The happy medium

The happy medium

When your relationship has crumbled, and you want to cut your ties as soon as possible, it seems easy to head straight to a divorce solicitor. But there is another way.

Mediation is a calmer and cheaper way forward. As part of a radical rethink in the way that divorces are handled in this country mediation is being promoted as the first port of call for anyone considering separation. The Family Justice Review which was published on the 3rd November 2011 has recommended the creation of a Family Justice Service to include increased provision of mediation at an early stage to prevent cases going to court unnecessarily.

Anyone considering making an application to the court to sort out arrangements for children or finances following separation will be required to attend an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting(MIAM) with a mediator so that an assessment can be made on the most appropriate way forward, for instance by working through a parenting agreement in mediation. If there are children involved the parents will have to attend a Separated Parent Information Programme (SPIP) to discuss ways of minimising conflict and increasing communication between parents, with the expectation they will then attend mediation after. It is only after they have attended a MIAM and SPIP that they can make an application to the court. There is concern not only about the huge amount of public money that is spent on divorce and separation but also about the long-term effect on children and society of separating couples who remain in conflict for years after their separation.

A family mediator will sit down, and work out with a separating couple how to divide any assets up in a practical, realistic and fair way. We start by setting out certain guidelines, neither party is allowed to interrupt or speak over the other person for example, it is important that people listen to each other. A major goal is to make sure children’s views are taken into account and that they are listened to. There is increasing evidence that children’s needs will be met by minimising conflict between their parents and assisting parents to communicate in a constructive way together about their children.

Research shows that 12 years after separation, couples who have gone through the mediation process are still reaping the rewards with a much happier outcome and an ability to communicate as parents in the interests of their children.

Family affairs

Sally and Brian came to see me recently. They were still living in the same house. Sally wanted to stay in the family home with their two children, a six-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. Tension was rising because Brian was refusing to move out of the house. Brian told me he was terrified he was going to lose the children and that is why he wouldn’t move out. He said he did not want to be a ‘Saturday’ parent. Putting legal terminology aside, such as custody, access, residence and contact we spent the session focusing on the reality of their day-to-day lives and what arrangements were possible. Using a flip chart, we worked out a schedule of arrangements for the children which suited both parents working patterns and the children’s activities.

A sense of equality

Sarah and Tom came to mediation. They wanted to separate and reach a financial settlement and work through the idea of a shared arrangement for their two-year-old daughter.

The couple spent the sessions looking into the practical side of how 50-50 shared care pattern would work in reality. They talked about nurseries, bedtimes, dropping off plans, birthdays, holidays extended families and telephone calls.

Splitting the sessions in half, Sarah and Tom were able to work through financial issues too and reach an agreement to move them both forward, enabling them both to buy a new property.

If you think family mediation might help you or anyone you know look at my website and get in touch.