Putting Children First

Much of the information and research that has been published about how children are affected by divorce/ separation appears to paint a somewhat of a bleak picture. This picture has made the individuals that are affected and involved appear as though they are all hopeless, anxious and somewhat “mixed up”.

The good news for divorcing/ separating parents is that there is also evidence that children of ‘divorce, with support, love and a supported sense of self have become successful adults, are capable of positive marriages and relationships with their own children and have formulated the will to survive.

How parents behave during the process of breaking up is key, and I speak from personal experience of divorcing parents who handled the situation badly.  One parent feeling hurt and betrayed was totally acrimonious, bad mouthing the other resulting in the children suffering even more as a result feelings of split loyalties.

More good news is that by going through mediation and keeping the lines of communication open gives parents the opportunity to consider the situation from the children’s view and agree a plan that will work for the whole family both at present and in the future.

Parenting plans are crucial to a child’s sense of wellbeing.  It helps them feel secure and reduces the feeling of uncertainty when the plan is shared with them. It ensures that they understand what the new routine is going to be; and that both Mum and Dad will continue to be there for them and will spend time with them even if they do not want to live together anymore

In the mediation process where mediators are dealing with couples who have children their mediators will show extra concern for any arrangements that either directly or indirectly affect the welfare of children. In many ways the mediators represent the interests of the children in the room. They can do so by:

  • Reality checking any child welfare arrangements
  • Asking tough questions
  • Asking questions about family finances as they relate to the children
  • Exploring practicality points relating to education or sporting arrangements

The mediation process can also include children. They, with the assistance of their parents can have a voice in the process. In these circumstances, the mediators are extremely keen to point out to the children the positive efforts being made by their parents to secure their future and the happiness of the family going forward. Mediators are keen to congratulate parents who choose mediation in a proactive manner for the benefit of their children. If the children are experiencing their parent’s frustration the mediator is in a position to explore these topics with the children in mediation to facilitate the parents in crafting a solution to help them moving forward in the process.

No other process shows as much flexibility towards children in the family as mediation. It is well-established in many jurisdictions such as Canada, Australia, Germany and the United States that a child-centred mediation approach can provide dramatic and amazing results for families. Many judges will ask parties in court have they not considered mediation? The courts are aware that mediation is a positive development in the area of childcare dispute resolution.

Balancing our Needs

At various different stages of our lives we circumstances change and we have different needs. In any relationship the needs that exist between a couple can differ at any given point in time. Separation or  divorce will not stop the difference in these needs. Sometimes one person is working, not working, ill, incapacitated, emigrating, staying at home etc. This is often a difficult period for the other person.

Difficulties in achieving balance also apply to the mediation process. For example one person might have moved on with their life, whilst the other person might still be experiencing difficulty in coming to terms with the end of the relationship. Mediation can assist couples and their families in finding a balance between their respective needs.

Sometimes the needs of the children will not meet with the needs of the adults. These issues can be discussed in mediation and flexible solutions can be entered into whereby people can choose several options to be road tested over a period of time.

Mediation is an extremely flexible process. Couples can try and test multiple solutions before committing to a final agreement. This process is referred to as “road testing”. Like taking a new car for a test drive couples can try out a particular set of financial or access arrangements to see if they work. If they are satisfied with the results of the test they can either tweak the results or implement the interim arrangement.

Couples can achieve balance in their respective needs by trying different options over a period of time before committing to final results. When a court makes an order there is no room for flexibility generally for parties who have been afforded an arrangement by the court. In the mediation environment for couples placed their trust in the process it is possible to find flexible solutions.

Dividing our Assets

Many couples assume mediation is futile because they cannot agree over the division of marital assets or property. Not so. In mediation, mediators use various different techniques and tried and trusted methods to help couples reach agreement on the division of property and assets.

A fundamental part of the mediation process is the preparation of a financial summary. The financial summary is an overview of the couple’s finances at the time of preparation. It is a photograph of the finances of the marriage/relationship as they stand today. It is not a photograph of how the finances will be in the future.

