Counselling for children whose parents are separating would reduce the number of cases which end up in a court hearing, says Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier.
Judge Boshier was commenting yesterday on new research which showed that family breakdowns were better resolved where children received independent counselling about their parents' separation.
Judge Boshier said about 5 per cent of Care of Children Act cases in the Family Court ended up in a defending hearing.
That proportion would be less if children had counselling and their views were heard earlier, he said.
Judge Boshier said where parents could see on the record what their children had to say about the separation they could change their stance and look at other options, including putting their children's issues ahead of their own.
The Care of Children Act gave children a better voice in court proceedings, although the limited counselling funded through the court was now available only to parents.
Judge Boshier said children should also be able to access that initial counselling and if necessary be further referred to ongoing therapeutic work funded through other agencies, as were the adults.
He said this way family issues were more likely to be resolved through conciliation and mediation.
The study: Hello, I'm a Voice, Let Me Talk: Child Inclusive Mediation in Family Separation was conducted by researcher Jill Goldson of the Centre of Child and Family Policy Research at Auckland University.
Ms Goldson hoped the research would provoke discussion as it showed the clear benefits of including children in the counselling provided to parents who were separating and going through a Family Court mediation process.
"The outcomes were very positive and children felt better about the situation. There tended to be less conflict and parents made better decisions and were more co-operative."
Ms Goldson said it could not be assumed that help made available to parents alone trickled down to their children.
If children felt miserable about their family situation, it could lead to other problems such as truancy and eating disorders, she said.
Ms Goldson said the study, funded by the Families Commission, involved 26 children of 17 couples who were included in counselling sessions as part of the mediation process.
Being involved in the process helped children to adapt with less distress to the new situation, she said.
Ms Goldson said while most Family Court cases involving relationship and childcare issues were resolved during mediation a great many situations remained emotionally unresolved.
"This is particularly hard for children who need to relate to both parents but who are not given an opportunity to be part of the discussions about the new arrangements."
Comments from children involved in the study showed they found the counselling relieved their anxieties.
One 7-year-old boy said: "I feel more comfortable inside and I feel more happy inside."
An 11-year-old girl said: "It's made everything easier. Mum and Dad don't fight so much. Now I can say what I want to say without being told I am wrong."
Rajen Prasad, chief commissioner of the Families Commission, said the findings had both practice and policy implications, and the commission would refer the report to the Family Court and the Ministry of Justice.