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Reflections on my work with separated parents

By Leigh Moriarty, The Conflict Clinic

A little less than a year ago, myself and my colleague Ashley Palmer published the UK’s first ever Handover Book which is a communication tool for separated parents. The book was conceived in the context of our relationship with many separated families who were searching for a resource that enabled them to reduce parental conflict, improve communication and create a more robust co-parenting relationship post separation.

This article aims to provide an explanation of why the book was created in the context of our many years’ experience of working therapeutically with children and families.

Since it’s delivery to the world of family law, the book has been gaining momentum both in the UK and Australia. It is fast being recognised as an invaluable tool in the context of Family Mediation, Court ordered parenting programmes and across the field of Alternative Dispute Resolution.

In the UK, the Handover Book is now court ordered for separated parents involved in court proceedings and is recommended by Court Consultants in their Section 7 reports.

As a Systemic Family Psychotherapist, Mediator and consultant for Collaborative Law, I have for many years immersed myself in the world of working with families presenting with a myriad of difficulties and dilemmas in many contexts. My curiosity has grown over time in relation to how best to support clients through the transition of separation and divorce. How to assist parents with being able to navigate their own journeys of separating whilst centralizing the emotional and physical needs of their children.

Conflict is a normal and inevitable part of family life. However, the inability to resolve conflict and move forward in a constructive way can have a negative impact on parents and children’s psychological well-being both in the short term and over time. Wittgenstein (1958) suggests that if mediation is deemed a success then parties involved know how to ‘go on’.

Reflecting on my work with separated parent’s positions me to consider some of the common dilemmas presented in the context of my work.

Entrenched stories of conflict, blame and hostility towards one another. Winslade and Monk (2000) suggest that for those of us working with separated parents our goal is to contribute to building a story of a relationship that is incompatible with the continuing dominance of the conflict and that we need to open the space for people to make discursive shifts.

When this can be achieved, we create new future possibilities for enabling parents to be able to mentalize about their child’s emotional fragility and to consider what needs to be different in relation to facilitating a smooth transition between homes post-separation.

 

Whilst consulting with children in the context of this work, I have heard all too often a dominant narrative of experience which is punctuated by episodes in which a child feels painfully positioned between waring parents. A sense of divided loyalty, blame and a responsibility for passing and filtering information from one parent to another. In its extreme these children will resist contact with one parent and align themselves with the other because the turmoil is too great to bear. Sadly, the unresolved parental conflict will often lead to long and protracted court proceedings and the presentation of emotional difficulties for the child in the future.

Research over the last decade has provided deeper insight into not only the outcomes for children of exposure to destructive conflict but also how children are affected and why some children appear more vulnerable or resilient than others. Research has also focussed on how family relationship patterns are passed from one generation to the next. One explanation is that conflict between parents disturbs other relationships within the family such as between a parent and child. (Grych and Fincham, 2001). There is also evidence to suggest that a family environment marked by destructive conflict affects normal developmental processes, such as brain development, which in turn affect children’s emotional, behavioural and social development. Goozen et al, 2007)

An integral part of my work with separated parents is to support parents to understand the importance of their own emotional regulation in order that they hold in mind the positive effect that this will have on their child’s emotional development by increasing their child’s sense of security and belonging. In turn, this will enable them to accept and trust in the attachment relationship.

A child transitioning between both homes may experience a parent presenting as highly anxious before and after contact with the other parent because the parents are conflicted and distrustful of one another. This may be verbalized or covertly communicated through action. Often, in my experience children of highly conflicted separated parents are highly attuned to the subtle messages of concern that parents display.

When a child feels unable to talk about their experience of contact in either home this can also exacerbate parental anxiety. A vital component to children feeling able to have the emotional permission to have a close and loving relationship with both parents is their ability to express their feelings and emotions without fear of upsetting a parent or contributing to the already conflicted parental relationship. This process is often referred to as emotional literacy which is the ability to recognise, understand, manage and appropriately express emotions. Children who are able to do this are often more able to initiate a helpful response from others and develop strategies for coping and building resilience.

In my experience, it becomes essential for children of separated parents to be able to develop these skills. Sometimes as part of the therapeutic work this is about supporting and developing one or both parent’s ability to do this with their child. If a child is only able to achieve this with one parent they will feel the need to ‘hold it together’ for the duration of the contact with that parent but on returning to the other parent whereby they feel emotionally contained their presentation is often one of ‘emotional dysregulation’ which in turn raises that parents anxiety about their time in the care of the other parent.

