• July 6, 2021

When a Rainbow Family breaks down

All family breakdowns are painfully sad, and Rainbow families are no exception. However, sometimes due to the unique makeup of an LGBTQ+ family, things can become even more complex and challenging. Also, for many same-sex couples who fought so long for the right to marry their partner, ending that marriage that was such an achievement to be legally recognised can be truly heart breaking.

Choose a mediator who understands and respects the uniqueness of your LGBTQ+ family

Most important in the process of LGBTQ+ Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) mediation is for the mediator to bring an in-depth understanding of the many permutations and relationships under the Rainbow family umbrella. Using mediation as a process for Rainbow family separation and dispute resolution is a beneficial strategy for all parties involved. Beyond the key differences of using the legal system (i.e in terms of increased cost and time, inefficiency and decision-making power in the hands of a third party), family dispute resolution (or FDR) mediation presents significant benefits to a situation where there are more than two adults involved in the definition of family. Most importantly, FDR mediation is not limited to the legal guardians of the child, and anyone who has played a significant role in the child’s life can begin the mediation process which may be particularly significant for the non-biological parents in a Rainbow family. And critically, language matters .The mediator should use the preferred language that each unique Rainbow family undergoing mediation is most comfortable with.

LGBTQ+ families can’t wait for the law to catch up with changing models of family

For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, the path towards relationship recognition has been a pained and fraught journey, with change mostly happening in small increments over a long period of time. While marriage equality has made great strides in equalising the rights of same-sex couples wishing to marry, the legal system still has a long process of reform ahead before the many unique arrangements that make up Rainbow families no longer face inequities and lack of understanding and acknowledgement by the courts. Mediation provides the opportunity for the many different models of Rainbow family relationships to be recognised and acknowledged, so that all parties can be actively involved in the process.

LGBTQ+ FDR mediation is child-centric: the needs of the child are always the priority

Whether it’s a hetero or Rainbow family – the kids need to be alright. Often in Rainbow family constructs where there are more than two adults with a significant parenting role, the child may feel the loss of more than one ‘parent’ when the relationship dissolves. This can be particularly challenging in the absence of a parenting agreement that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each adult significantly involved in a child’s life – from the donor and his or her partner to the parents of the non-biological mum – and everything in between. Mediators identifying as LGBTQ+ can bring unique understanding through lived experience of Rainbow families and their unique make up.

It’s critically important to ensure the child’s psychological wellbeing is not adversely impacted if the relationship with the non-biological parent is severely restricted, or in the worst-case scenario, cut off entirely. Such a scenario may arise if the two biological parents collaboratively co-parent but live independently and do not share a residence. Mediation encourages Rainbow families to create their own unique relationship modelling into the future, including parenting arrangements involving all significant adults in the child’s life. While challenging and often emotionally charged, a supportive and inclusive mediator who acknowledges, respects and values each adult’s contribution in the Rainbow family structure will ensure the process takes place in a safe, neutral and judgement-free environment. Through FDR mediation facilitated by experienced LGBTQ+ professionals, all parties involved can feel confident that they will be seen and heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the process, in the best interests of the child.

Cultural competence makes the difficult process of LGBTQ+ FDR mediation a little easier

The cultural competence of the mediator can greatly impact the success of the mediation process. By this we mean parties should feel comfortable that the mediator’s belief system is cognisant with the individual culture of each party in mediation and unlikely to exhibit unconscious bias and stereotyping. This is particularly important to adults in Rainbow families who do not necessarily identify as gay or lesbian. We recommend parties interview prospective mediators to ensure the important criteria of cultural competence is met. Ensuring that your mediator has lived experience or appropriate training and insight into the diverse identities that are LGBTQ+ in the makeup of a Rainbow family – particularly your Rainbow family – is an important first step in the mediation process.

To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.

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