Deciding to divorce or separate when you have children can be a hard decision to make. Depending on your circumstances and the reasons for the break up can mean a very different experience for different separating couples. Some will dither over the decision for years, wracked with guilt about what impact the split may have on the children. Others may be in an impossible or dangerous situation where a quick clean break is the best option.
In our last post, we talked about how to understand and help younger children through their parent’s separation. In this post, we will look at how to understand and help teenagers through a family break up. Teenagers are already at a difficult stage in their lives, with emotions up and down and the pressures of reaching young adulthood. Continue reading Understanding and Helping Teenagers through Divorce or Separation
Divorce or separation is a difficult time for everyone involved, including extended family and of course the children. Whatever the age of the children, they will feel a great sense of loss, confusion and uncertainty. Although to a certain extent this can’t be avoided once the decision to go your separate ways has been made; there are many ways that you can make this time of upheaval a much less painful and traumatic experience. We will look at ways to understand and recognise issues for the under 5’s and also children aged between 6 and 11. Continue reading Children Under 11 – Understanding their Confusion after Separation
One of the things that can be easily overlooked when parents split up, is that the relationship the children have with their grandparents can be disrupted. It may be that one parent no longer wishes the children to have contact with their ex-spouses parents, or perhaps they move a long way away – this can be a very sad and painful situation if all ties are cut for both the children and the grandparents. Continue reading Grandparents Rights to see their Grandchildren after Parents Separate
The summer holidays are upon us and for most parents this means a lot of juggling of childcare if both parents work. Holiday clubs and activity days are expensive and not really a viable option to cover the whole six week holiday. So, for separated or single parents who have work commitments, the holidays can be really tough. Last year we wrote a blog illustrating a couple of examples of how some separated parents worked out the childcare cover between them, you can read it here. Continue reading 10 Free Things to do in Bristol this Summer
After divorce or separation, one of the most challenging things for the children to deal with is when a new partner comes onto the scene. Not only is their world turned upside down by the separation, but any hopes they had of their parents getting back together will be dashed. We posted a while ago about introducing new partners with some suggestions of how it can be done, but here we look at how someone can integrate into family life and become a new step parent.
I thought it might be helpful to write about parental alienation, because in some form or another it comes up fairly regularly in mediation.
At its worst parental alienation is the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent into fear, dislike and hostility of the other parent. It can result in a child refusing to see the other parent.
It often occurs when parents are in dispute about arrangements for their children, and tends to be alleged by the non-resident parent against the resident parent. Continue reading Parental Alienation – What is it?
Family mediation sessions for separating parents are a good way to discuss and resolve arrangements for the children. This could be working out a rota or timetable of when each parent will spend time with the children, how school holidays can be managed between the parents, as well as any financial disputes for maintenance payments. It is important to remember that children will be affected negatively if parents argue and cannot agree on these arrangements. Working with an experienced mediator in a safe and managed way that will avoid the conflict that can often arise between separating couples.
Custody and Access
In mediation we sometimes hear parents talking about winning ‘custody’ of their children or gaining ‘access’ to them. Nowadays UK lawyers, judges and mediators no longer use these terms, in fact their use is actively discouraged. This is because of a change of emphasis in the law itself.
The 1989 Children Act promoted the use of concepts of ‘parental responsibility’ ‘residence’ and ‘contact.’ The aim was to shift parents from looking at their ‘rights’ to their children to their responsibilities towards them. And by ceasing to think in terms of ‘custody’ and ‘access’ it was hoped to break down the division between each parents’ role – ie the idea that one parent has primary responsibility for the children, and the other merely has ‘access’ to them. Continue reading Changing Terminology for Children’s Issues after Separation
Whatever their age, children find the break up or separation of their parents to be a difficult time emotionally. Many aspects of their lives will have changed, whether it’s where they live, seeing one parent much less or emotional difficulties brought about by upheaval. The speed at which they adapt and recover will very much depend on how the situation is dealt with.
Children can be remarkably resilient and adapt very well to new situations, but as parents who have decided to split up, you need to make this transition as easy for the children as possible. Subtle emotional issues like loyalty confusion might not be easy to predict or to spot particularly if you, as a parent, are very focused on your own feelings of loss from the separation.
