How to help children (and adults) through divorce

How to help children (and adults) through divorce

Holistic approaches to a more peaceful separation

Creating a harmonious home life for children during and after a divorce is the priority of many parents, however, the realities of that in practice can be very different. Fraught with anger, grief and other overwhelming emotions, it can be difficult for parents to navigate separation and co-parenting. The truth is that divorce doesn’t have to destroy the family unit if you’re willing to do the work.

Is a holistic divorce possible?

While finding an empathetic Family Lawyer who minimises the fight and assists you in the process of finalising financial settlements, custody and spousal support is imperative, there is also a range of holistic services and approaches, that can provide you, and your family, with much-needed support during this time.

In this article, we look briefly at three alternative approaches and services which aim to minimise conflict and place children at the centre of parenting matters to create a collaborative divorce or separation.

These are:

  1. Collaborative Divorce
  2. Parenting Coordinators
  3. Child-Inclusive Mediation

What does a collaborative divorce look like?

A Collaborative Divorce involves both parties agreeing to stay out of court which can mean the process is faster and less expensive than traditional litigation, which can often involve going to Court.

The idea is to create a safe, peaceful environment, conducive to creating a resolution. Issues are worked through by discussing them in an open and respectful environment, where each party is supported by their lawyer.

Other legal professionals such as financial advisors might be brought in to clarify or create further transparency and understanding of financial matters.

This process can also be supported by a Parenting Coordinator and Child-Inclusive Mediation which we cover in more detail below.

Need support through your holistic separation?
Contact us for a free initial consultation with one of our Family Lawyers.

The role of a Parenting Coordinator

The main goal of a Parenting Coordinator is to minimise ongoing conflict between parents and provide them with a range of skills and support, to resolve disputes before or following final orders being made in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA).

This child-centred process helps parents navigate and organise ongoing parenting arrangements. The case manager can provide support through education, mediation, and the family’s post-separation progress is assessed to ensure the best outcome for the child/ren.

Parents may be referred to a Parenting Coordinator as part of Court Orders or a Parenting Plan, and they can work in conjunction with other professional services such as mediation or other forms of family dispute resolution.

Usually, these coordinators are either a lawyer, mental health professional or a specialised Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) practitioner or a combination. FDR practitioners must meet the accreditation standards in the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners) Regulations 2008.

As Angela Cowan, Mediator Hub Director, mediator, FDRP and Parenting Co-ordinator explained, this can be a great process for parents who have experienced protracted legal proceedings and need assistance in implementing their Parenting Orders.

“Transitioning from intimate partners to co-parents after separation is challenging and once Courts dispense with matters, there seems to be this notion that co-parents will magically get along. It’s quite the opposite and the children are in most cases negatively impacted if stuck in the middle of ongoing parental conflict,” she said.

While a common myth is that mediation can be expensive, hiring a private mediator can ensure your case is settled quickly which in turn, can save tens of thousands of dollars (or more) if the matter was to be heard at Court.

“Unlike a non-for-profit organisation or legal proceedings, there are no delays. If mediation is agreed to by each party, our services typically commence within days. Participants are empowered to engage with each other meaningfully and unlike legal proceedings, the parties are the decision-makers. Mediation has the potential to prevent the escalation of disputes. The service can be transformative or restorative depending on the circumstance and parties can achieve win-win resolutions instead of the alternative zero-sum outcomes,” said Angela.

What is child-inclusive mediation?

Child Inclusive Mediation & Counselling (CIMC) is an evidence-based intervention for separated parents in dispute. It supports the safe involvement of children in the mediation process. Facilitated by a trained child specialist (Child Consultant), its purpose is to ensure the child’s needs and interests remain the core focus during conflict resolution.

Parents can agree to have a Child Consultant, who is a specially trained practitioner, spend time with their child ahead of mediation. They essentially then become the child’s representative during a mediation process. The Child Consultant then joins the parents’ mediation process to represent the concerns and priorities of the child in that process, so the child is never physically in the room during mediation.

The process combines a range of specific skills and tools to help effectively consult with children, and guide strategic, therapeutic feedback conversations with their parents.

In their sessions, they explore a range of topics, such as:

  • How the child/ren feel/s when they see/hear their parents argue
  • How they feel about being the ‘middle person’
  • How they feel about areas of their life like school, siblings or friendships
  • What they might be worried about, or hoping for
  • The positives aspects and strengths of their family
  • Areas they wish were different.

Jennifer Hetherington, a Parenting Coordinator and child-inclusive Mediator from Untying the Knot said, “ It has some similarities with the family report process but is part of mediation,” so it is without prejudice, however, a written report is not produced.

“It is about untangling your relationship, rather than cutting the rope. It’s about dancing together at your children’s weddings, and both being at your grandchildren’s birthday parties, not sitting at opposite sides of the room,” she added.

The goal is to interview the children to enable their voices and views to be represented in the mediation. The Child Consultant can also reality test and work with the parents to propose agreements that align with the child’s desires.

A Child-Inclusive Mediation process may take the following steps:

  • Each parent has a mediation intake
  • The Child Consultant speaks with each parent and confirms suitability for the process
  • The Child Consultant meets with the child/ren
  • On a separate day, a mediation which is usually lawyer-assisted occurs where the Child Consultant provides feedback
Need support through your holistic separation?
Contact us for a free initial consultation with one of our Family Lawyers.


Fees can vary depending on the service provider, with some offering fixed, half-day, full-day or hourly rates, with the costs shared by the parties.

A truly collaborative approach

Feel like a Child-Inclusive Mediation and Parenting Coordinator may be a great supportive solution for your family law matter? Creating a realistic approach to future parenting matters means working collaboratively with a range of professionals. As Angela explained:

“​​We often work with lawyers and other professionals that assist in mediation and find them to be valuable contributors, particularly when parties are emotionally invested or entrenched in some cases. Lawyers and other professionals such as financial advisors or experts can detach from the emotion and bargain pragmatically on behalf of parties.

“We want the resolution to work in practice and not just appear sound in principle. As a mediator, I make no apology for asking challenging questions that shift mindsets, focus the parties on the future practicalities and manage expectations so that change is beneficial.”

Interested in taking a holistic approach to your Family Law matter? Toomey Family Law provides a collaborative and conversational approach with a range of professionals, including Child-Inclusive Mediators and Parenting Coordinators, so get in touch today to see how we can holistically support your journey.
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