Arising from our work with separated families, the issues of concern highlighted in this article are common, regardless of the context in which parents are engaging in a service to resolve issues arising from the separation. Whether that be mediation, collaborative law, parenting programmes or therapy. What appeared to be evident was that armed with a plethora of information about the need to develop a workable co-parenting relationship which centralized the needs of the children, parents were often unsure as to how to implement this approach.

The Handover Book creates the opportunity for children to see their parents working co-operatively and diminishes children feeling a sense of divided loyalty. Furthermore, it increases their ability to develop their emotional permission to have a loving relationship with both parents.

The book which is passed from one parent to another aims to reduce conflict and improve communication post-separation.

It is designed for separated parents but it will also be a fantastic resource for any professional working with separated parents who believe in a constructive and non-confrontational approach to Family Law. It centralizes the practical and emotional needs of the child and the completion of the book creates the development of a robust co-parenting plan. The book is divided into sections relating to all areas of a child’s life which parents need to be involved in such as contact arrangements, education and health.

Because this is a book which should be shared with all family members, there is also a children’s section in order for their voice to be heard. Through the correct use of the book, children are encouraged to talk positively about their experiences in both homes which in turn will enable them to have the ’emotional permission’ to have a positive relationship with both parents. We have also included some therapeutic tools for parents in order to support and encourage them to talk to their children about how they are feeling.

In the UK, a number of family law professionals have undergone training to deliver Handover Book sessions for parents wanting to get the most out of the book. We are in the process of developing an on-line training programme for our colleagues in Australia in order to equip them with the skills needed for delivering these sessions with parents alongside FDRS already currently offered.

The aim of the Handover Book session is for an experienced practitioner to guide parents through the process of implementing The Handover Book which is a working tool which if used correctly will improve parental communication, reduce conflict and create a robust co-parenting relationship post-separation.

At the Handover Book session, the practitioner will navigate parents through each section of the book in relation to what information needs to be shared as well as the practicalities of using the book so that their children can transition from one home to the other as smoothly as possible thus reducing the likelihood of fraught and stressful handovers.

The Handover Book is in its infancy. In light of this, to date research is qualitative. Feedback from professionals working in the arena of Family Law has been extremely positive. For professionals working with parents involved in on-going court proceedings, the book is being used as an evidenced based assessment tool for ascertaining parent’s commitment to working cooperatively in developing a co-parenting relationship. Court ordered parenting programmes are integrating the book as part of the course programme to give parents a workable tool to implement their knowledge gained on the course. When used as part of the mediation process, completion of the book forms the basis for a robust co-parenting plan.

But let’s bring it back to what this book is really about!!

On-going conflict and hostility can have a profound effect on children’s emotional wellbeing and shape the formation of their relationships for years to come. The ability for children to transition smoothly between both homes, talk openly about their experiences to both parents and be confident in the knowledge that having a close and loving relationship with both parents post separation is integral to their development.

Whilst in principle parents understand the importance of shielding their children from conflict and hostility, in reality this can be a struggle. Quite often, parents can be blaming of each other, fearful of losing their relationship with their child or resentful about the breakdown of their relationship. This conflict is played out post separation through the use of destructive communication, exposing the children to explosive handovers or positioning the children to pass information from one parent to another. In its extreme, parents can alienate their children from the other parent exacerbating the child’s sense of divided loyalty and inability to feel that they have the emotional permission to have a close and loving relationship with both parents.

It is our hope that The Handover Book will assist professionals to support separated parents to strengthen their parental alliance and in doing so develop a co-parenting relationship for the future.

For further information and to place an order visit:
www.thehandoverbook.co.uk

Family Mediation Week 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help. 

Pensions Made Simple

‘ Bluesky are a firm of Chartered Financial Planners who have been involved in producing pension sharing reports for nearly 18 years.  One of our missions is to produce reports at are easily understood, where the answer to the instruction(s) isn’t hidden in text and where we can add value to both clients by the provision of case specific financial advice.  At the pension on divorce workshops that we have run for matrimonial lawyers we have been asked for a simple guide to the differences between different types of pensions so have produced a ‘Pensions made Simple’ guide.  It is necessarily brief in order to fit on one page but has been well received as an aid to demystify such a complex area.’

