Child Informed Mediation Study (CIMS): Incorporating the Children's Perspective into Divorce Mediation in an American Pilot Study

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Children experiencing parental separation may benefit from forms of mediation that systematically help parents consider the needs and best interests of their children. Child Focused (CF) and Child Inclusive (CI) mediation approaches were designed to meet this need and thus may offer effective means to improve the impact of mediation on families. An initial study in Australia provided evidence of the positive effects of CF and CI and favored CI over CF (McIntosh et al., 2008). We designed the Child Informed Mediation Study (CIMS) to further test CF and CI mediation. The CIMS is being conducted in a different location (the United States), uses random assignment of cases to type of mediation, and compares both CF and CI to divorce mediation as usual (MAU). For methodological and practical reasons, CIMS differs from the McIntosh et al. study in other ways (e.g., using student mediators and child consultants; including a child consultant and mediator in both CF and CI). A pilot CIMS study is currently underway. No data are yet available, but we present some initial impressions regarding how the study is proceeding, problems encountered, and lessons learned.

Keywords: child inclusive mediation; child focused mediation; children's interests; divorce mediation; child inclusive (CI); family law; student mediators and child consultants; interdisciplinary training; intervention efficacy study; empirically supported inventions; empirically validated interventions

**********

Divorce ends 40-50% of first marriages in the US, affecting 1 million children per year (US Census Bureau, 2002). In addition, an increasing number of children (1/3) are being born to unmarried parents, and such relationships are even less stable than marriage (Casper & Blanchi, 2002; Manning, Smock, & Majumdar, 2004). Thus, many children experience the break-up of their parents' relationship. (2) Divorce inflicts multiple disruptions (e.g., financial, residential, emotional) upon parents and children. As a result, divorce is a risk factor for the development of psychological problems among children. Relative to children from intact families, children from divorced homes have double the risk of psychological and behavioral problems (e.g., depression, delinquent behavior) and an increased risk of academic and social problems, including relationship problems in adulthood (see review in Amato, 2000). Even as adults, many children from divorced families report negative feelings, or 'distress,' about the divorce, such as concern about whether their nonresidential parent loves them (Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000).

Certain factors lessen the potential negative effects of divorce on children. Specifically, after divorce, children do better when there is less parental conflict (particularly in front of the children or about the children), when the child can maintain a positive relationship with the nonresidential parent, and when both parents can continue to provide appropriate parenting (Kelly & Emery, 2003). Thus, ideally, parents could manage their divorce in ways that minimize interparental conflict, increase the positive involvement of the nonresidential parent, and increase the parents' ability to parent effectively.

Experts have argued, however, that traditional, adversarial litigation approaches may work against such outcomes, instead exacerbating the potential negative effects of divorce by increasing parental conflict (Schepard, 2004). In response to such concerns, many have suggested that divorce mediation can decrease inter-parental conflict, ideally leading to better outcomes for children. Indeed, divorce mediation has become relatively widespread. Unfortunately, few methodologically strong studies have examined its effects, and the studies' shortcomings limit the conclusions that can be drawn from available data. Nevertheless, preliminary data do suggest that divorce mediation has beneficial outcomes compared to the normal litigation process, including: increased likelihood of parents reaching an agreement, decreased litigation following divorce, more satisfaction among fathers with the agreement, and more father involvement with their children (Emery, Sbarra, & Grover, 2005). …