3Q Relationship breakdown and re-partnering
“Let’s talk about the kids” – engaging parents in the exploration phase of FDR
As an Interrelate FDRP the key propositions that I put to parents are:
- They are the appropriate people to be making decisions about their children, and
- Children will not thrive in an environment of ongoing, unresolved conflict.
Interrelate’s model of FDR (including the intake session, Building Connections program, pre-FDR and joint session) is structured to assist parents to focus on the needs of their children. Operating within this model, I always want to ensure that children are not caught in the backwash of their parents’ emotions and/or conflict, and that agreements reached will sustain the best interests and well-being of children. Agreements should not leave children behind, and we do this most effectively by supporting parents.
In the mediation room we have opportunities to bring parents into a space where they can set aside conflict and have an in-depth conversation about the needs of their children. Often this has not occurred for a long time due to the breakdown of the couple relationship. The couple relationship and the parenting relationship, however, are not one and the same, and the parenting relationship must be coaxed back into being for the sake of the children.
In my work over 12 years as an FDRP I have developed a method of facilitation that holds parents in the exploration phase for a lot longer than is usual for most process driven mediators, and brings the children into the room in a comprehensive manner. The goal is to draw parents together into a head space where they are considering the experiences and needs of their children, and this is done in a way which incorporates both parents’ perspectives in an open and non-judgmental manner. Upon completing this phase of the FDR it is my experience that parents seem to have a better grasp of the fundamentals of Shared Parental Responsibility and, as a result, agreements are reached more smoothly.
I use the same series of questions, visual aids and documentation for this exploration phase in every FDR. I have found that even very high conflict parents can participate effectively as I am asking them, in turn, to speak with me about their children, whilst the other parent is asked initially to just remain as a witness to our conversation.
In my seminar I would like to share this child-focused exploration conversation with participants, using video footage and documentation from real sessions.
Sarah Deuis has been working as a Senior FDRP and Child Consultant at Interrelate’s Sutherland FRC for the past 12 years. She has a Social Work degree from the University of Sydney (Hons Class 1) and a Graduate Diploma of Family Dispute Resolution, and is the mother of four children.