Click here to download the above chart

Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Financial issues and mediation

Written by Sally Clarke, FMA board Secretary

Financial issues can often lead to worry and very difficult conversations following separation. Very often in a relationship one party deals with all financial issues and the other party may be left feeling very vulnerable and quite frankly scared at the thought of sorting out financial issues.

The process of mediation can assist both parties to understand their financial situation and with the assistance of the mediator a settlement can be negotiated.

However finances associated with the breakdown of a relationship/marriage are resolved there is an important two stage process:-

  • The exchange of financial documentation ;
  • Negotiating an outcome

 

How does this work in the mediation setting?

The first stage of the mediation process, i.e the MIAMS stage involves the mediator meeting each party separately and discussing with each party what issues they would like to resolve. Providing that mediation is assessed to be a suitable process and both parties are willing to attend then each party is provided with a mediation financial disclosure booklet. The mediator will typically go through the mediation booklet during the first session of mediation, discuss what information/documentation is required and agree with each party what they need to provide/bring with them to the second session.

The process of financial disclosure is an important one. The reason being is that each party needs to be in a position to make informed decisions regarding their financial situation and future. Financial disclosure exchanged within the mediation setting is what is known as “open disclosure”. This means that the disclosure can be shown to each party’s solicitor and if the mediation process was to unfortunately break down then that documentation can be provided to the Court. This is to encourage parties to be open and transparent.

It may be the case that certain information is not available straight away and needs to be requested or third parties need to be appointed to obtain that information. Keys aspects of financial disclosure may include the following:-

  • Valuation of the family home and/or any other properties
  • Pension information known as the Cash Equivalent Transfer Value may need to be obtained
  • If there is a business involved then key information may be required such as company accounts/letter from the company’s accountant
  • Information relating to income for example P60 and wage slips or if one party is self – employed then tax returns may need to be provided
  • Income needs – the mediator will provide each party with a form to complete so that each party can work out what they need to live on each month, for example

 

An example of when a third party needs to be involved may be the appointment of an expert to provide input upon how pensions should be valued or shared, or it may be that an expert is appointed to value property such as the family home, or to value one party’s interest in a business or other asset.

How does the mediator help parties negotiate a financial settlement?

Once the financial disclosure has been obtained then the mediator will take copies of each party’s disclosure and provide each party with a copy of the other party’s disclosure. When both parties and the mediator are happy with the disclosure provided then discussions can begin as to what a financial settlement might look like.

The role of the mediator is to collate information and facilitate discussions. The mediator can provide legal information from an impartial point of view but cannot provide either party with legal advice. That is the role of each party’s solicitor. The mediator will suggest to the parties that legal advice is obtained in between mediation sessions. Each session will typically be a few weeks apart to provide the parties time to consider options, take advice and reflect upon discussions which have taken place within the mediation setting.

Negotiating a financial settlement is a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. There are different aspects which inter-relate. Once the financial disclosure has been obtained then the mediator will typically draw up an agreed schedule of assets which is essentially a summary of the disclosure provided. The mediator then uses this to help the parties look at options.

The starting point is typically that each party needs a home for themselves and crucially any minor dependant children. The mediator works with the parties to look at how that can be funded from available resources i.e capital and by looking at what capacity, each party has to borrow monies for instance by way of a mortgage to help fund that. There is then the issue of what income each party has and how that can be used to meet their respective needs. Other factors may include looking at what debts/liabilities each party has and how they should be met and then looking at other matters such as pension provision and whether that should be shared or off-set in some way. It is the role of the mediator to help each party understand what is there and to help facilitate discussions relating to how assets/income/pension provision should be treated to help both parties reach a financial settlement which meets each party’s needs.

Financial mediation tends to take place over a number of sessions and in between each session there is the option for each party to take independent legal advice.

How is an agreement reached in mediation made legal?

