Mediation is forward-looking and allows clients to talk with each other about their children’s future. In divorce, the future often involves making decisions about the children’s education – which can be very difficult for clients who cannot see eye to eye. Here are two ways that mediation can help divorced parents make important educational decisions for their children.
FIRST, USE MEDIATION TO CONSIDER THE IMPORTANCE OF STABILITY TO YOUR CHILD.
Christina McGee, MSW, divorce and children expert, wrote, “[s]tructure and consistency are key factors in children feeling stable and secure. Therefore, co-parents should do what they can to keep life predictable and minimize change.” Knowing that stability is important, the mediator can help parents consider the ways that stability might benefit their child by asking parents to consider:
- How long has your child attended the school?
- What are his peer relationships like at the school?
- Have there already been multiple transitions for your child?
- Are the parents able to establish a positive working relationship with the child’s teacher, counselor, and principal?
Children going through divorce have had their lives upended. If possible and appropriate, finding as much familiarity for the children is going to be beneficial during what may be a rocky transition.
Parental conflict is often what makes divorce difficult for children. Ideally, parents will make important educational decisions (and healthcare and religious and similar decisions) for their children. However, suppose parents cannot make decisions together. In that case, mediation could help parents decide who will make these important decisions (as an aside, in Oregon, if the parents went to court, the Judge would decide which parent makes these decisions since a Judge can only grant joint custody if the parents agree.) In these situations, the mediator should help the parents focus on the problem – not the conflict between the parents. And the problem is ensuring the best education decisions for the children. The mediator can help the parents focus on:
- which parent may be most familiar with the school and the teachers,
- who will be the most available emergency contact,
- Which parent may be most accessible to focus on school issues, and
- Which parent may support the child most during the school year?
Mediation also gives the parents flexibility about final decisions, even if, ultimately, one parent has the final authority. Parents could agree that the other parent will be allowed to provide input before making a decision. Both parents could be given the ability to provide feedback to the teachers and listed as emergency contact. (In Oregon, both parents have the statutory right to receive information from the school.) Simply because one parent is making the final decisions does not mean the other parents are shut out of the process.