Don’t turn parents into judicial parties

Edition 26 April 2018, by Irene Kroezen, coordinator Mediation Bureau.

In Europe and worldwide we are counting more and more international relationships. This is due to the increasing mobility and migration of people. It has become easier to move within a country or to cross borders and to relocate to another country. Sometimes people move for a short stay, but there are also others, like expats, who are living abroad for a longer period of time. In the Netherlands currently one out of six couples have a mixed relationship. If the relationship deteriorates it may well lead to a separation or divorce. If there are also children involved then it is possible that different disputes will arise. For example, one of the parents expresses the wish to go back with the children to their home country, but the other parent doesn’t agree.

It is mostly difficult enough to go through a divorce or separation itself and it is even harder to come up with arrangements about the children. As difficult as it may be, it is nevertheless of the utmost importance to make good arrangements. The International Child Abduction Center (hereinafter: Center IKO) has noted that in the worst case scenario the lack of arrangements can lead to an international child abduction. This happens when one of the parents moves to another country with the child without the consent of the left behind parent who has parental authority.

The Center IKO makes an effort every day to prevail international child abductions by informing, advising and guiding parents and professionals. In 2016 every working day a child was being abducted from and to the Netherlands. A lot of harm can be avoided if parents timely talk to each other. This can be arranged if parents are willing to participate in mediation. Within mediation parents get the chance to work together as parents of their children instead of parties which they will become when a court case is started. The Center IKO has cooperated with the Ministry of Security and Justice and the Council for the Judiciary to establish a Mediation Bureau in 2009 where a specific method of mediation is facilitated: cross border mediation.

Cross border mediation is a voluntarily mediation procedure which gives parents the possibility to talk about their needs, rights and interests. Two specialised cross border mediators, one lawyer mediator and one psychosocial mediator, assist the parents with communicating and negotiating. Within a cross border mediation process parents can resolve their dispute and can come to an arrangement about the child’s place of residence and/or an international contact and care arrangement. During the whole process the focuss will be on the child and the relationship with each of the parents.

The children from the age of 3,5 years old can be involved. If both parents consent, a third mediator, who is a child expert, will speak with the child. A report of this conversation will be drafted and discussed with the parents during the mediation. The child conversation is meant to give an insight to the perspective of the child, rather than forcing the child choose between his or her parents. Hearing the voice of the child is often an emotional eye opener for the parents and can help them to reach an agreement more easily. In more than half of the cases the parents come to an agreement and benefit of improved communication.

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