Once the parties have hopefully reached an agreement in mediation then the mediator draws up two documents. One is the “open financial statement”. This is an open summary of the financial disclosure provided by each party. The other is the “memorandum of understanding”. This second document contains a confidential summary of proposals reached. The mediator will send both documents out to the parties at the end of the mediation process and once each party is happy with the contents then they are signed by the mediator and the parties. Once in a signed form then either the parties take the documentation to their respective solicitors, who convert the documentation into a legally binding form called a “consent order” which is submitted to Court for the Court to make a binding order as part of the divorce process. Alternatively it is up to the parties to what is called “waive privilege” on the documentation and submit it to the Court, if neither party has legal representation.

Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

So why should children be included in mediation?

Written by Bill Hewlett, Civilised Separations

I have been thinking about the many reasons that separating parents in mediation should be encouraged to give their children an opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling. Giving children a voice in mediation allows the parents to make decisions from an informed position. If they know how their children are feeling, they can, with the help of the mediator, work to make things better for all the family, creating a better parenting relationship that will leave the children free to grow and develop without concerns about how their parents are getting on with each other.

Parents usually try to shield their children from conflict, but invariably the children know that something big is happening when their parents separate and they can often feel left out. Including children in the process and letting them feel that their views and feelings are important is a very positive thing and can help alleviate their anxiety and confusion.

Bear in mind that these parents are probably struggling to understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives and they may also be finding it hard to focus on how their children are coping. The challenge is that, even though these parents are currently unable to talk to each other constructively and reassuringly about their children, they still have responsibility for making decisions that influence where the children live, what they eat, what school they go to, how they feel about themselves, how well they sleep, the list goes on. It appears that nothing matters more to children than what their parents think of each other.

When parents are fighting with each other they seem to lose their ability to be fully aware of how their children are feeling. The children may not want to say anything because they don’t want to add to an already stressful situation.

I often feel when we hear parents speaking harshly about each other, that we are hearing a description of a world that must be very difficult and dangerously stressful for their child and I feel that we should be reacting with immediate and urgent concern. This is what we should be thinking about when we hear the lack of respect that the parents have for each other, when we hear them question each other’s morality, when they tell us that they hate each other. The dangerously toxic environment that these children are living in could cause them lifelong harm, seriously compromising their wellbeing and their capacity to thrive now and in the future. We know that these parents are often so stressed and full of anxiety, thinking catastrophic thoughts, terrified about their future and afraid of what the other parent might do, that they are often only barely coping. And, while they are going through all this, they have absolute and ultimate responsibility for the mental, emotional, physical wellbeing of their children. In mediation, we take these concerns really seriously and want to do all we can to help the parents make a safer world for their children.

The Bottom line is, that regardless of how the children are choosing to talk about how their parents are managing their separation, if things aren’t good between their parents, then they won’t be good for the children. The reality is that ‘there’s no such thing as a still child around chaotic parents’ (Winnecott).

We need some way to draw the attention of the parents to what is happening to their children. When the parents are aware as to how their relationship is impacting on their children they will naturally be concerned and want to create an environment where their children can thrive

Children don’t want to be the decision makers on what arrangements are made for their care and welfare, but generally, (if they don’t think it’s going to make things worse), they would like to talk about it. If they could talk to someone who is committed to taking their perspectives into discussion with the parents, someone who they can feel confident will not make it worse, someone who can tell their parents things that maybe they haven’t been able to, then they often feel like a heavy burden has been lifted.

When children are helped to talk about their feelings, they begin to understand more and more about what’s going on for them. Children have a need to talk through things so that they can get a sense of how they should think and feel. They are designed to link up their young brains with a grown up adult brain to help make sense of things, to get a bigger picture perspective. When someone helps them to put a word to something they have been feeling but not perhaps not fully understanding, they feel better. We call it ‘naming it (the emotion) and taming it (the fear)’ (Seigel).

If you are thinking of using mediation to help you work out your parenting arrangements for your children now that you have separated, why don’t you ask your mediator to arrange for a child consultant to meet with your children? This will help you both to make plans that will allow your children to thrive, safe in the knowledge that they will appreciate being asked.

Bill Hewlett

Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Once upon a time there was a little girl.

By Jules Waring

Once upon a time there was a little girl. The sun shone into her room, the day beckoned, she looked at the sky. She felt her life happening and she fitted into it – with it. She held two hands either side as she walked down the road… she was lifted into the air, delighted, flying but safe.. again, again.

The hands now held her hand one at a time.  Change had come. That world which had cradled her now rocked and threw her into an unknown place. She was a tiny thing in the corner looking for the way back to how it was.

