Renegotiating Family Relationships: Divorce, Child Custody, and Mediation

By Kemp, Ronald N. | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, July 1996 | Go to article overview

Renegotiating Family Relationships: Divorce, Child Custody, and Mediation


Kemp, Ronald N., Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


Any therapist who has had to navigate the rocky waters of conflict which appear in the aftermath of a divorce with children involved knows how difficult and treacherous the journey is. Most research on the subject of children and divorce seems to suggest that children do much better at the task of adapting to the situation if the parents can avoid being so angry with each other and not involve their children in the conflict.

Emery's major concern in writing this book is with children who are caught in the conflict of their parents during a divorce. He neatly reframes the uncoupling process in a way to suggest the family is not disengaging; rather they are actually "renegotiating" relationships within the family. Like most clinicians who see things from a systems perspective, he believes parents do not end their relationship with a divorce. They simply change the structure of the relationship.

Emery's approach to the process of renegotiation is through mediation. When the reader finishes the book, s/he is aware of having been introduced to a powerful argument for divorcing couples to be involved in mediation. The author contends that mediation can help parents renegotiate their relationship because it actually encourages them to cooperate in deciding what to do, especially in the matter of custody. Few are willing to argue that the traditional adversarial approach would be better for the children.

Chapter 2 makes the book worth its price. The author notes that "negotiating a child custody agreement is as much a psychological task as it is a legal one" (p. 17). He then proceeds to provide the reader with an extremely helpful discussion of a family systems model of the divorce process. …

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