Category Archives: Blog

Decision making during divorce

Feeling Overwhelmed?

8 Simple Steps To Decision Making During Divorce

8 simple ways to make a decision.

8 simple ways to make a decision.


Here is the way I help my clients going through a divorce to make better, empowering decisions.

This simple process helps to lessen the feeling of overwhelm during this stressful life changing event where you have to make so many important decisions all at the same time.

Grab a cup of coffee and a paper and pen and take some deep breaths to help you relax. Turn off your phone and make sure you won’t be disturbed.

1. Write down just ONE decision that you have to make.
2. Write down three possible solutions to the problem.
3. Write down three advantages and three disadvantages for each possible solution.
4. Write down the people who will be affected by each possible solution.
5. Write down how each person might be affected by each possible solution.
6. Choose one solution.
7. Take some small action as soon as possible on the solution you picked.
8. Reflect & ponder on the action you’ve taken and feel pleased with yourself for moving forward.

Taking small steps of action regularly takes away feelings of overwhelm and helplessness. It puts you back in control and feeling in charge of some aspects of your life which is empowering. That helps to reduce your stress and anxiety.

Get into the habit of doing this process regularly to move you gently forward during times of great change and transition.

If you would like to work with me I have a 6 week coaching programme called ‘Handling Life’s Transitions & Changes’ where I will guide, nurture and support you through whatever changes you are experiencing, or call me on 01883 818329 to have a chat about how I can help you.

Sue Atkins

First ever family mediation week

That’s the first ever Family Mediation Week over. I may be partial but I think that we at the FMA did a really good job with the theme for every day, the poignant insights into the impact of parental separation on children and the fact that there was an actual video from a real live client speaking about her positive experience of mediation.
I am sure that the week will become a regular feature. I hope that, as it becomes established, many mediators from all organisations will participate so that we can continue to spread the mediation message. Spreading that message to as many people as possible can only be a good thing for all mediators. It would be great if we could reach a position where couples who need to resolve breakdown issues automatically thought of mediation as an option. Mind you I was heartened when a potential new client said that it was her mother who had told her that mediation was the way to go.

Special weeks are excellent and, currently, necessary. We all need to spread the word throughout the year as well. What I really want however is for us to reach the point when mediation is regarded as such an accepted way of resolving issues, that the need to have a week to raise awareness becomes entirely redundant. We all need a dream!!

Anne Braithwaite

Why consider Mediation?

Many people think that a certain type of person goes to mediation and that their case is too complex or they might end up with a lesser amount. However, mediation is suitable for most people and can be an accurate reflection of what a finding would be in court.

Ms L from Oxfordshire was a recent mediation client and has written to me about her experience following the breakdown of the mediation. She has kindly agreed for us to share her experience;

I had been meaning to write to you to let you know how the FDR went and what happened to us subsequent to our meetings. The interesting point is that at the FDR, Judge Paul Coleridge awarded me almost exactly what had been proposed in our sessions: £2.24m and a half share in the value of my husband’s pension. I included my Trust in my assets and my husband was not able to ring fence any of his pre-cohabitation assets or pension.

The bad news is that the cost of going to FDR and the resulting quibbles about wording and logistics meant that we ended up spending, quite frankly, an obscene amount of money on the whole process (£250,000 between us). I tell you this just for you to use the information to warn others about going down the “trusting your solicitor to get you the best deal route”! It was ridiculous as we knew our case wasn’t even complicated by some standards (no custody of children, no ongoing maintenance, no hidden assets etc).

Anyway, it is finally over and I’m just waiting for the pension share to be worked out and then can finally close that chapter. There is no celebration at the end of a marriage, but the legal procedure for working out the financial settlement makes the whole process so much more painful and acrimonious. I would welcome a change in the law to give couples more chance to share legal advice and be encouraged to talk to each other, instead of being led by their own (naturally biased) solicitors.

I just wanted to thank you again for your support and help, and for you to know that your suggestions and guidance were spot on, so well done!