Dealing with the division of assets in the mediation is viewed from the perspective of what our finances are like now and how are our finances will be in the future. Mediators encourage couples to look at the assets situation from a number of perspectives – How are we going to function as parents going forward?. How are we going to provide for ourselves? How are we going to provide for our children?

Section 1 Financial Summary

The financial summary is largely divided into five sections. Assets, income, debts and liabilities, weekly expenditure and pensions. All aspects of the marital/relationship finances can fit into one of these headings.

The mediators assist the parties in dividing up their documentation to meet with each of the five categories outlined above. In doing both their parties and the mediators are learning about the finances of the relationship. This will assist them at a later point during the mediation when they are planning their budgets and finances going forward.

Section 2 Budgeting

After the parties have completed their financial summary they will be in position to examine their present finances and look at different options as to how they might function financially when they are separate and apart. Many couples who entered the mediation process live in fear of this part of the exercise. The truth is from a mediator’s perspective this part of the exercise is relatively straightforward in the vast majority of cases. The reason being that he family’s finances will often dictate the solution under the circumstances. Financial parameters will often control what options are available to couples in the separation. Be it in the case of large asset separations or separations were the couples might not have a large amount of monies at their disposal.

Mediators will assist couples in preparing a detailed financial plan will set out how their finances will operate going forward and how the present acid-base will be divided. Sometimes couples will put provision aside out of their separation/divorce for their children. The remainder of the assets will sometimes be set aside for one other or both of them is the case may be. These options can be discussed with the mediators in the in joint sessions.

Questions to be asked:

How will we finance our living expenses?

How will we finance our groceries?

How will we finance our children’s education?

How will we finance our retirement?

These are some of the types of questions that are asked by couples in mediation. Where parties previously enjoyed one family home, separating can create financial difficulties where the parties are trying to secure two-family homes. Perhaps it will mean that the family home is to be sold and two properties rented? Or perhaps it will mean that one party will have to stay in the family home until such time as the children have reached the age of majority. Thereafter, will the property be sold and the proceeds divided? It is encouraging for couples to find that there is not one option but many options at this stage of the process. Invariably, couples will find a grey area that can provide potential solutions for both parties. Strengths and weaknesses tests along with best alternatives and worst alternatives are different techniques used by the mediators to help parties in reaching a conclusion.

Many couples negate to discuss the issue of pensions. In many cases, a pension over its lifetime will be worth more than the value of the family home. Accordingly, pensions are an important asset to be discussed in most mediation is. Like other assets, pensions can be divided under certain circumstances. Options such as the division of a pension or assigning a death-in-service benefit to a particular family member can be discussed by the parties in session.

Can Mediation Help?

Many people ask us why should they choose mediation over other alternatives. Some people believe that their first port of call should be a solicitor. Other people suggest that the best port of call is a DIY or managed divorce service.

There is no one specific answer as to which is the best,All have their pro’s and con’s and the one you choose should match your individual requirements.

We tell couples that come to mediation that they are seeking the ‘VIP ‘treatment. Mediation is for couples who are seeking to agree the terms of their separation or divorce in a Voluntary, Impartial and Private environment.

Mediation is a safe environment within which to have discussions about the future with the assistance of trained professionals who are focused on helping you reach your own solutions to your problems. The mediation environment is very future focused and proactive. Mediators are trained to help parties in an efficient manner reach a solution to matters that require agreement.

Clients have told that initially they decided to avoid mediation because they felt the other party was too angry or too headstrong. They were pleasantly surprised that they managed to reach agreement in mediation and could not understand how they achieved this despite the other person being so difficult.

In mediation where you are using co-mediators to deal with a dispute the playing pitch is levelled. People have a chance to make their point and have their say without the other person interrupting. The mediators control the process so that it becomes possible to ask hard questions without the other person becoming difficult or obstreperous.

This means that mediation is possible even where you feel that your ex-partner or ex-spouse is headstrong or belligerent. Obviously where there is an immediate threat of domestic abuse mediation should not take place. If there has been a history of domestic abuse in the past the mediators will have a discussion with you in the private individual sessions before any joint mediation sessions take place. It is possible to conduct family mediations with the parties being separate and apart into different rooms. However, the ideal mediation scenario involves both parties being together for most of if not some of the process.

