Relationship breakdown is a very emotional time for the whole family and can lead to difficult family disputes. But what happens when grandparents are stopped from seeing their grandchildren? Family mediation can often help – we look at how it works and how to get the most from the process.
What is family mediation – and how does it benefit grandparents?
Family mediation is a way of resolving serious family disputes, where mediators help relatives to find their own solutions to their differences.
Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation (NFM) says that the best way for grandparents to ensure they stay in contact with their grandchildren following divorce or separation is to remain co-operative with both their own child and their son/daughter in-law. “But sadly, grandparents sometimes feel they have no alternative but to take their own steps to secure their relationship with their grandchildren. In these instances, grandparents can benefit from mediation.”
How does family mediation work?
The mediator meets with both the grandparents and the parent/s, to discuss the issues they need to resolve to enable contact to take place. The mediator will then arrange a meeting of all the parties and help them work through the issues raised. The aim is to come to an agreement that suits everybody - especially the children.
Once an agreement has been reached, the mediator provides a summary outcome statement to help everyone stick to the agreements. This is not a legally binding agreement.
“A legally binding agreement can only be achieved if the family then applies to the court for a court order,” explains Jane Robey. “However, our experience shows that once misunderstandings have been ironed out and an agreement is put in place the family is usually happy to work with the agreement because it is a mutually agreed outcome.”
When mediation can help
Grandparents often feel conflicting emotions when their child is going through a separation. They want to support their son or daughter, but in doing so can be seen to be taking sides with their soon to be ex-in-law.
“It comes as a real shock to many grandparents when they discover they have no automatic right to be part of their grandchild’s life,” says Jane Robey. “Family mediation is a confidential and safe process well away from courtroom heat. It can help reduce conflict between family members, and is often the best way to resume contact. And it almost always works out as a quicker and cheaper way to pursue contact issues than going to court.”
Approaching mediation positively
National Family Mediation has the following advice to ensure grandparents get the best out of mediation:
- Keep the children central to your thoughts and actions.
- Leave the past behind and focus on the future: you can’t change the past, but you can shape the future.
- Keep an open mind and be willing to negotiate - try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- Encourage dialogue and communication to keep the channels open.
- Come with an open mind and a willingness to negotiate and hear another person’s point of view.
How to find a mediator
There are plans for a new compulsory accreditation scheme, which all family mediators will have to work towards. Until then, if you are searching for a professionally accredited mediator the best standard to look for is a family mediator who can offer publicly-funded or legally aided family mediation. All NFM members offer legal aid which means all have undertaken an accreditation process that is approved by the Legal Aid Agency.