A child stuck in the middle of a custody dispute can suffer serious psychological harm if forced to choose between their parents. Trained mediators are well versed in how to approach and question a child as to their own wishes without making them feel as if they are turning their back on either parent. Most judges don’t want to question a child in a courtroom, as they realize the dangerous implications it can have. When necessary, they will take the child into their chambers to ask questions.
Occasionally, mediators will need to speak with children. However, there are age appropriate guidelines. It is believed that a child 12 years of age or older should have general input into a custody and visitation schedule. A child 15 years or older should have strong input. In cases where the parents cannot gain a clear understanding of the child’s wishes and a mediator feels it would be damaging to speak with the child, a counselor or other child development specialist can provide input into the child’s best interests.
A healthy way to approach a child about speaking to a mediator is for the parents to meet with the child together. Describe what is taking place and what type of questions the mediator may ask. Assure the child that no answer will be held against them, and that both parents only want what is best for the child. Reiterate the importance of complete openness and honesty. However, parents should never coach a child on what to say.
At the end of a successful custody mediation, a mediator can meet with the parents and child together to discuss the agreement and what to expect. All the child’s questions can be answered, and parents can head into their respective futures set up for co-parenting success.