The mediation has been finalised and an agreement has been reached the written agreement drawn up by the can be taken to their lawyers who canmake the agreements legally binding. For married couples the terms agreed in mediation can go on to form part of the divorce order concluded before the courts.

If couples are not married the terms of the mediation agreement can go on to dictate what arrangements they live by going forward.

Where can mediation help me?

  • If I seeking to agree the terms of the divorce
  • If I am seeking to agree the terms of a separation
  • If I am seeking to divide the marital assets with my partner
  • If I’m seeking to agree child custody or child access arrangements
  • If I am seeking to agree financial provision maintenance or child support with my partner
  • If I’m seeking to agree access arrangements between grandparents and the children
  • If I’m seeking to resolve a family dispute with siblings are other family members
  • If I’m seeking to agree pension provisions and arrangements with my partner

What are the advantages of mediation?

Mediation saves time and money for people going through the separation or divorce process. It can be a painful enough process without dragging it out further going through a protracted legal battle when you can jointly agree terms within a matter of days.

Mediation saves time.

Going to the courts process to thrash out an agreement can be a time-consuming and costly affair . The cost involved is not only pounds and pence, but it is also the cost to your health and well-being. The cost of unresolved issues maybe even feeling as if your life is on hold whilst you battle for weeks and months, sometimes even years against each other before achieving a court ruled decision. Agreeing matters through mediation allows couples to proceed with a consent divorce which is much quicker.

Mediation saves money.

Why spend what remaining assets you could have on a long winded legal battle?

Where couples have agreed the terms of their separation or divorce through mediation they have saved the costs of a contested court case were each point to be agreed is fought over. In the legal system time costs money and accordingly the less time spent in the contested legal system the more money that is saved by the couple that they can spend on their future rather than the courts.

Mediation helps families.

Are you looking to put in place a positive future for your children? Are you looking to move on? Are you looking for closure and peace of mind?

If you are mediation more so than any other system can provide you with these answers and solutions. If you’re willing to take the first step towards attaining these goals chances are your spouse or partner is seeking to do the same. Even though serious arguments that follow from a separation can lead to hurt and blame, chances are behind-the-scenes that the other person is also hoping for the same better outcome. This can be hard to see when you are in the middle of arguments and

nobody wants stress or hurt to continue indefinitely. This can lead to health problems for both parties involved in the divorce/ separation. The person who has made the decision to leave the relationship often carries an immense amount of guilt and stress with them. There is a presumption because someone has decided to leave that they are stress and guilt free, ofen this is not the case.. Although the person who was left behind will often experience a greater degree of stress and loss, the person who choose to leave the relationship as a number of personal issues to deal with in coming to terms with the end of the relationship.

Ask yourself following questions. If you answer yes to any of the following, chances are mediation can offer you the solutions you are looking for.

  • For your children’s sake do you hope that both you and your ex-partner/spouse will attend their wedding or family events during the future?
  • Do you want positive communication with your ex regarding the future of your children in relation to their lives, their personal affairs, their health and their education?
  • Do you want a less acrimonious relationship with your former partner/spouse?

For people who have already been through the court process choosing mediation to solve on-going problems can be a welcome relief. The mediation environment is completely different to the court environment. The court system is focused on dealing with evidence in an adversarial manner. People are divided into categories such as plaintiff, defendant, petitioner depending on the type of case that they are involved in. The process is focused on somebody making a case against the other person. This is not healthy for parents and families alike. In mediation the parties get a chance to speak with the mediators in private before conducting any joint sessions with the other person present. Anything that is said to the mediators and private remains private and will not be revealed to the other party. Mediations are often conducted in private rooms, business centres and functional rooms in hotels. There are always conducted in bright and open spaces.

Courtrooms by contrast are often functional environments that are more focused on the process of the courts business than the needs of the parties themselves. Mediations are conducted in relaxed and friendly settings.

Third-party childcare professionals can be brought in on a consultancy basis into the mediation process. Many couples will choose to involve child psychologists, child psychiatrists and child therapists in helping them formulate a parenting plan. If couples find during the mediation process that they are not sure what specific arrangements to put in place for their children they can make the decision to take third-party advice. This process can run concurrent with the mediation process and can provide a welcome additional voice within the process.