Whilst this mediation took place between the First Appointment and the FDR, that is by no means unique and it is also not unusual for the court to make a finding which is very similar to the proposal reached in mediation. This is because the compromise position is normally the fairest outcome and can be reached by clients if they are left to their own devices in mediation.

Christine Plews

Blake Morgan

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Mediation works!

Breaking up is hard to do even when both partners agree that it is the right decision for them both.  And it’s even more difficult when only one partner is keen to end the relationship and the other wants to save it. Whatever the circumstances, however, most people experience all sorts of mixed emotions including hurt, anger, grief, guilt, despair, bitterness and  anxiety about the future. These feelings are normal and they can often be so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible for a couple to have a constructive conversation together, let alone sit down calmly to make so-called ‘rational’ decisions about the future.

We know that many people simply muddle through the separation process with little if any professional support, but the toll on their health can be immense. Very few people are hell-bent on getting into a fight with their (ex)-partner but coping with all the changes and dealing with everyday things when their lives may be falling apart can be extremely stressful, so that tensions and conflicts emerge and quickly escalate if they are not checked in any way. This can be very damaging, especially if there are children involved and they find themselves in the midst of a parental battle-ground.  Children and young people tell us that they hate it when their parents argue and it can be very scary. Some children think they are to blame when parents split up and worry that they will never see one of their parents again, especially if everyone is angry and unable to communicate without shouting and making hurtful accusations.

In over 30 years of conducting research with thousands of families who are facing separation or divorce, I have been continually impressed by the determination of mothers and fathers to do what is best for their children, however upset they are themselves, and to avoid doing anything that will damage them and their life-chances. But even the strongest and most determined people say they experience ‘dark’ moments when faced with tough decisions about arrangements for the children’s future, where they and each parent will live, and how they will cope financially. Most parents are not well-prepared for the decisions they have to take or what it will be like after separation. Some parents have described it as like being on a roller-coaster ride, being tossed about in mid-air and feeling totally out of control. Others have described feeling very depressed and unable to see the wood for the trees. Some find it difficult to offer the support and comfort that their children need.  But it does not have to be like this. There are several ways in which families can minimise the distress and feel more in control of what is happening to them.

The overwhelming message from people who have been through separation is that it can be really helpful and reassuring to have someone who is not involved with the family to help sort out the mess and restore a sense of normality. And this is where family mediators can be especially helpful. Their task is to support couples reduce conflict and to work towards reaching agreements on the big decisions they have to take, making sure that their own needs and those of  their children are taken into account. Mediators will help people to resolve disputes by themselves, and they use their skills and experience to keep people focused while also acknowledging the painful emotions they might each be experiencing.  There are different ways to mediate and increasingly it is becoming possible to work online as well as face-to-face with a mediator.

Mediation is not the answer for everyone, but those who try it usually say that it has been very worthwhile: it helps to take the heat out of the situation and to support couples to reach agreements without tearing each other apart or increasing the conflicts and tensions. We know that if conflict continues, the longer-term outcomes for adults and for their children are much worse than if issues can be talked through and agreements are reached amicably.  But mediation can be a tough option…it’s not an easy ride. Attempting mediation is a brave thing to do. However, if people facing separation or divorce want to find a way to get through it with the minimum of distress for them and their children, then mediation can work for them. But it takes two to tango, so both partners have to be prepared to give it a go. Those who have managed to do this say things like:

At a difficult time it did a lot to improve the relationship between us.

It has moved us into a frame of mind to try to be cooperative…the children have been put first and mediation helped with that.

I feel it has helped to keep me from getting tense and wound up, and I have been able to keep things happier for the children.

At the worst time of the post-separation period my ex-wife and I were able to meet and not scream at one another and that was quite impressive.

It has reduced the amount of bitterness over a shorter period of time than would have been the case.

