|What Role, If Any, Should Children Have in Collaborative Law?
Collaborative family law (CFL) in virtually all jurisdictions is recognizing the benefits of interdisciplinary cooperation. One of the most beneficial avenues of cooperation is ensuring children’s voices are heard in the collaborative process. I can anticipate several questions that are likely to be asked:
1. Are children’s voices needed?
There are a number of arguments that suggest children should not be involved; namely:
2. Why should children have a voice?
3. How can children’s voices be heard in a Collaborative Divorce process?
Collaboratively trained lawyers are not trained in child development and usually do not have the training or skills to interview children. They should not directly involve children themselves as the potential damage would outweigh the benefits. It would be like bringing back the outdated practice of judges interviewing children in chambers — an experience that was frightening, not in keeping with the child’s developmental stage, and often disrespectful of appropriate boundaries and methods of framing questions. Also, collecting affidavits from relatives, friends and neighbours is a divisive practice and of very little use as the basis for a problem-solving conversation.
The goal should be to provide the parents and collaborative lawyers with the information needed to have a constructive problem-solving conversation with the parents about significant issues that will impact the child’s development or contribute to or prevent the successful completion of a parenting plan.
There are a number of resources available to include the child’s perspective:
4. What type of contribution would children likely make?
This brings up the question of the focus of the child’s involvement. In my experience, giving the child a voice can contribute in a number of ways:
Clearly, the topic of giving children a voice is an important one for interdisciplinary cooperation!
Dr. Barbara Landau, President of Cooperative Solutions, is a lawyer, psychologist and mediator who offers interdisciplinary training in Collaborative Practice & Mediation. She is the co-author of The Family Mediation and Collaborative Practice Handbook (4th ed., LexisNexis, 2005). This article appeared first in Matrimonial Affairs, the family law newsletter of the OBA, January 2005; in the IACP’s Collaborative Review, Spring 2005; and in ACR’s Family Mediation News, Fall 2005.