How can different professionals help to support the family mediation process? Louisa Whitney

In 2001 I started my career working with separating couples as a paralegal in a firm of solicitors.  19 years ago anyone separating from a partner would usually start with a lawyer as their first port of call.  They then usually either went away to consider whether they really wanted to separate, or they instructed the lawyer to work on their behalf to sort out the issues that needed to be resolved.  Fast forward to 2020 and for the last 7 years I have worked as a mediator only and not a lawyer, and I have reflected quite often (especially in the last couple of years) how this initial landscape I experienced has changed.  Seeing a lawyer is no longer the automatic first port of call.  I see many clients who have contacted a mediator as their first step having learned through talking to friends, or researching online, that this might help them achieve their aim of having an amicable, cost effective separation that minimises the effect of their separation on their children.  There are also clients who are referred from an initial meeting with a lawyer who has explained that the best way of achieving their aim of an amicable and cost effective divorce is to use mediation and get advice when they need it, and to formalise arrangements.  

I have also had clients who have contacted their financial adviser, or accountant, as the first port of call to get together their financial information, or to start to look at what might be financially possible themselves.  In addition to this some clients, who have recognised that they are going through a grief process they need support with, have chosen to go to counselling to address this, before even starting to find a resolution to the question of what arrangements they might make following their separation.  Equally they may have already been in counselling due to difficulties in the relationship, and this may have helped them to decide that separation was the right next step.

For those that are just starting the process of looking at what will happen following their separation, or are still weighing up whether separation is the best option given the difficulties in their relationship, I thought it might be helpful to talk about some of the different professionals that can help to support the mediation process when you separate.  Before we dive into this I wanted to say a little word about cost too.  Many participants in mediation that I talk to understandably worry about the cost of having a whole team of people to support you when you separate.  It’s of course important to weigh up what you can afford with what you might benefit from.  The idea of this blog is to make you aware of different forms of support that you may not be aware of – after all you don’t know what you don’t know.  I would also suggest that you weigh up the costs of NOT getting support too.  It can help to look at what is the issue that is keeping you stuck, or might keep you stuck.  If one of you is not yet ready to let go, or is still so angry that they cannot even talk about things, then this could continue to be a barrier to finding a resolution.  If you’re going round in circles because you don’t understand what you can do with the pensions you have, then a PODE (Pensions on Divorce expert),  Chartered Financial Planner or Independent Financial Adviser might break the fog of confusion.  The example that I often use in mediation is that if not spending £500 on counselling leads you to spend £20,000 on legal fees then that might not be a saving.  

I asked a number of different professionals the same questions about their work and how it supports the mediation process, and their answers are below.  I hope that this will help to explain the wealth of professionals that can help support a separating couples aim of keeping things constructive and peaceful; as well as dealing with specific issues that can stand in the way of finding a resolution.

Rhiannon Ford – Divorce Consultant 

  • What is your work and how does it benefit those going through a separation?

I am a divorce consultant providing specialist support and guidance for people before, during and after their divorce or separation. 

  • How does this work support the family mediation process?

I provide practical help and coaching support during the whole mediation process for both financial and children mediation sessions.  I assist with hands on help in the preparation of the client’s financial information and coaching support to help them clarify their thoughts before and after each mediation session. I can also provide guidance to clients in the preparation of their proposals for a parenting plan. Many of my clients also use me as a sounding board during the mediation process; to talk through their priorities and plan how to present their case. 

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone going through a separation?

Take things step by step and make sure you have the right support and advice to help you through this challenging time in your life. 

Wendy Capewell – Counsellor and Psychotherapist

  • What is your work and how does it benefit those going through a separation?

I am a counselling and psychotherapist, and I work with individuals and couples who are struggling with things that are causing a problem in their life, often these are related to relationships. Whilst many couples who seek help really want to stay together and want help to improve their relationship, there are those where the problems are so ingrained, the only way is to seek a separation or a divorce, which enables each of them to be free to seek a happier life. 

In these cases, emotions are likely to be running high. Each feeling hurt, they are often unable to consider the other’s feelings or point of view.

But at the same time they realise the need to be able to communicate in a civil and productive way, so they don’t incur a lengthy and costly court case, which causes even more emotional distress for themselves and where children are involved, because they need to feel safe, not feeling they need to take sides or to act as referee. Too often they take on the role of parent to their parents.

