In 2018, the Children’s Law Center (CLC) implemented a project called the Child Centered Mediation Program. This program is specifically designed to serve those who are unlikely to have counsel or, if they do have counsel, would be unlikely to be able to afford mediation. Its purpose is to provide mediation services to families involved in high conflict custody disputes with a specific focus on the child or children. It aims to reduce family conflict resulting from a custody dispute and the long term negative effects of that conflict on the health of the child.

The CLC’s pilot mediation project asks the Family Court judge (Judge Christopher Mehling has agreed to participate this first year) to refer parties to our program who are, ideally, unrepresented and most likely to qualify for needsbased services. Often, these participants are involved in high conflict custody litigation. Because the CLC has secured funding for the project from the Spaulding Foundation and the Northern Kentucky Bar Foundation, it does not charge a fee for this service.

The CLC uses a trauma informed approach in evaluating the case and in ultimately facilitating the discussion toward agreement. This trauma-informed approach involves focusing on how the parental conflict of this particular dispute, and how events in the child’s and the parties’ pasts adversely affects the child’s well-being. Any mediated agreement using this approach considers the interests of the child first; it includes strategies to reduce any further trauma going forward.

The program addresses the trauma component before the actual mediation session or sessions by requiring the parties to jointly attend an educational session with the mediator and a psychological professional (Jean Deters, Psy.D., has agreed to participate this first year), participate in a facilitated discussion about their child’s past and present trauma, and ways to minimize or eliminate it in the future. The strategies and information the parties discuss at this session are then applied at the next meeting: the mediation session. The psychological professional attends as well.

At the ultimate mediation session all issues are discussed, from custody to child-support, visitation to property division. But with the CLC’s focus on the well-being of the child and the recognition and focus on her trauma, including the trauma of the protracted litigation, this approach should have a great potential to facilitate lasting agreements that reduce the parties’ court time. Even more importantly, this approach should reduce the child’s trauma, increase his or her selfworth, and ultimately encourage the parties to focus their energies not on the conflict, but on their child.

Thank you to the Spaulding Foundation for funding this program!