After separating, people resolve their problems with varying degrees of success. One of the most stressful aspects of separation is working out arrangements for children.

Some separated parents are able to discuss the issues involved and work out their own arrangements. If you are such a parent, congratulations and well done.

Others have trouble reaching agreements and rely on assistance from mediators. If that does not work, they go to Court and ultimately rely upon a Judge to make a decision, after they have been through the “life changing” experience of litigation and having their lives examined in minute detail before a decision is made. Often this is such a stressful experience, even with the help of very good lawyers, people can take years to recover from the stress and grief involved, regardless of whether the decision favours them or not.

Frequently, any chance of having a half-way decent co-parenting relationship following lengthy litigation (which sometimes takes years) is destroyed because of the adversarial nature of the litigation process. The Court does the best job it can but there would be few Judges or lawyers who would argue that going to Court should not be a last resort.

Alternatives to the Court process include Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) and child inclusive (or child-centred) mediation.

The Family Law Act 1975 requires separating families, who have a dispute about children, to make a genuine effort to try and resolve those issues through FDR before filing an Application for Parenting Orders in Court.

What is FDR?

FDR is a special type of mediation to help separating families come to their own agreements about how best to manage the unique aspects of their separation. During FDR, parties discuss the issues in dispute and consider different options while being guided by the mediator to maintain a focus on and achieve outcomes in the best interests of their children.

Every family is different and so the FDR process is unique to each family’s needs. Usually the process involves having an intake session with each party to assess suitability and prepare for the mediation. Some different types of FDR that are offered are:

  • Shuttle mediations
  • Online mediations
  • Child-centred mediation

Sophie tailors each mediation process to your specific family needs and circumstances. Sophie is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner with the Attorney-General and is able to provide mediation services throughout Australia.

As a clinical psychologist, Sophie has a comprehensive understanding of trauma (defined as adverse life experiences) and recognises that family separation can be an adverse life experience for parents, children and the entire separated family system. Sophie’s goal is to facilitate physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe mediation processes aimed at constructive dispute resolution and adaptive problem solving with the hope of minimising any potentially traumatic consequences of separation. Sophie is also committed to empowering parties to separate respectfully and make independent decisions because they are the experts of their own experiences and needs.

Child Inclusive or Child-Centred Mediation

What is it?

Sophie prefers to refer to this as child-centred rather than child inclusive mediation because the children are not actually present at the mediation. However, it is a way of obtaining meaningful information designed to assist parents to make decisions that are in their children’s best interests.

Why a child-inclusive expert?

As a psychologist and report writer with many years of experience, Sophie knows that litigation is extremely stressful for children, no matter how hard parents try to protect them from it.

Child-centred mediation is a complex area that requires an experienced and trained professional to act as a child-inclusive expert who meets with the children, sometimes more than once. It is not just a matter of asking children what they want. Any professional working extensively in this area will tell you that children will say different things to different people about what they want. Their motives for doing so are varied.

As a child-inclusive expert, Sophie interviews or works with a child in an attempt to truly understand them from a range of perspectives, with particular regard to their age and development in social, emotional, cognitive and physical domains.

Sophie then works with parents in a mediation context to help them understand how a child is travelling and what their needs are, according to their assessed development. This assists parents not just to make decisions, but to make informed decisions about their children.

The process is suitable for most children over the age of five.

Sophie has written many Family Reports and provided expert testimony in many instances. She will be able to tell you honestly what expert opinion might be formed by a report writer if you were to go to Court. In the mediation context, this happens with absolute confidentiality. Nothing can be reported to the Court and any notes taken from interviews or working with the children are destroyed afterwards.

Sophie has a sincere belief that children’s best interests are usually served by staying well away from Court rooms unless it is absolutely necessary. She also believes that if parents really want to make informed decisions about children following separation, and if they do not agree about what is best, then child-centred mediation with a child-inclusive expert is the way to go before considering the other options.

Costs for FDR and child-inclusive expert processes are negotiated, and depend entirely on the number of hours involved. Costs are much much cheaper than going to Court.