Category Archives: Family mediation

A ray of sunshine – how to move forward after divorce

By Marcia Mediation

Your finances are divided, your assets have been sorted and joint decisions that everyone is satisfied with have been made. This time can be tough but instead, it should be taken to congratulate yourself on the achievements you have made in resolving your issues and getting through such a difficult experience.

Aside from helping to reduce the cost, complexity and time taken by divorce proceedings, in the best outcomes mediation can help to restore communication and even to help you appreciate each other’s experience and understanding of past events.

Co-parenting after divorce
One of the best ways to co-parent after divorce is to continue to let your child’s voice be heard on issues that directly affect them – and even on broader issues that impact on the whole family.

Many young people can feel torn apart by divorce, and especially if both parents move out of the former family home due to financial concerns or bad memories of the place, this can leave children trying to settle into two new homes at once.

You can help them to do this by making sure both locations are ‘home’ to them – not that one parent is home while the other is just somewhere they visit once a week.

Give your child responsibility over what belongings and clothing they keep in each location, and don’t insist that everything they take with them for a visit comes back from the same trip.

Obviously there are practical concerns, such as making sure they have enough clothing in each place, but it is empowering to ask them “Can you bring…?” ahead of their next handover, rather than closely policing which clothes are where at all times.

Ultimately, co-parenting at its best puts the child’s welfare first anyway, within the broader context of your household setting, finances and so on.

Re-breaking the ice
Any divorce redefines your relationship with one another, whether you choose to never speak again, or you would prefer to remain on civil or even friendly terms – and this is often influenced in part by any children you might have together.

But because this sense of change is inevitable during a separation, it is also an ideal time to renew the lines of communication so that you can move forwards positively not just during the divorce, but in the years that follow too.

Again, mediators can help you to do this, and however acrimonious things may have been in the recent past, finalising your divorce can draw a line under that and allow you to return to more civility surprisingly quickly.

Acknowledging the good
There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the good aspects of a relationship even at a time when you are legally separating from one another – it can help to put things into perspective and focus proceedings on the negotiations that need to be made.

Mediators know that all the involved parties are people with feelings, emotions and hopes for the future, and mediation is the process by which everyone is given the best possible chance for positive change.

In cases where mediators are involved from the start, this can allow the entire divorce to take place quite amicably, without getting into a stalemate situation over an important issue, or even over something trivial where a compromise just cannot be found.

Even if your divorce is already well underway, you can call in a mediator to advise on any impasses, to help you to get back on to the right track and to ensure that when all the negotiating is done, you are able to divorce with dignity still intact.

About Marcia Mediation

Marcia Mediation, based in Greater Manchester, is a child-inclusive family mediation specialist, run by Marcia Lister, a qualified family lawyer, mediator and qualified child consultant. Marcia aims to maintain dignity throughout divorce or separation, having worked as a mediator since 2004, on divorce, civil partnership and separation cases. If you would like any further information on how mediation could benefit you throughout your separation or divorce please visit: https://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.

Mediation

For separating couples, mediation is an opportunity for both of you to talk face to face, to resolve together all the issues arising from your separation or divorce, such as arrangements for children, money and housing, with the help of only a mediator in the room with both of you.

Mediation is not:

  • counselling
  • about reconciliation
  • a chance to rehearse past arguments, ‘point score’ or place blame.

Benefits of mediation

If it is right for you, mediation can:

  • reduce conflict and improve communication
  • create better family relationships
  • reduce legal costs and avoid court battles
  • create self-determined practical solutions
  • recognise emotional needs and address losses, hopes, risks, needs and fears
  • redress power imbalances
  • embrace legal support.

Mediation may be right for you if you want to:

  • face your apprehension and talk to your ex face to face in a safe space with a mediator present
  • actively engage and be heard but without any reprisals
  • take charge of your own decisions and be empowered to change
  • see if it is possible to have a better relationship with your ex, and learn how to co-parent with your children.

Mediation will help you see if you can decide jointly with your ex what is best for your children, your finances and your family.

You need to be prepared to listen to your ex and to the mediator, to forgo blame, and to focus on the future.

The process will allow you to protect your legal rights and get legal advice. You will not be forced into any decisions.

The process

The mediator will explain what to expect from the process and how much it will cost. They can set out a flexible time frame that suits you both.

