Divorce Mediation and Psychotherapy: Protecting the Children

Most parents with children who are facing the divorce process struggle with the heart wrenching task of doing what is best for their children while keeping their sanity.  Unfortunately, children tend to be the most vulnerable family members during divorce and often feel powerless regarding any of the changes that affect them.  As a psychotherapist I have worked with many families post divorce to address adjustment issues and creatively develop strategies to decrease anxiety and depression. Divorce mediation allows parents more flexibility in decision making which can reduce the trauma affecting their children during divorce and in the future.

Psychotherapists are in a unique position to take on the role of Divorce Mediator due to their experience working with families that are divorcing or have divorced.  Psychotherapists tend to see families and individuals after divorce to address many unforeseen issues that often arise after a divorce agreement is complete.  When individuals are in the midst of divorcing, emotions can impede their ability to anticipate how the divorce agreement will affect all involved once enacted.  Psychotherapists as mediators can assist parents by calling attention to possible unforeseen issues that may evolve as a result of certain decisions made during the divorce process.  Psychotherapists also have an abundance of experience working with many families who have created successful agreements and can offer creative suggestions that can minimize future difficulties, especially for the children.

Some common difficulties that kids face post divorce include but are not limited to:

  • Feeling conflicted when an extracurricular activity is scheduled during a planned visit with the noncustodial parent.

  • Parents not both being present at the child’s activities.

  • Forgetting articles at one parent’s house and how to address these situations.

  • Visitation schedules that encourage the children to “choose”, making them feel torn.

  • Inconsistency in visitation and inflexibility in visitation schedules.

  • Holiday schedules that may not be in the children’s best interest.

  • Who will pay for extra activities that the children would like to participate in and guilt over the cost.

  • Vacation schedules.

  • How will parents communicate calmly regarding the children?

  • Parental conflicts regarding visits to extended family.

  • Placement of pets.

  • How to address school activities, i.e. parent teacher conference, plays etc.

  • Post divorce housing.

Difficulties that the parents face post divorce include:

  • Communicating with each other regarding their children’s activities, schedules etc.

  • Authorization of medical treatment for children, including counseling.

  • Collaboration of health insurance plan(s) and member ID cards etc.

  • Addressing changes in children’s schedules and adapting visitation plans.

  • Future relationships/step-parenting.

  • Transportation to and from visitations.

  • Addressing school expenses and future college expenses.

In mediation parents have the power to address the above issues and concerns before they become problems post-divorce.  Mediation allows for greater creativity while addressing matters required by the courts in order to obtain a divorce.  Mediation also allows divorced individuals to re-negotiate a settlement agreement in the future regardless of whether or not their original agreement was mediated or completed through attorneys.

What to expect when your mediator is also a psychotherapist:

When psychotherapists are acting as a mediator they will maintain very clear boundaries and sound ethical practices. Psychotherapists should never take on the dual roles of being a therapist and a mediator, regardless of which role was established first.  When mediating, a psychotherapist will never act as a therapist to either party or both parties collectively.  Divorcing parties should not expect to utilize mediation by a psychotherapist as a means to decide whether or not to divorce or save their marriage.  Both individuals should have determined that divorce is the necessary step to be taken prior to seeking divorce mediation.  Should two married individuals begin the divorce mediation process then decide to seek out marriage therapy, they cannot utilize the therapist that is mediating.  Should marriage therapy prove unsuccessful, the two parties can return to mediation at any time.  Mediation is appropriate for parties that are married, common law married, or in a committed civil union and are faced with the unfortunate task of separating or divorcing.

Once both parties have mediated a fair and equitable agreement, the mediator will guide both individuals through the steps of having their agreement processed in family court.  The mediator can also assist the parties in finding an attorney(s) to process their divorce should they need assistance.

What to look for?

If you are interested in benefiting from the experience and unique perspective of a psychotherapist as a mediator, you should be certain that the individual is qualified.  He or she should have completed a comprehensive, in-depth training program.  Psychotherapists do not receive mediation training as part of their education, however, psychotherapists with mediation training are well suited to the role of mediator and bring with them experiences that can help identify and prevent possible future concerns.

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