Depending on the circumstances of the mediation and the age of the children involved children can play part in the mediation process. For both mom and dad agree children can speak with the mediators and learn about the positive and proactive steps that parents are taking to is making positive decisions in respect of their futures.

The involvement of children in mediation is conducted in a very controlled and proactive manner by the mediators. It requires a large green coffee between mediators and parents alike to be conducted successfully. Where child involvement in mediation is completed in a positive manner it can have far-reaching and dramatic successful consequences for the family involved.

Mediation not only helps the nuclear family. Where brothers or sisters are having a dispute or elderly parents are having a dispute with adult children mediation can come to the rescue. If families cannot decide over issues such as inheritance provisions, nursing home arrangements or simply put who will look after mum and dad?, Mediation can provide a welcome solution. Family dispute are not linear in nature. There is a presumption that most family disputes between spouses or partners over issues such as money and children. This is not the case. What ever issue forms the core of your personal dispute with a family member this issue can be addressed in mediation.

 

Separating?

People decide to separate for many different reasons.

Sometimes it can be a mutual decision. Other times one or other party might decide to separate against the wishes of the other person. Going through a divorce or a separation can be a very difficult experience for the individual. Studies have shown us that going through a divorce or a separation can be more traumatic than the loss of a loved one.

Accordingly, making the right decisions in the divorce process can have a dramatic effect on your future and your well-being. When children are involved the process can be even more complicated and have more dramatic circumstances for the family as a whole.

In circumstances where one person wants to separate and the other person wants to stay in the relationship, there can be a great degree of confusion and additional upset until the situation is clarified.

The parties have a number of choices:

  • Attend marriage counselling
  • decide to live apart without any legal agreement
  • legally separate without proceeding with a divorce
  • proceed with a divorce on the contested bases against the wishes of the other person

Unfortunately, where one person decides against the wishes of the other person that they do not want to continue with the marriage they can proceed on a contest basis and obtain a divorce. There is no way to prevent an individual obtaining a divorce if they meet the criteria necessary under the law to be granted a divorce.

There are a number of important factors to take care of where you have made a decision to separate. This is not an exhaustive list and your family solicitor is best placed to give you advice in this regard. Where a couple has made a decision together to separate they should consult with their mediators in relation to the mediation process to learn more in advance of entering mediation.

Important issues to consider when you are making a decision to separate:

Is this the best for me?

Is this the best decision for my children?

How is my partner likely to take the news?

What is my partner likely to do when I tell them I want to separate?

What precautions/ safety measures do I need to put in place in advance of discussing this with my partner?

How will my financial situation change after I have revealed to my partner my intention to separate

Will the children be affected by my decision?

What safeguards and supports do I need to put in place in advance of telling my partner?

The best suggestion that can be made to couples in advance on discussing a separation is to set out clearly what you hope to achieve by the separation. Confronting a spouse in an accusatory manner in seeking a separation is never a good idea. Such incidents only serve to aggravate matters further. Where a person has decided that the relationship is over it is important that they are honest with the other person in relation to what they are seeking to achieve from the separation. Often people, in their effort to let the other person down gently, give mixed messages that cloud the issues and lead to false hope.

This can also make matters worse, and hinder the other person in coming to terms with what is really happened.i.e the end of the relationship.

Although it can be very difficult for the other person to accept this news at least they have the ability to deal with this information, take advice and make informed decisions in respect of what steps take next.

What’s my role in the Process?

Once you have decided that you want to use mediation to resolve your issues you may wonder what you will be required to do.

You may feel anxious about facing the other party, or that you won’t be able to communicate the things that are important to you.

Most people are unsure of how it will all work out at the start of the process.

Don’t worry you are in safe hands.

We will work hard to ensure that any concerns you may have are addressed and that the sessions remain focused and you both have an equal voice.

All you have to do is :

  • Come to the sessions prepared to participate.
  • Be willing to discuss the issues in an open and honest way.
  • Agree to listen carefully and really consider what is being said before rushing to respond.
  • Be respectful and behave in a non-aggressive manner towards the other party and Mediators