Lots of research has shown that mediation can help families to manage a very difficult time in their lives and come out the other side feeling stronger and more able to face the future. It can also mean that children have a better chance to enjoy a positive relationship with both their parents although they no longer live together. So, if you are going through separation or divorce and want to ensure that you keep things on an even keel and come up with the best possible outcomes for you and your children, family mediators can tell you about mediation and how it works, assist you to decide if it could be helpful for you, tell you about other services that might be of assistance, and find an appropriate mediator for you to work with.

Emeritus Professor Janet Walker OBE

Newcastle University

The role of the FMC

Blogs, apparently, are usually written in a personal style.  So I’ll approach my contribution to the Family Mediation Week website in a more informal way than I might normally write about family mediation.  And what is personal to me at present?  A bit of timely taking stock, because I’ll be finishing my time as an independent member of the Family Mediation Council in three months, at the Council’s April meeting.

Family Mediation Week celebrates the growing part mediation plays in helping people find a constructive way through separation and divorce, giving them the tools to deal with difficult decisions about resources and the ongoing shared care of children.  So I am pleased to be able to say something about the part the Family Mediation Council plays in all this, and especially about its achievements over the last few months.

The Council’s most important role is to protect the public by ensuring that it is served by family mediators practising to a proper and reliable standard.  Family mediators come from different backgrounds and work in different organisations – the Family Mediation Council brought these organisations together to create a common standards framework.  It’s been a stimulating and sometimes lively business; I’ve certainly learned a lot in the process.  And – much encouraged by the support of the Ministry of Justice – last year we progressed past a significant milestone.

Family mediators now have a Family Mediation Standards Board, which has got off to a really cracking start.  There is now a shared professional structure for all family mediators, which I believe makes good sense and will serve the public and family mediators well.  The Standards Board works under the Council, but it operates with substantial independence – it is registering mediators, it will ensure that they practice appropriately, and that they are properly trained and supported.  The organisations which make up the Council cannot have day-to-day responsibility for this work – they are too close to it.  But through the Council they will make sure that the work is done.

This structure means that the public and family mediators may not hear much about the Council itself in the future, at least when it comes to ensuring that there are good standards of professional practice.  The Council’s role will be a background one; it will be less conspicuous than the Standards Board.  And this is an achievement.  Given this self-effacing intention the achievement is clearly not one which will be noticed widely – but developing professional standards is not the stuff for tabloid dramas anyway.  However, the structure created will enable family mediation to offer a more solid service and to attract more solid support.  And that is good, because family mediation is A Good Thing – it helps people deal better with difficult situations and circumstances.  And the Council will have helped get mediation more established, so it will have done A Good Thing too.

I’m not a family mediator.  But I have now worked with family mediators for some years.  And I know they are a dedicated bunch, absolutely determined to see that their commitment to a better way of resolving disagreements and disputes is taken forward.  There’s a lot involved in that process, including complicated questions of resources, establishing the right organisational frameworks, and developing greater awareness.  But getting the right standards in place is a part of the jigsaw.  And if it turns out that I have helped that process along, I shall step down from the Council with my own feeling of achievement.

Hugh England

Chair, Family Mediation Council

Mediation Matters – The Benefits of Mediation through Separation

During Family Mediation Week, Linda Lamb from Family Law Partners a specialist boutique firm, dealing exclusively with Family Law in the South East; discusses the benefits of mediation for couples who have decided to separate or divorce.

A specially trained mediator can use various techniques to help encourage communication and co-operation between couples, helping them sort out arrangements in order for them to move forward. In the majority of situations problems can often be sorted out when people talk – after all you are still a family just in a different shape.

Why Mediation?

When couples decide to separate it can be one of the most difficult times in their lives. It’s hard to know what to do to sort everything out – the relationship, children and the finances. Mediation is a process which can help you and families through a separation, using a mediator who goes at their pace; minimising costs associated with courts and solicitors throughout a separation.

How Does Mediation Work?

