Recent research carried out in England would indicate that children’s suffering is not proportionate to the degree of conflict in a relationship but rather to the way the conflict is managed.  If the conflict is handled well then children will so well especially in the long term despite the breakdown in the relationship.  By the same token if the conflict is handled badly then the children will suffer as a result.   This is not to say that parental relationship breakdown is not distressing for children, of course it is, but their recovery is directly proportional to the way the conflict is handled.   Accordingly it is worth taking the time to think carefully about how you conduct your separation and divorce.  This means giving careful consideration to the various alternative options available to you for example collaboration or mediation.  These options are directly empowering of the couple involved and seek to preserve relationships so as to enable effective co-parenting into the future.  We collaborative lawyers often ask the question of our clients “Do you want to dance together at your daughter’s wedding?”  Most people even in the throes of a breakdown will answer yes!

Collaborative practise not only affords couples separating an opportunity to conduct their separation in a civilised and equitable manner by providing the couple with a safe and contained space in which to resolve their issues , it also uniquely gives a voice to the children within the conflict.  The Child Specialist comes from a therapeutic family systems background.  The CS has a limited duration role within the collaborative team.   The CS is a neutral within the process ie they are not aligned to the parents or either of them.  Their role is to serve the process and specifically they are charged with ensuring that the child’s voice is heard within the team.   The children’s concerns are brought directly into the room by the child specialist who will spend time meeting with them and talking over things with the child/children.  In common with all members of the collaborative team, the child specialist is collaboratively trained.  The Child Specialist will initially deliver his or her report to the coaches and the lawyers if there is some issue of particular concern however in general this will not be necessary and the child specialist will report to the parents with the coaches.  The coaches will assist the parents to hear what the children are saying.  After making his/her report the CS is then on hand to work with the parents  and the coaches on a parenting plan taking account where possible of the children’s concerns.

Parents always want to do right by their children and wish the best for them.  Hearing their children’s worries and concerns can help parents to focus on co-operation rather than dissent enabling resolutions.  When parents are in the throes of separation their parenting is often of a very poor quality as their focus is not on their child.  Paradoxically this is the time when the children have most need of focussed parenting.  The coaches and the child specialist can help re-establish productive parenting which is ultimately beneficial to the family as a whole.  Normalising the experience of parenting within a separation breakdown can be enormously reassuring and so both the coaches and the CS will spend a good deal of time education the parents on parental issues and on child behaviour.  The power of hearing the children’s voices cannot be underestimated.  A good parenting plan which takes account of their needs and worries will ultimately have a much better chance of working well.  The experience of working on such a plan having heard from the children places the emphasis on the family as a unit albeit a bi-nuclear unit rather than a nuclear unit.

The research indicates that while children do not want to be given decisions to make however, they do want to know what is going on.  Having the child specialist affords some empowerment to the children .  The Child Specialist will answer their queries and talk to them about their concerns.  The Child Specialist does not judge what they have to say and hears them in a neutral way. The children are further reassured that whatever they say while it will be brought back to Mum and Dad it will be told to them in a way that does no judge or hurt either Mum or Dad.   Quite often the children do not want to speak to their parents directly and are afraid to ask questions.  It is for them an extremely confusing and worrying situation about which they very often have inaccurate, little or no information .

As collaborative practitioners we find the role of the child specialist to be a key role in the resolution of the issues arising on relationship breakdown.  When the child specialist brings the children’s voice or voices into the room, no one is sitting in judgement, there are no wrongs or rights, no one is being blamed, there are only the issues to be looked at by the two parents who love their children but whose focus may have temporarily strayed and who are now being given a unique opportunity with the assistance of the coaches to engage in really positive parenting through a difficult family period.