During the process the mediator will help you by:

  • identifying the issues that need to be resolved and helping you consider options
  • working through a parenting plan
  • seeing the children if needed
  • helping you gather all the relevant financial information and other paperwork, and identifying any gaps
  • keeping your lawyers informed and providing them with the information you have produced
  • reality testing the proposals you have made
  • bridging any gaps during negotiation
  • recording the outcome in the relevant mediation documents.

Where there is higher than usual conflict the mediator can suggest:

  • co-mediation with another mediator working together
  • solicitor supported mediation
  • shuttle mediation if you and your ex are not able to talk face to face.

Your solicitor can help you to arrange mediation.

How to Co-Parent with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Written by Wendi Schuller

Co-parenting is a challenge with a difficult ex from an acrimonious divorce, however there are ways to make this task easier. The main point is to fly under his/her radar. These people are looking for ammunition to get back at you for leaving, so do not give any opportunity for an attack. This includes not mentioning them or divorce details on social media. The less direct contact one has with this type of ex, makes co-parenting smoother.

A way to make co-parenting with a high conflict individual easier is to make sure you are nurtured. Get a massage. Go out and vent to buddies. Join a support group who can give you understanding and strategies on getting through this ordeal. Do activities that bring you joy and may have been buried during marriage. Get yourself in the best place possible, mentally, physically, and spiritually to be able to deal calmly with a co-parent who does not want to cooperate.

Whatever you can do to empower yourself and become stronger – weakens the hold of these contentious co-parents. Take a class which could lead to a new career path. Do a charity bike ride in a far flung place. Trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro for a life changing experience, as one divorce pal did. These physical challenges have awakened a new sense of power and increased self-esteem in many people. Sometimes one’s self-esteem and self-worth took a battering in a toxic marriage and requires this boost.

Connect with others through volunteering. When you have other interests, a social network, and new areas of expertise – you are less able to be manipulated or controlled. Approach interactions with your ex, without emotion as if it were business ones. Redirect communication to stay focused, so the high conflict parent does not go off on tangents. The goal of co-parenting is well-adjusted children who feel safe with both parents. If the co-parenting experience is not going well then discuss this with your attorney. Perhaps meeting with a mediator or your child’s therapist (if there is one) may help everyone to be on the same page

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

A Guide for the Single Dad

BY Wendi Schuller

There are ways to have a workable relationship with your ex and to make co-parenting go smoother. Remember, the kids are not a prize and the situation is not winner take all. Thirty-year-old Charlie is a plumber in his family’s business and has a lot of tips for other single fathers:

  1. Show that you are dependable. That eases the mind of the other parent who then may be willing to compromise. Charlie is punctual, and is reliable getting his son to school and activities. The mother knows her son is in good hands when he is with dad.
  2. Be low-key in negotiations and leave your ego at home. Charlie claimed by being “submissive” during negotiations, he was able to get his son five nights a week for the last three years. Being aggressive is off-putting to the co-parent, who may balk at demands. By showing he was willing to talk things through and to listen gave him more time with his son. They were going to court to have a judge make a ruling for a point that could not be agreed upon. Standing on the court steps, this former couple looked at each other and said it was “nuts.” They went inside, cancelled the court hearing and talked things over at a nearby coffee house. Charlie advises to give a little more in negotiations so that they do not hit a road block.
  3. Be willing to try something on a trial basis. The other parent may go along with your wishes if they do not feel locked into a new plan. The mother now wants their son 50/50, and Charlie acquiesced. He re-framed losing a portion of the shared time by realizing he will get the boy on some weekends. Instead of being the parent who mainly had the tasks of getting the child to school and supervising homework, he will get some playtime. He said that his ex will soon realize all the work that he did during the school week. While they are trying out 50/50 shared care, Charlie is going to take classes to get certified to also do commercial plumbing. He is proactively filling a gap of time when his son will be with his mother, plus he is furthering his career.
  4. Keep on task and do not let things get out of control. Charlie learned that not letting laundry pile up and getting the dishes done soon made his domestic life less hectic. He engages his son in doing chores, which gives the lad a sense of responsibility
  5. Take responsibility for your problems and get any needed help.  Charlie started drinking too much when his son was a baby. He stopped for a period and thought that this problem was behind him. When he started up again, his partner became alarmed. She feared for the safety of their son and filed a lawsuit to prevent Charlie from driving with their boy in his car. Charlie went into rehab and she dropped the law suit. He has been sober for four years now and tells other fellows to man-up, and not to blame others for their mistakes or issue. It is a sign of strength to seek assistance for a problem.

