How to Give Children a Voice in Divorce? The Role of the Child Specialist
Children of a divorcing couple (they may be minors or adults) even though they may not be physically present, are stakeholders in the resolution. Just because they are not present for meetings, they likely influence how one or both of their parents approaches a resolution.
In a traditional divorce case, the children are left out of the process and the children do not have a voice in the decisions that affect them. The parents may share their love for their children yet may have a motive of their own regarding what they think is in the child’s best interest.
A Child Specialist is a professional with training and experience working with children and families in the divorce context. The role of a Child Specialist is to provide a voice for the children in the family. The Child Specialist is not doing therapy during, or after, the process. The child is told that their feedback is not confidential but will be relayed in a manner that should be useful and not offensive to the parents.
A Child Specialist serves as an independent and neutral representative of the child(ren)’s needs in a Collaborative Divorce. The Child Specialist talks with the parents and then meets with, and observes, the children of the parties.
The focus is on the needs and interests of the children and is not filtered by the views of the parents. The Child Specialist also enables the child to express themselves in voicing thoughts, feelings and concerns and ensures a private setting for the child to ask questions, express needs and address problems relating to divorce. Giving the children a voice empowers the children to express themselves and talk about the divorce. In return, they receive support and comfort and clarification about changes in their family and their lives.
The Child Specialist assesses the level of the child’s functioning and adjustment to the separation and divorce. The Child Specialist gains significant information about the family dynamics. The information may include what is appropriate for a child of a certain age in addition to what may be appropriate for the particular child(ren) involved. The Child Specialist in a Collaborative Divorce case can provide information to the parents about what is working and what may be improved. It enables the parents to consider the needs of each child.
Unless the children have an opportunity to meet with a Child Specialist, there may be important information that does not reach the parents or the other professionals working with them.
Feedback from the Child Specialist to the divorce attorneys and other divorce professionals provides information from the child’s point of view to be taken into consideration when working on a Parenting Plan. The observations shared with the parents are to be solution-oriented and not judgmental. The Child Specialist’s work in a Collaborative Divorce case is not admissible in court, in the event the case does not settle. The information may help the parents make better decisions and/or validate that they are proceeding in the right direction. The feedback empowers parents to reach an agreement. It helps keep parents focused on what is most important, working from common ground regarding the needs of the children (to include financial issues) and can help shift disagreements to a settlement.
If issues arise at a later date, there is the option of resuming the Collaborative Process and working through the new facts and issues in a similar manner. When a settlement is reached, the parents are more likely to return to the same process and professionals to assist with a modification when needed, because they already have a level of comfort with the professionals and with a process where all the family members have a voice.
The settlement can include a schedule for time with the children and also address many other co-parenting topics in a parenting plan that might otherwise not be addressed if the matter was decided by a judge. When the parties are able to settle, they avoid the costs (in time and money) of protracted negotiations and/or litigation. With the help of a Child Specialist and Collaborative Divorce team, the parties are more like to reach a settlement that stands the test of time.