Usually one of the couple will contact a mediator who will then speak to both of you to find out if this is the right time for you both to attend mediation and if so what you would like to discuss during the mediation meetings. At the start of the meeting you decide the priority of the issues to be discussed, the mediator is there to keep you focused on where you want to get to and provide guidance on your options. Alongside the mediator you talk through the various options and then after discussing how each option could work in reality, you establish the options that work for you and your children. You can then put in place the arrangements and at a later date review and change if required.

Advantages of Mediation

Couples that go through mediation can find the process of separation less stressful and emotional, as many find it easier to articulate their feelings to an independent third party, who will provide support but has no bias or attachment to personal situations. There are many other benefits of mediation including:

  • You make decisions about your future, not the court;
  • A mediator will be able to give you some impartial guidance on the options that would be approved by the court and you can then decide on the way forward;
  • You pay for one mediator instead of two lawyers;
  • After the mediation process you should be able to communicate for future decisions that need to be made, which is especially important if you have young children;
  • The mediation process is less stressful than court and involves less conflict;
  • If appropriate your children can be included in the mediation process, as their impression of how you are dealing with the separation can be extremely helpful;
  • The mediation meetings can take place at times that suits you;

What Mediation Doesn’t Do?

Mediation is not designed to reconcile couples, it’s a process that provides a forum to allow you to create solutions tailored to your needs during and after a separation.


Linda Lamb

Family Law Partners

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tel : 01273 922 141

What’s great about family mediation

The prospect of sitting down with your previous partner to talk about dividing your belongings and the time you each spend with the children, can be seen on par with root canal work. We know we have to do it, but it’s excruciating. Provided some fundamental, core human needs are met, mediation doesn’t have to be an onerous experience. For some this might be hard to imagine.

There are two primary needs that humans require that family mediation can attend to. One is to be acknowledged, which engenders a sense of inclusion and therefore safety, and the other is to know that our own gene pool, our kids, will continue to thrive. Family mediation takes parents from a position of anger and blame to making amicable and harmonious decisions about the care of their children. When our good intent as a parent is acknowledged and appreciated, we are motivated to consider change, such as a parental alliance, especially if we think our children will benefit. The great thing about parental harmony is that it increases the children’s ability to have good relationships themselves, allowing the next generation to prosper.

Anger and recrimination naturally follow deep disappointment, but these are ultimately unhelpful responses to the incredibly sad fact that the relationship simply didn’t work out. Blame, which so often bedevils the process of separation and is unfortunately stimulated by adversarial processes, is understandable when a relationship has broken down, but finding fault ultimately allows us to dodge our own accountability. We are not going to come to good, long lasting, mutually maintained, harmonious arrangements for the care of our children until we are able to take some degree of personal responsibility.

As a fluid process that honours the good intentions of both parents, family mediation has the capacity to stay clear of blame and to enhance the parents’ ability to hear their child’s request for harmony and peace. Parents can experience the support and structure they need to disentangle themselves from the wreckage of a broken relationship and can begin to consider the possibilities of an amicable post-separation parenting alliance with each other. Such an alliance, which would once have appeared impossible, starts to become a real possibility as the parents begin progressively to better understand themselves and each other. Through family mediation, parents can be assisted gradually to see that fault never really resided with either of them but rather that their relationship was insufficiently equipped to manage their differences.

So while it might be initially hard for some to imagine a time where there is no acrimony, just the same as it might be hard to imagine a painful toothache ever ending, a family mediator can help parents create a positive, new alliance. New arrangements will help weather the challenges that come with new partners, financial constraints and other aspects of life, while a unified approach to raising their children will ensure ongoing harmony. Children will be forever grateful and parents can pride themselves on their commendable behaviour.

Bill Hewlett

Clinical Services Specialist, Family Dispute Resolution | Relationships Australia

Welcoming Family Mediation Week: tools that can help families put children first through separation

It can be very sad for everyone when a family splits, especially where there are children involved, and sorting out the practicalities of a separation can often feel overwhelming.   Most parents will want to ensure their children are spared as much stress as possible. Reassuringly there are tools, information and support services available which can help families put children first throughout the separation.