I am a novice mediator. I haven’t mediated with children, but I hope to. One of the reasons for deciding to travel down the family mediator path was because I am a step-parent and have seen at first hand the effect that parents separating has on a child. My beloved stepdaughter was 10 when her parents split and I intruded. I recognised immediately that she was acting to cope with the devastating change in her life.

Her father left the family home. Her mother was in shock and felt utterly marooned. There was an added factor of a new person in her father’s life. Each parent, though wildly adrift in their own anger, grief and shock, clung onto the raft of their precious child, the heart of their life together, the heart of their life, un-together.

My stepdaughter bore a weighty – uninvited – responsibility for caring for her parents’ emotional well-being. This was an inevitable human reaction. My perception was that she worried on behalf of the parent who had been left, felt guilt being loyal to and still loving the leaver. This and so, so much more.

Parents try to behave in order to minimise the upset, but in the tumble of accusation, shedding of shackles, vitriol, desperation, accusation, revenge, loneliness, fear and grief that they are going through, sometimes good intentions are buried.

Trapped feelings capsize life and in the effort to be righted again feelings get buried and can emerge at a later time, turning in on the child in an ugly, disturbing self-destructive way.

Mediation is not counselling of course. But offering a child in the middle of turmoil a safe space to say what they need to and be heard may be a lifeline if they feel they are drowning without hope of rescue.

National Family Mediation Week 21- 25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Day 3 The storm will end when the pressure lifts

By Philippa Johnson, Chair of the FMA

If you are divorcing or separating and you have children they will be your main concern – and both of you probably agree on that, whatever else you may disagree about. You may be worried about how your children are going to react when you tell them what is happening; you may be worried about the emotional trauma they will go through during a divorce process; you may be worried about how they are going to manage over the longer term with the realities of having two homes. Whatever your fears for your children, it will help to discuss them with each other – expressing your fears for the future is often the first step to lifting the pressure on your family and finding a way forward together.

You are the experts about your family and your children are uniquely important to you but having that discussion can be much easier if you have it in a safe space with a professional who has seen things that have worked for other families and who knows about the relevant research. Family mediators are specially trained to focus on the needs of the children in the family, and help parents do that together. The family mediator will ask you to keep your child’s needs at the centre of your discussions – they might do this by meeting with your child or by arranging for another mediator to do so; or they might do it by introducing you to the research and by thinking through every proposal from the child’s perspective.

All the research shows that the most damaging aspect of divorce and separation for children is conflict between their parents. Children need to love and respect both their parents; anything that makes that more difficult for them is likely to damage them in some way. The research suggests that children are much less concerned about the specifics of the arrangements made for them and much more concerned about having a relaxed, positive and loving relationship with both parents. Your child needs to know that both parents love her and care enough about her to work together as a team.

Here are some suggestions about how you can work together as co-parents to help give your child the best possible foundation for life as a happy and well-adjusted adult:

Communicate directly with each other and when you do:
Don’t make assumptions, ask genuine questions to find things out; if something is wrong avoid accusations, as these are unlikely to improve the situation; try not to take things personally, but bear in mind that what you say may be taken personally; keep the focus on your child and don’t refer to any of your relationship problems; use positive clear language; never use the children as messengers; briefly acknowledge texts and emails as quickly as possible as a sign of respect but don’t reply until you have had time to think things through calmly

Operate as a team
When a problem comes up try to work out with your co-parent how to approach it; ask each other for and provide each other with help whenever possible; set clear boundaries together and try to be tolerant of the differences between you; if you disagree don’t do so in front of your child

Prioritise your children
Ask yourself if the issue really matters to your child and if it does ask yourself if it will still matter in a week, a month or a year; weigh in the balance the impact of any conflict about this issue on your children; ask yourself if the issue would be resolved with some trust on both sides and also ask yourself whether your child will actually have a problem if things go as badly as you fear; ask yourself if you can offer a compromise on this issue in exchange for a compromise about something that you feel more strongly about; ask yourself every time whether your attitudes and behaviours are helping or making things worse for your child; never ask your children to keep secrets

Arrange for your child to spend as much quality time with both of you as possible
Make straightforward arrangements for your child which both of you and your child are clear about; encourage your child to look forward to their time with their other parent; don’t ask your child to tell you about the other parent’s home or new partner; respond positively when your child tells you something good about their time with the other parent