Charlie said the important action is to keep communication lines open between the two parents. Remember that the ultimate goal is the well-being of the child.

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 5 A ray of sunshine – what a relief

By Philippa Johnson, Chair of the FMA

The goal of family mediation is helping families to find fair solutions that make the best of the situation the family is in. Which begs the question, what is a fair solution?

A fair solution is one that everyone in the family can make work for them.
A fair solution is one that everyone in the family will accept and will make a real commitment to.
A fair solution is one that has taken everyone’s concerns into account.
A fair solution is one that the courts and, if you have them, lawyers, will understand is one that meets the family’s needs.
A fair solution is one that will allow everyone in the family to get on with their lives.

So what will help you to find a fair solution?

  • Ask questions about and reflect on what the other person is feeling and thinking – ask them what they think about the situation and really listen to the answers. Be kind, don’t blame the other person; try to think about conversations that have gone well in the past and use strategies that have worked before.
  • Don’t fix yourself into a ‘position’, saying “I won’t” or “I will”. Instead find out what the other person’s needs are and explain what your needs are – when we talk about needs we mean what negotiators describe as ‘interests’, in other words the reasons behind your “position”.
  • Manage your emotions. That doesn’t mean ignoring them; it can really help to explain that you have strong emotions. It does mean working out how to express those emotions in a way that doesn’t end the conversation or cause such hurt that the other person won’t listen to you. It also means accepting that the other person will also have strong emotions.
  • Acknowledge what the other person is saying and feeling. It is especially important to say thank you when someone offers you something you have been saying you wanted – don’t say “thank you, but”. Just say “thank you”. If there has to be a “but” save it until later. Recognise the things that the other person is contributing and has contributed to the family and let them know that you have noticed them. If you show them that you have seen things from their perspective, they are much more likely to see things from yours.
  • Make your points in a positive not a negative way. If you blame and criticise the other person they will stop listening – that is simply human nature. Suggest changes rather than explaining what is wrong. If you don’t like a suggestion that has been made, instead of rejecting it, explain what adaptation you think would work. If you can, find solutions that involve building on the other person’s suggestion, instead of building on your own. Try to offer a number of different solutions; if none of them work for the other person, ask them which one they thought was best and try to adapt that in a creative way.
  • Try to identify some independent standards for what is sensible, fair and reasonable – one of the best independent standards is whether or not the solution is reciprocal – would you accept the solution you are suggesting if you were the other person? Try to let go of the idea that you have a monopoly on good sense, fairness and reason. Accept responsibility for your own feelings and your own part in the disagreement – no-one is right all the time. Try not to use language that suggests that you understand your family situation or what the children feel and that the other person does not.
  • If the conversation is not going well, try not to react. Anything which pushes you back into the old patterns of conversation will probably get in the way of finding a fair solution. Instead ask what you can do to make things better.

Of course a fair solution probably isn’t the same as the solution you wanted when you were thinking about what was best for you, and it isn’t necessarily the same as the solution that you thought was best for the children. A fair solution doesn’t necessarily leave either of you feeling overjoyed. Mediation sometimes helps couples find a good solution that neither of them had thought of before but often finding a fair solution requires compromise. Compromise is rarely easy and it can leave both people a bit dissatisfied with the outcome. No-one feels thrilled about compromising – it just doesn’t sound like fun. But when the alternative is to drift around in the fog, waiting for someone else to make the first move, that’s even less like fun.

So why do we think the end of the mediation will feel like a ray of sunshine? Because finding a solution, even if it is a compromise solution, will take you out of the crisis of separation and divorce and let you start living the rest of your life. You will know that you looked at all the options and worked together to find one that all of you could live with. You will feel relieved and happy, knowing that you sorted this out between yourselves. You will be justifiably proud of the hard work you put into sorting out your family’s problems in a fair way. And that will definitely feel like a ray of sunshine.

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.

Find the light again with a clear action plan

By Marcia Mediation

Day Four of Family Mediation Week this year is focuses around the idea of parting clouds which show the way to move on with your life and overcome the hardships of divorce and separation.

The mediation process itself offers some structure to divorce and a clearly maps out the pathway so for many families this does significantly lift the pressure on families. At this stage in the process, every individual involved should feel as though they have been heard and listened to which means assets should be divided to a level of satisfaction for everyone involved and there should be a level of clarity about how the separation will work in the future.