Family mediation can really work. This is where an independent, professionally trained mediator helps a former couple work out an agreement about issues such as arrangements for children, child maintenance payments and finances.

Many people find that mediation is quicker, less stressful and less expensive than going to court. Mediators don’t ‘take sides’, and they can also help to ensure the voices of any children are heard too. For some children, it can help them feel like they have more of an understanding about what is happening in their family.

Mediation is free for people who qualify for legal aid. Legal aid may also be available for people who need to go to court where there are factors, such as domestic violence, that mean mediation may not be appropriate. You can see if you qualify here:

It’s worth adding that even if a couple does want to go to court, a judge will usually ask that they consider mediation first.

Another very helpful tool is the online Parenting Plan. It’s a free, practical step by step process that helps people work out arrangements for the children after separation. It helps them to put the best interests of children first and to remember that they will each continue to be parents to the children, even though they are no longer part of a couple.

The Parenting Plan helps former partners work out the practical decisions about children’s care in areas such as communication, living arrangements, money, religion, education, health care, and emotional well-being. It’s available online.

I hope family mediation and the online Parenting Plan might enable parents to spare themselves and their children as much stress as possible when family breakdown occurs.

Caroline Dinenage MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice.

A Childhood in Conflict [or Court] or a chat with a family mediator?

Separation, divorce, family breakdown, ‘amicable’, civilized, chosen or not, it’s a messy time for everyone . . . children, parents, relatives and friends alike.

As a family mediator who sees all kinds of people in all kinds of states and stages of separation and whose job is to try and help them sort out things sensibly, I have never met two parents who don’t genuinely  believe that they want what’s best for their children . . . the trouble is that they often don’t agree with each other what that actually means!

We’re all good parents at heart (or as Christina McGhee puts it . . ’you’re not a bad parent, just a good parent having a bad time’), but it’s often hard to keep those good intentions on track and continue to work with your soon-to-be-ex as the other parent when you’re worried about the future, threatened about finance, scared they’ll try and take your children from you, or in an emotional fog which feels as though it will never clear. ‘Our children’ often become ‘my’ children and we find it easier to try and operate as though the other parent never existed (we probably wish on occasions that they didn’t). Anger/blame, withdrawal, recriminations, suspicion and lack of trust are often rife and make us fearful, frequently contaminating our ability to hold a level-headed discussion together about arrangements for what is still, ‘our’ children’s family.

What must it feel like to be a child or young person in the centre of all or even some of this family turmoil, in the middle of your two parents whom you love? You may have simply taken for granted that your parents were just there . . . and now these two people whom you may hardly recognise at times are disrupting your family, your home, your life too.

As a mediator I often meet with children and young people and I’m told in great and often heartbreaking detail what this feels like. You may have suspected or known things were wrong for a while but never thought your parents would actually split up; no-one talked with you or explained; you often felt that you’d done something wrong or that you had responsibility to put things right; you felt split in two and disloyal to one if you spent time with the other . . . the list goes on . . . and on . . . all through your lives, unless your parents calm down, help you make sense of it too and settle to the new pattern of your life.

So what can parents do?

Plan early . . . talk to your children as soon as you know you will separate, listen to their worries and their wants . . . you don’t need all the answers, just give reassurance and tell the truth, without all the ‘adult’ details. Make incremental plans, take things in stages, remember children grow older, things change.

If you’re angry or upset with the other parent, practice turning on the ‘parent-mode’ switch where the children are concerned (and get lots of support for yourself away from them – remember this is the second most stressful life event and very few people cope perfectly).

Remember that though they are part of you, your children are NOT you . . . they are separate and may have very different needs. Try to ensure that what you decide will work for them too.

Remember also that you are a parent FOR LIFE . . . and so is the their other parent. No matter what happens, no-one can ever replace you and your children will only ever have you two as their parents (though hopefully they will have other important positive adults  their lives). As parents you are equally important to your children, although different from each other; this doesn’t necessarily mean cutting their time with you down the middle . . . beware of ’competitive’ parenting!

