive effects.  The analysis of research dealing with joint custody brings together both current and on-going studies.  A surprising finding in one study was that mothers who share custody are more satisfied than those having sole custody and whose children see their father periodically.  However, both groups expressed more satisfaction with their residential arrangement than did sole-custody mothers whose children had no paternal contact.  court-ordered joint custody was less satisfactory than when the parents voluntarily agreed to that arrangement, and spouses reporting high levels of marital conflict tended to do less well in joint custody arrangements than did families with less conflict.

Family Court Review Volume 39 A Rejoinder to Solomon and Biringen

Michael E Lamb and J. B Kelly


Most infants form attachments to both of their parent at roughly the same age.  These relationships are consolidated by continued interactions, ideally in a broad array of contexts, whether or not the parents live together.  The mechanisms underlying the formation and consolidation of relationships with both parents appear to be similar, although most infants establish preferential relationship with the persons who take major responsibility for their care.  When parents separate, children often experience distress, and their adjustment is adversely affected when the relationship with one of their parents is severed.  This can be avoided by developing parenting plans that continue to ensure that children have regular interaction with both parents in a broad array of contexts.  Overnight periods provide opportunities for many important interactions.

Yvette Walczak with Sheila Burns (Divorce: The child’s Point of View; Harper & Row, 1984)


Children are impressionable and their fear and confusion at the time of divorce perhaps makes them more so.  Parents are therefore in a powerful position to influence their children’s thinking and their understanding of a confusing situation – whether they intend to do so or not – and of tipping the balance in their own favour when trying to explain what has happened and why.


Parents are parents, married or divorced; it is the child’s right to have and to hold on to and continue to share in their lives fully.  Our findings do not support the view that children want to sever the relationship with the loving parent following separation or divorce.


It is also clear that a child’s ‘natural’ view of divorce can be changed by fear and insecurity, or by persuasion, or even indoctrination by one parent, and can thereby for a time at least appear to have resolved the balancing position by opting for one side against the other – with such regret and remorse later on that the cost seems too high.


Satisfaction was linked to the quality of the relationship with the part-time parent as well as access arrangements and there was a strong connection between the two.  It is difficult to love and feel loved by a parent with whom contact is infrequent or non-existent.  Frequent contact on the other hand makes it possible for parent and child to know each other, to give support and tangible proof of love.


It was the children who knew that both parents wanted and approved of access who remembered enjoying their meetings with the absent parent best.


Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) found that the happiest and best adjusted children were those who had frequent, regular and flexible contact with the non-custodial parent and could exercise some degree of control over visiting arrangements … it was the continuity of relationship with both parents that was of the utmost importance in helping children cope with divorce and recover from its initial impact.


By making joint custody orders the rule … the law would give the right kind of message to parents and encourage, rather than discourage, as it does at present, sensible behaviour.  Only the principle of joint custody can emphasise the continuity of parenting and the child’s right to have two parents.

Janet Walker.


Research shows that, after divorce, children do best when they retain a constructive relationship with both parents.  Hence, mediation services and recent reforms in Family Law seek to encourage parents to co-operate fully and amicably, and to share parent responsibility for the care and well-being of their children.  There is danger that a vision of ‘happy-ever-after’ post-divorce families ignores the complexity of transitions facing separating families, and the emotional, social and economic stresses which parents experience for many years.


Drawing on years of research with divorcing families, this paper invites practitioners to consider whether too much is expected of divorced parents, and whether existing services for separating families adequately address the needs of different family members.

Richard A Warshak.


In attempting to fashion developmentally sensitive residential schedules, some courts, with the endorsement of mental health professionals, routinely deprive infants and toddlers of overnights with their fathers.  This article analyses the contributions, misuses, and limitations of theory and research relevant to such restrictions and discusses their scientific status with respect to current knowledge about child development.

Interjecting Data into the Debate about Overnights  Marsha Kline Pruett, Rachel Ebling and Glendessa Insabella.


The debate about the benefits and drawbacks of overnight schedules for young children is hotly contested in family law.  This study investigated connections between occurrence of overnights, schedule consistency, number of caregivers, and young children’s adjustment to parental separation and divorce.  Families (N = 161) with children aged 6 years or younger were recruited at the time of filing for divorce or child custody (if unmarried); follow-up data was obtained from 132 families 15 to 18 months later.  Results indicated that parenting plan variables are related to children’s social, cognitive and emotional behaviour with caregivers and schedule consistency more salient than overnights.  Girls benefited from overnights and more caregivers, whereas boys did not.  Overnight children aged 4 to 6 years when their parents filed manifested fewer problems 1.5 years later than did younger children.  Even when controlling for parental conflict and parent-child relationship variables, the constellation of parenting plan variables contributed to young children’s adaptation.

Family Mediation Services

Family Mediation is the courts preferred way of resolving an argument, or issues that occur after a separation, or the breakdown of a relationship;including sorting out child contact, the custody of a child, child support maintenance and disputes…

More Information

Separated Parents Information Programme

Kent Family Mediation Service are pleased to announce that we have been granted a contract to provide Parenting Information Programmes in Kent on behalf of Cafcass. We hold the SPIP courses in a number of locations in Kent…

More Information

Our Affiliations & Accreditations