After their parents separate, should children have a say in what happens to them?
The reality is that historically, in Australia, parents have tended to believe they can work out the arrangements without their children’s direct involvement.
It is true that most parents are successful in working out the terms of their separation and can do so without having to go to court. Often they will use a process called Family Dispute Resolution (or FDR). This is a very effective mediation process in which an experienced Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner sees both parties and prepares and assists them to reach their own resolution of family law disputes. Under the Family Law Act, for the great majority of separating parents, it is compulsory to try FDR before starting court proceedings.
But in this process, the children’s views are usually not taken into account. Most parents attend FDR alone, without the children.
But there is a process by which they can directly involve their children in the process. It’s called Child Inclusive Family Dispute Resolution.
What is Child Inclusive Family Dispute Resolution?
Child Inclusive FDR involves appointing a qualified ‘child expert’ who interviews the parents and then the children separately. Then the child expert provides feedback to the parents of the children’s needs, wishes and perceptions.
In 1990 Australia became one of the first countries in the world to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention has now been ratified by every member of the United Nations, except the USA. Among the rights enshrined by the Convention is the principle that children have a right to express their own views freely in all matters affecting their welfare.
Child Inclusive FDR puts children’s rights front and centre and is in accordance with our commitment to United Nations Convention on the rights of the child.
The benefits of involving children in Family Dispute Resolution
A major study in 2007 showed that children’s involvement through Child Inclusive FDR achieved remarkably successful results for the whole family, for these reasons:
- Children who were quite young could express views and perceptions of parents’ separation and express their desires.
- The children enjoyed and benefitted from having their views and perceptions taken into account.
- Child Inclusive FDR produced better outcomes and more sustainable and longer lasting parenting agreements.
To date, Child Inclusive FDR hasn’t been common in Australia. Both parents have to agree to it, and the belief seems to persist amongst parents that they can work out better arrangements, without their children’s direct involvement.
Indeed, Child Inclusive FDR is not suitable in every case. But for those parents concerned as to the effect of the separation on their children and want the best outcomes for their children’s welfare, it is well worthwhile discussing Child Inclusive Family Dispute Resolution with a family lawyer who can arrange it, or with a Family Relationships Centre.
*Andrew Corish is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law with Corish & Co Specialist Family Lawyers North Sydney. He is trained in Family Dispute Resolution.