Please consider the longer term for everyone and talk with a mediator to see how they might help you all to re-establish your lives post separation. Family mediators are able to talk with children and young people, who often want a ‘say’ in separation without being asked to make the decisions.

Contrary to popular belief (or wishful thinking), children are NEITHER too young NOR too old to be affected by their parents’ separation. How you handle things now will become part of the story of their childhood, who they are and who they become in the future.

Ruth Smallacombe

Young people call on family lawyers and mediators to walk the talk

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 states that children have a right to be listened to when decisions are being taken that concern them. In 2015, a working group of family mediators and lawyers commissioned by the Ministry of Justice – the Voice of the Child Working Group – said this applies to children whose parents are separating. The Ministry of Justice strongly endorsed their report.


But a survey of 500 children carried out by Resolution at the end of 2015 found that only 19% felt they had been listened to. And since the outburst of agreement on the rights of the child, nothing has been done other than for the very small proportion of children who get as far as the family courts.

This lack of action is entirely unsurprising. Putting the needs of children first in family separation is a mantra for all those working in the sector and the principle is enshrined in the Children Acts of 1989 and 2004. But at the same time, one attempt after another to provide support for children in this position has fallen by the wayside. Cafcass, Relate and Action for Children have all launched support services for these children and all have closed down through lack of funding.

The problem is that, unlike services for parents, there is no market for support for young people. Parents are potential customers and the Internet is awash with advice for them; children are not and consequently there is hardly anything for them.

The solutions to this, however, are neither particularly difficult nor expensive. All it requires is some modest collective action within family law and mediation. If collective action can be galvanised, then the problem is solved.

The charity, Kids in the Middle, has got together with a group of young people – a Youth Council – and with about 30 leading family lawyers and mediators – an Advisory Council and local partners – to campaign for change, through a “Voices in the Middle Campaign”.

The campaign is asking for the following recommendation of the Voice of the Child report, specifically endorsed by Government, to be implemented:

High quality, consistent, accessible and age-appropriate information should be made available for all children and young people experiencing parental separation . . . An authoritative website and on-line tools should be developed in collaboration with young people and supported by a range of services to provide a dedicated ‘place to go’ for all children and young people at all stages of their parental separation journey . . . Information should be cascaded through the use of social media, advice columns (including Agony Aunts), schools and community hubs.

A Voices in the Middle petition, launched this week, says:

We call on all family lawyers and mediators to work out a way of funding a permanent authoritative website for young people managed by young people and promoted on-line, through your services, in the broadcast media and through schools and communities.

And in response to the Voice of the Child working group recommendation that all children should be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard during dispute resolution processes, again endorsed by the Ministry of Justice, the petition says:

We call on the Ministry of Justice and the Prime Minister to increase the provision of child-inclusive mediation by extending Legal Aid Agency funding to cover the additional costs of including children and young people in family mediation, where either one or both parents have qualified for legally aided mediation.

Bearing in mind that child inclusive mediation needs to be more widely tested and known before it can become mainstream, the petition adds:

We call on funders of research to provide money to pilot and evaluate child inclusive mediation so that it can develop and spread and become more widely understood.

While the campaign unfolds, the Youth Council will get on with developing things on the front line. The website is being developed by young people, for young people and with all content created by young people. The Youth Council will reach out on-line and through schools to call on young people to create content for the site. They will build collaboration with, which can provide peer and expert help to young people.

The website will also promote child inclusive family mediation, explaining it and providing a list of trained and active child inclusive mediators. This will be the first time child inclusive mediation is marketed systematically in the UK.

The Voice of the Child working group called on family lawyers and mediators to work together to make these changes happen, and advocated that young people should take a leading role in this. This is exactly what is now being proposed. Will the family law and mediation sector accept the invitation of the Youth Council and engage?

Please sign the petition!

Duncan Fisher