Respect yourself and your co-parent
Accept that while you can change yourself, you can’t change your co-parent; accept that you are two separate individuals now, connected only through your child; give yourself space and time to deal with your own emotions without involving your child or your co-parent; don’t waste your time focusing on what went wrong, focus instead on how you can improve things in the future; respond positively to suggestions your co-parent makes and think carefully about how to make them work; don’t interfere with your child’s relationship with your co-parent; concentrate on being happy rather than being right

Enjoy the time you have to yourself
Identify some things that you used to enjoy doing; identify some things you have always wanted to do and never had time for; if you do want to spend time getting through work or chores, make sure that you give yourself a treat as well and talk to the children about the treat; use the time to connect with your friends and family more

Never speak negatively about your co-parent
This applies if your children are in the same building and to all written communication – your child may hear you or see it even though you didn’t want them to; even if your child is complaining about your co-parent make sure you stay positive; acknowledge that your personal relationship didn’t work but never describe it as a mistake (which suggests that your child is also a mistake); ideally you will even find something positive to say about your co-parent

Take time with your child – it is now more precious than ever
Focus on the child you are with as much as possible; when your child is with you they need to you to be every sort of parent (fun, caring, firm etc) and that takes effort; find things you can do together that make your child feel important and loved; give your child space to be sad sometimes but let them know you are there for them

This is your chance to show your child that separation and divorce doesn’t have to mean a broken family – your child’s family may look different afterwards but it is still a family, still a happy place to live and still an environment that your child can be proud to call home.

National Family Mediation Week 21- 25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

How mediation can shelter you from the divorce storm

By Marcia Mediation

For Day Two of Family Mediation Week, the focus is on seeking shelter from the storm through mediation exploring the service a mediator provides and how this could benefit your family, how much mediation costs and what child-inclusive mediation is.

It’s difficult to hear the word divorce and imagine anything positive about the process, however, there is a less stressful, cheaper and more dignified alternative than dragging the whole family through a lengthy court process. That alternative is child-inclusive mediation.

What is mediation? –
Divorce can put a lot of stress on a family. Separating is difficult for both adults and children, but going through the court systems can be far more upsetting for children. Unlike solicitors, mediators act in the interests of all the parties involved and aim to make the experience less distressing for all members of the family.

During the mediation process, mediators aim to bring your divorce or separation case to a mutually agreeable resolution. This gives all parties involved more control by putting the decision making in their hands rather than leaving it to a judge in a court hearing. Mediators will listen to parents and children’s views and opinions on matters such as shared care and the dividends of property and will then try to find a solution that suits everyone involved.

How will I afford mediation? –
Mediation is generally a more cost effective and quicker forum to solve disputes. This reduces legal fees and means mediation takes less time than going to court, which reduces emotional tax too.

By coming to a quicker agreement between parents, this allows lawyers to do their part more effectively, cutting down their costs significantly and again keeping families out of the family courts which further reduces stress and anxiety levels.

What is child-inclusive mediation? –
For many families, keeping children away from the stress of the court system is very important, but children can feel anxious if they are not involved in the process. This is why child-inclusive mediation aims to include children throughout every stage of the process, giving them a say in their own future.

Inclusive child mediation prevents children from feeling powerless about their situation, when many are mature enough to have a say in their future.

Even if the children are not old enough to make a decision in their future, mediation will allow them to feel less ‘left-out’ when it comes to decision making on their behalf and reduces stress on the family as a whole.

While the final decision is always likely to be a compromise, child-inclusive mediation makes sure the child’s voice is heard, so the arrangements made on issues like where the children live and how often they see the other parent are more likely to be satisfying to both parents and to the child too – equipping everyone for a brighter family future, whatever the outcome.

Consider mediation –
Child inclusive mediation is an inclusive process that involves children and ensures their voices are heard. Mediators can meet with children one-on-one to understand their perspective on the situation, especially hearing their preferences in living situations. If you would like to find out more about child-inclusive mediation, click here.