How mediation can help you to find clarity in your separation –
All too often a separation can lead to a feeling of stalemate, where neither party wants to compromise at all for fear of admitting guilt, or where emotions simply run too high to see the situation from the other party’s point of view.

This is where mediation can be particularly helpful, offering a middle ground and a genuinely independent point of view, and in the worst cases shuttle mediation can be used to facilitate communication between parties who cannot bear to be in the same room.

But aside from helping to reduce the cost, complexity and time taken by divorce proceedings, in the best outcomes mediation can help to restore communication and even to help you appreciate each other’s experience and understanding of past events.

Ensuring your children are happy with the arrangement going forward –
It’s important to realise that involving children in divorce and other family law cases means more than just asking them what they want. Mediators can also make sure that children receive continual updates about the proceedings, without legal jargon, so that they do not feel like they have been shut out.

But even after separation, mediators can continue to provide much-needed support as parents adjust to new residency arrangements and shared responsibility rather than round-the-clock co-parenting. Your responsibilities as a parent do not end with divorce, and while they do not change fundamentally either, the practicalities of being there for your child can be very different after separation.

Mediation is there for both parties and for your children too, without judgment or partisanship, but always for the mediator to share with you their expertise and experience, to calm the waters, and crucially to resolve any future disputes as they arise, before they can cause undue trauma to your child.

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.

Day 4 The clouds are parting – starting to see a way through

By Philippa Johnson, Chair of the FMA

One of the most difficult things about divorce and separation is all the uncertainty and confusion. Mediation can help you work out what your options are. Sometimes none of the options will be very good ones from your point of view; sadly, life sometimes brings difficult times and unhappy choices. However, once you know what your real choices are you can start to take control back in your life and decide on the choice that seems to be the best one for your family.

How does the mediation process help?

Mediation is a sort of a structured conversation, in which a professional helps the people who are mediating to discuss difficult things in a safe space. A qualified mediator will keep the discussion focused on the important issues and will encourage you both to think about the future rather than the past. In family mediation much more than in other kinds of mediation the people mediating have probably had a great many difficult conversations over the years, especially recently and you may be used to conversations that make things worse rather than better. If that is true, it can be difficult to hear the other person or to feel that you have been heard. The mediator is there to help you have a very different conversation. It often helps to set your own ground rules for the conversation – what is or isn’t going to help both of you to talk to one another in a positive way.

The first thing to do is to identify the issues – in other words you need to set an agenda. To make best use of your time with the mediator it really helps to go to your first mediation knowing what is important to you. Try to keep an open mind about what the practical solution might look like but identify the questions that you believe need answering. These will be unique to your family, but might include, for example: “how can we protect our children from all the adult stuff?”, “where will we both live”?, “how am I going to pay the bills?”

You will both have an opportunity to explain what you think the important issues are. It is very important that you both listen carefully to what the other person is saying. In particular you both need to explain to the other person what things are making you anxious about the future – what you are most frightened of happening – and to identify anything that you believe will improve the situation for both of you. Try to think about what you would believe would be a good outcome for the family at some time in the future – in six months’ time or a year’s time or in two years’ time. Often, people have remarkably similar ideas about what a good outcome would look like in the future. In all your discussions with your ex partner keep that good outcome in mind as a goal and try not to do anything that will make that good outcome less likely. You may have important questions – the mediator can’t give you advice about your individual situation but they can give you information about the way the courts approach divorce and separation and suggest places you can go to find out more. They are there to help you to make decisions, although not to make decisions for you. If you want to understand more about the legal background to divorce, have a look at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/tags/divorce which has a collection of useful guides.

If you have financial issues to discuss, you will need to provide each other with the important financial information so that you can understand what your real financial choices are – you can decide between yourselves that something isn’t important to you as a family, but you will need to show each other all the information you have about your income, your property, your savings, investments and pensions and any loans or debts. You can find some useful free advice on how to do this, including a budget planner at https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/how-to-sort-out-your-finances-on-divorce-or-dissolution. You will also need to understand what you spend your money on so that you can work out a budget going forward. The mediator will record all the information provided in a document, which you will sign once it is ready and which both of you can use outside the mediation, including in court.

