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Do children take part in Louisiana family mediation sessions?

When a marriage is falling apart, it's difficult for Baton Rouge spouses to look beyond ending this unhappy period of their lives. The divorce process doesn't make getting past this point easy. A marital relationship can be relegated to the past with divorce, but parenthood is ongoing – the relationship with an ex-spouse changes but doesn't end.

Conflicts are common during divorce over custody arrangements, child and spousal support and property division. The decisions spouses make are often long-lasting. Emotionally-charged parties frequently hit roadblocks that require the help of third parties to clear.

Family mediation is an alternative to having a judge decide how a legal issue is resolved. Spouses work toward a compromise in the presence of a trained individual, who facilitates the negotiation process while promoting a non-adversarial environment. Spouses, not mediators, determine the outcome.

The purpose of mediation, according to the Louisiana Mediation Act, is to "explore possible solutions" with the goal of reaching a settlement. Sometimes, mediation sessions benefit from the direct or indirect inclusion of children. Mediators follow guidelines to help them determine whether that's a good idea.

Young children, up to 5, lack the maturity to understand the full meaning of divorce. Children, ages 5 to 7, may participate, although their feelings easily can be manipulated. Many mediators believe children, starting at age 8, are old enough to express their thoughts and understand why mediation is taking place.

Children between 11 and 13 may try to hide fears about their parents' break-up. Older children may have the most to benefit from the experience, since speaking out honestly about divorce can spare them some behavioral problems in the future.

Children's opinions may be included directly or through professionally-conducted interviews. The parties' desires and the child's developmental stage influence whether the child is included. At no time will a family mediator risk harming a child by forcing him or her to participate.

Source: Mediation.com, "Best Interests and Little Voices: Child Participation in the Family Mediation Dialogue" Jennifer Winestone, accessed Jan. 29, 2015

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