About Marcia

A pioneer for mediation since commencing legal practice as a family solicitor some seventeen years ago Marcia has worked exclusively as an independent mediator since 2004, focussing initially on family mediation, and latterly on workplace mediation. Marcia’s accreditations include Family Mediation and she is a qualified child consultant practitioner. Her associations include the Professional Mediators Association and Resolution. Marcia is also a Resolution qualified Professional Practice Consultant (PPC). If you would like to resolve your separation issues through mediation please visit: marciamediation.co.uk

National Family Mediation Week 21- 25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

When parents separate they need to find a new way for the family dynamics to work.

By Sarah Brookes, Brookes Family Mediation.

The breakdown of a relationship is very often extremely stressful and upsetting, particularly so when children are involved. It can be incredibly difficult not to allow feelings of hurt or anger to influence the important decisions that need to be made for yours and your children’s future. Family mediation helps people who are separating, or have separated, to discuss and agree on the future arrangements for children and/or finances. Family mediators are professionally trained to manage and support constructive discussions, and to do so in an entirely impartial and non-judgemental way; towards achieving agreed solutions. Mediated agreements are less likely to break down than arrangements ordered by the court. Government studies (2004-2010) indicate that mediation provides more sustainable resolutions than the court process.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and all shades of weird and wonderful. All families are unique; they all function in unique ways that work for them. As parents, we constantly make both big and small decisions for our families, taking in to account the quirks and needs of all.

When parent’s separate they need to find a new way for the family dynamics to work. The need for them to make decisions, based on their knowledge of what works best for the children, does not end with their relationship; they remain parents, with all of the associated responsibilities.

Communication often breaks down, or becomes very difficult, on separation. Trying to reach an agreement, so that decisions can be made, on such emotive issues as arrangements for the children, can be very difficult, and can feel overwhelming. In those circumstances, many parents turn to the family courts and allow a Judge to decide the arrangements for their children. Whilst the Judge will undoubtedly know what is best for his own family, he does not know your children and all their little quirks, and cannot know better than you, what arrangements will work best for your children.

Court Orders tend to deal with the here and now, they cannot provide for, or anticipate all future events, and they do not replace the need for communication between parents. Sadly, Court proceedings often serve to increase difficulties in communication.

The very adversarial nature of court proceedings brings out our instinctive desire to win; with each party trying to persuade the court that their position should be adopted, it becomes easy for the ‘winning’ to become the goal. This is no criticism of the parents who find themselves going through the court process; this is the way the system works, and is why court proceedings in family matters are intended to be, and should be, an absolute last resort.

A final court judgement will inevitably create a perceived ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. The resulting imbalance is not conducive to positive and cooperative future relations, and the parent’s ability to communicate will have been set back considerably.

As parents, there will be an ongoing and most likely long term need for communication between you; consider such things as school choices, medical attention, teenage issues, graduations, weddings etc etc. Whilst communication after separation can be very difficult, there will almost always be some level on which it is able to work.

When parents do not find a way to communicate, children can often end up acting as messengers between them, whether asked to or not. Misunderstandings are almost inevitable, and tension and resentment can easily build. Even with the best of intentions, in those circumstances, it can be very difficult not to show, or even verbalise, negative feelings about the other parent, in front of the children. It is a heavy burden for a child to act as the peacekeeper between their parents. Children, in most cases, love both of their parent’s, and do not want to have to choose between them or to hear one of their parent’s denigrated by the other. When children face having their loyalties divided between their parents, they undoubtedly suffer emotional harm, at a time when they are already facing the difficult changes brought about by the separation of their family.

In family mediation, parents are supported and assisted by a trained mediator, to communicate, and to work together, to make joint decisions for their children; by focusing on the children’s individual needs. Having worked together, rather than battled against each other; and having taken joint responsibility for the shape of their future, rather than having had a decision imposed upon them; the potential for feelings of resentment and future conflict is hugely minimised. A way of communication will have been established, which will live beyond the mediation process. Children will unquestionably benefit from having their future arrangements decided by the people who know and love them best; who have made decisions with their needs at the forefront of their minds.

Sarah Brookes spent 16 years working as a family lawyer in Eastbourne, before setting up Brookes Family Mediation. Sarah is passionate about the benefits of mediation. If you are uncertain about whether mediation is right for you, or if you have any questions, give Sarah a call on : 01323 411629 or email her : sarah@brookesfamilymediation.co.uk Or for more information go to: brookesfamilymediation.co.uk

Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Do not sabotage your divorce

By Wendi Schuller

Your behaviour in divorce has an impact on its outcome.