If you have children arrangements to discuss, you will need to gather together the important information that impacts on them so that you can understand what your real choices are. If you are feeling overwhelmed, have a look at https://www.sortingoutseparation.org.uk/children-parenting/parenting-arrangements-children/ who will give you some ideas about what usually happens. There is an expectation that children aged 10 and above will have an opportunity to talk to the mediators about what they think is important, unless there is a special reason not to send them an invitation. Their views can then be fed into your discussions – you are still the parents and it is your responsibility to make decisions, but knowing what your children think and feel about their situation is likely to help you to make better decisions.

The next stage involves exploring the options that are in practice open to you – these will depend very much on your personal circumstances and what is important to your family. Both of you can and should say how you feel about these options but you will probably both find it less frustrating if you have a full and honest conversation about each option, including the ones that you don’t like very much. Make sure you think about all of the practical options rather than rejecting or accepting an option quickly. Talking through the options will often mean going away and finding something out. Sometimes talking through the options will involve inviting someone else into the mediation room, an expert or an adviser. Sometimes talking things through will help you both transform an option from one that really doesn’t work for one person to one that works for both of you, by changing one element. Sometimes, understanding why someone doesn’t like a particular option helps the other person to come up with a different solution that works better. A solution will never be forced on you so please don’t worry that just discussing an option leaves you vulnerable.

Working your way through to a clear understanding of your options isn’t easy but there is a clear pathway and once you have started down it, each step will take closer to your goal.

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.

Being able to act with respect for each other is the best example and gift we can give to our children

I would like to remain anonymous

I have chosen to share this part of my story because I believe that separation is a moment of absolute crisis. How we cope and work through that crisis shapes us and our children. When everything feels out of control and changing, we can choose how we make changes and whose feelings and priorities we put first. Mediation helps you do this in a secure and safe environment. It allows you to make a positive start for how you would like to relate to each other in the future.

My experience of my parents’ separation changed over time. My father often worked away from home, abroad for many months at a time, so we saw him intermittently and mainly at high points like holidays and celebrations. My parents maintained this contact after he moved out, and we even continued with doing things together when my parents had other partners. Despite this seeming togetherness, they continued to argue and there were always sticking points that proved difficult for them to negotiate. For example, I think my father would have liked to have had more contact with us, especially as we got older.

At one point he had a very proactive partner, who encouraged him to ask us to stay with him for part of the holidays. This was a chance to get to know our father better. She also encouraged us all as a family to go to family mediation (or perhaps it was called family conflict resolution?). This was primarily to help us as a family arrange holiday dates, which were often something, I think, perhaps in retrospect, my father felt left out from.

I remember meeting with the psychologists individually and then sitting as a group talking about what we would like best for the arrangements. I think I must have been in my early teens, or perhaps 11 or 12 years old. I really enjoyed the chance to speak objectively to someone about what I thought my parents’ dynamic was and how it affected my sister and myself. The psychologist asked how their behaviour made me feel and I also remember commenting on how I perceived their behaviour. They also asked how best we would like to arrange the holidays. They then gathered the opinions together and we resolved the holiday dates taking everyone’s wants and needs into account. I remember thinking it was incredibly civilized, and not feeling at all bad about making compromises, so long as we all understood each others’ needs and wishes. As a child I also wondered why all adults couldn’t behave like this and felt my own parents were gripped in a dynamic – why couldn’t they just unlock themselves from certain patterns of behaviour, where one person’s actions / words always triggered a known reaction? I could literally feel these actions and reactions approaching and would try to intervene. The mediators listened and they presented our views as important.

Separation is hard for everyone. Parents feel hurt. Children want to feel secure. They want to know that their parents can work together to parent them. Mediation can help separate out the issues and make different needs and desires clear. It can offer practical solutions at a time when everything feels messy and out of order and scary. Because it is based on working things out face-to-face it is also very good practice for the kind of relationship you want to establish with your ex-partner later on, something legal proceedings would not do. If my child had been older, I would also have liked him to be involved. My own experience of being taken seriously as a child by mediators was very empowering and let me feel like I was part of the decision-making process. It was good to be asked what I felt and wanted. While often having to witness their negotiations as arguments, I was allowed to take part in the decisions and see them working as adults respectfully together, with us.

 My experience of mediation after my own separation has been very positive. Mediation puts the child’s needs at the centre, allowing parents to work out how best they can create a supportive environment for their children. After separation there will always be changes. Some of them will be hard to accept and we may worry about the impact on our children. Being able to act with respect for each other is the best example and gift we can give to our children. It makes children feel the changes are less scary. As adults, we have a choice to be the exemplary people we would like them to be.

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

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.