  • How does this work support the family mediation process?

That’s where a Mediator or Counsellor can be invaluable. They are strangers to the couple, which means they have no emotional attachment to the outcome, whereas well meaning family or friends who can be incredibly supportive, are often too close to be truly objective. As an impartial professional, they offer a safe space, encouraging the couple to negotiate through some of the issues they are struggling to resolve, making compromises around those sticking points.

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone going through a separation?

There is a saying that we listen to reply V listen to understand. Too often during a separation you feel attacked by the other’s comment and as a result, you feel a need to defend yourself. As a consequence you are likely to lash out, making exceptionally cruel and personal comments. Once those unkind words are out there, they can’t ever be taken back. So, if you feel yourself becoming drawn into that, walk away. If you are unable to have a civil conversation, then seek out the services of a professional.

Una Archer – psychologist and Circle of Security Parenting facilitator 

  • What is your work, and how does it benefit those going through a separation?

As a Circle of Security Parenting facilitator, I guide parents through an easy-to-follow step-by-step process based on decades of attachment research. Going through this process helps parents to make the most of what comes easily and naturally for them and focus their time and energy on mastering skills that will strengthen their relationship with their children. It helps parents to make effective parenting decisions and feel confident in their ability to support their children through separation and beyond.

  • How does this work support the family mediation process?

It helps parents to see the situation through their children’s eyes. It takes away the guesswork about how they can best support their children. It helps parents to focus on what will make the most significant difference for their children. It gives parents a shared vocabulary to talk about their children’s needs.

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone going through a separation?

Treat yourself with kindness, in whatever way it might be in the moment: noticing your progress, taking a break, receiving support, giving yourself time to figure things out.

Claire Menni – Chartered Financial Planner

  • What is your work and how does it benefit those going through a separation?

As a Chartered Financial Planner I aim to help those going through a separation to make an informed decision and enter into their financial settlement with confidence – to really understand what the settlement means for their lifestyle going forwards. Often I will use Lifetime Cash flow planning to map out what their financial future may look like in a visual format, and can also highlight specific characteristics and features in relation to investments and pensions which can be of assistance when agreeing a suitable settlement.  I can then provide guidance and advice on implementing any pension sharing orders and managing finances post settlement.

  • How does this work support the family mediation process?

By bringing the numbers to life and translating it into what it means for the client, they can progress through mediation with their eyes open to the financial impact of their decisions.  I can assist the process by helping clints to understand complex financial and pension arrangements using accessible language.  If there are certain contracts which should be maintained intact because they carry additional benefits, I will highlight this and the value of those benefits so they can be taken into account during mediation to help both parties gain, without potentially giving up valuable benefits which aren’t always apparent on the surface.  As I can continue to advise for the long term, I can also provide some continuity into the next phase. 

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone going through a separation?

Please don’t ignore pension assets!  Whilst often very valuable assets, they aren’t always the easiest assets to make sense of so do seek advice so you are fully informed. 

Sue Atkins – Parenting Expert, Broadcaster, Speaker and Author

  • What is your work and how does it benefit those going through a separation?  

I focus on helping children feel heard and to help them express their strong feelings safely. Separation and divorce are traumatic events for families. So I wrote The Divorce Journal for Kids.  This journal is designed to help children express, explore and understand some of the strong emotions that they may be feeling and to help them process the divorce for themselves.  Keeping a Journal is a very simple, but powerful way to support children.  As caring adults, we can help by simply acknowledging & listening to how a child may be feeling, without trying to “fix it”.  This Journal is designed to support open and honest communication and to help children feel heard, understood and supported during a time of great upheaval.  

  • How does this work support the family mediation process? 

I work alongside parents and mediators to help support the changes and to make sure the children are at the centre of the process – I call it Divorce Without Damage  – there’s also my co-parenting conversational cards too to help. 

  • What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone going through a separation? 

‘Divorce is a process NOT an event’ so make sure you take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your children confidently. It’s not the divorce that damages children but the level of conflict they experience – I help reduce that conflict and give clarity direction and confidence to everyone involved free from finger pointing or judgement.

I hope that this information from a range of different professionals has been useful.  You can involve the services of any professional that you both feel comfortable with and who you feel will support and inform the discussions you have in family mediation.