Attempting to score points with verbal sparring against your opponent (spouse) may temporarily feel like a victory.

In reality, it raises legal fees and prolongs proceedings. Trading insults with each other distracts one from staying on task. Blow off negativity to friends before walking into a divorce session.

Do not sabotage your divorce by confiding its details to people who may not honour your confidentiality. Your divorce can become the subject of juicy gossip.

Instead, talk about your feelings or changes in your life, such as moving to a new place.

I messed up on this one. A few things I said during my divorce got back to my husband, who brought it up at a collaborative meeting. My solicitor told me to zip up my mouth. If you are friendly with your spouse’s co-workers or friends – divorce is not the time to divulge deep secrets.

Be discreet, so you do not learn this the hard way, as I did. Keeping quiet is especially critical if you both are in the same field. Disparaging remarks about your soon-to-be-ex, can damage their reputation or make encounters at professional events awkward.

The last thing you need during divorce is to be sued for slander.

Another problem area is revealing too much on social media.

This has been the cause for divorce when an unsuspecting spouse discovers the existence of a lover. Solicitors have used what someone has posted on social media during proceedings. This is particularly important when the amount of shared care is being determined.

Photos of a parent cavorting around at parties looking drunk, can make them appear a bit unstable. This can hurt when applying for jobs, as potential employers check Facebook and other sites. One may have strict privacy settings, however their friends may not. People can post pictures without your consent, so talk to friends about this issue.

Not being truthful on Form E with your financial disclosure can come back to haunt you. Hidden assets can be discovered by a forensic accountant  which then has serious repercussions.

There have been big divorce cases in the news where one other spouse successfully sued for more assets when the other one lied about their wealth.

A monetary penalty can be given or a much bigger share of the hidden fund awarded to the spouse who sued for it. Being honest in the first place can avoid these legal entanglements during proceedings or months later when the financial discrepancy comes to light.

False allegations about the other party can backfire.

If abuse is even insinuated, it will be checked out. If one has lied, that may affect the financial outcome or shared time with kids.

Being perceived as unbalanced will not help your case. Some parents practice parental alienation to get the children on their side and the other parent out of the picture. This puts kids in a loyalty bind.

One father and his mother continually made nasty comments about the boys’ mum around them. He ended up with no overnights and more limited contact. Do not sabotage shared time with putdowns of the other parent, but rather say nothing at all.

It is to one’s advantage to get through divorce as quickly as possible in order to move on. Trying to drag it out so you can hang on to your spouse longer or punish them ends up hurting you.

A new chapter is about to begin.

Reframe your thoughts to accept opportunities coming your way rather than clinging to the past which can derail your divorce.

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Costs of Mediation V’s Court

Written by Sally Clarke, FMA board Secretary

What are the benefits of resolving financial matters in mediation as opposed to within Court proceedings?

  • As a process, mediation is far cheaper than the Court process
  • Time – the process of mediation is far quicker than waiting for Court appointments. If an application to Court is made within the context of divorce proceedings or civil partnership dissolution proceedings, the first hearing will not be listed for 12-14 weeks. That first hearing is very rarely treated as a substantive hearing. It is actually similar to a first mediation session where the focus of the Court is to consider what further information is necessary to enable the Court, if the parties cannot agree on matters, to make a decision. That decision, however, will usually involve the parties attending two further Court hearings and the final hearing will rarely be listed within 12 months of proceedings being issued.

Sometimes it is necessary for parties to go to Court. It is important to be aware however that Court proceedings can be adjourned at any point for the parties to engage in family mediation.

  • Discussions take place around a table typically and the mediator’s role is to help the parties focus upon their interests and to reality test proposals as opposed to the parties negotiating via solicitors letters/barristers within Court proceedings
  • The process can be flexible and can involve third-party input, where necessary. The process can also assist the parties to reach creative solutions
  • The process of mediation assists parties to retain control and make their own decisions regarding important aspects of their future as opposed to handing those decisions to a stranger in a courtroom
  • Where children are involved then the process can assist the parties to preserve a working dialogue as parents as opposed to becoming unduly acrimonious within litigation proceedings.

The above is written from the point of view of divorce/civil partnership breakdown. For separating parties who are not married then the process is very similar however financial aspects may vary.

Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.