January is often described as Divorce Month, and the Monday of the first full working week back after the holidays is often referred to as Divorce Day. One national family law firm says referrals in January are usually more than 27% up on an average month. It seems some people make appointments in December, planning to spend one last Christmas together, while others may have had a bad time over the holidays and realised that their relationship is at an end. Continue reading Family Mediation Week 2016
Christmas is a time of year that is usually very family orientated. Family members get together from across the country to spend some quality time together, share in some good cheer and exchange gifts. For families where the parents are separated it can be a difficult time, especially if the relationship is strained and there are difficulties arranging time for both parents to spend time with their children. We wrote a blog about this last year which shares the experience of a first Christmas after separation, it details some ideas of how the time can be divided up. You can read this blog here.
In this blog we wanted to explore more about the issue of gift giving, as this can be complicated for divorced or separated families particularly if the communication has broken down. Continue reading Christmas Presents and Separated Parents
A recent survey from family lawyers group Resolution found that children would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy rather than stay together for their sake. 82 % said they would prefer their parents to separate rather than stay together if they do not get on.
This confirms the overriding conclusion from much recent research into how children handle parental separation and conflict. Children can adapt very well to parental separation and changes in living arrangements. What causes them significant long-term problems is prolonged exposure to parental conflict. Continue reading What Makes a Good Mum and Dad
Many of our discussions in Family Mediation are about arrangements for children. At Progressive Mediation we feel that as children grow older their views need to be increasingly taken into account in these discussions. Sometimes parents ask their children directly what they want to happen. Continue reading Consulting Children of Separating Parents in Mediation
Shared Child Care over the summer holidays
The school summer holidays can strike fear into the heart of any working parent. 6 long weeks with no school or childcare can be a juggling act between parents at the best of times, but for separated parents it can be even harder. The added expense of holiday clubs and other activities can really put a strain on the finances too. So how do separated parents cope with the situation? Here are some examples of how some parents have made arrangements this summer… Continue reading How to Share Child Care Over the Summer Holidays
Around 500 British children were abducted and taken abroad by one of their parents in 2014. That’s double the number taken ten years ago.
Ease of travel and a growth in cross border relationships have meant that more break-ups result in difficult decisions for separating parents. Continue reading International Child Abduction – Is Mediation Possible?
Blog updated on the 22nd Nov 2017 – all information is current.
Cohabiting Couples who are separating – What protection do they have under the law?
More than 6 million people in Britain currently live in cohabiting relationships, and this is the fastest growing family type in UK.
There is now growing public pressure to increase protection for unmarried couples who are separating. Next week is Cohabitation Awareness Week (November 27th – 1st December 2017), so we thought this might be a good time to highlight this issue.
At the moment, despite the widespread belief that living together for a period of time, gives some rights, there are actually very few legal rights for unmarried couples, and there is definitely no legal concept of a ‘common law husband’ or ‘common law wife’ in UK law. In fact, it’s possible for a couple to live together for decades, to have children together, and on separation to walk away from the relationship without taking any responsibility for a former partner.
This can have a huge impact, particularly if one of the couple, usually the woman, has taken time out of work to look after children.
So what does this lack of protection this mean for unmarried couples who are separating?
Of course, unmarried couples can separate informally without the intervention of a court of law. However, if agreement cannot be reached between separating partners the court does have power to make orders relating to the care of the children, or a financial settlement.
Dividing Assets – Jointly Owned Property
For unmarried couples when it comes to dividing up capital assets, such as a jointly owned home, in general this will be governed by property law, rather than family law. This means that if a claim doesn’t succeed the losing party may have to pay the other party’s costs. Claims can be made under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (known as ToLATA for short). A court can decide what proportion of the property each partner owns, and whether the property should be sold to release one partner’s share in it.
If the unmarried couple owns a property it is crucially significant whether they own it as Joint Tenants or as Tenants in Common. If the couple owns the property as Joint Tenants they are taken as owning the property equally irrespective of their contributions (i.e. towards deposit or mortgage). On death the property will go to the other party. If the property is owned as Tenants in Common, it is likely that there will be a declaration of trust defining the percentages in which they hold the property – usually based on their contributions to the purchase price. On death people can choose who to leave their part of the property to.
For properties bought after April 1998 the transfer document (TR1) should set out the parties’ interest – i.e. as Joint Tenants, as Tenants in Common in equal shares, or Tenants in Common in unequal shares, and those shares are usually specified. However, in many cases the TR1 will not have been completed. If the property was bought prior to April 1998 you can tell by looking at office copy title entries (available from the Land Registry) how the couple hold their shares. If there is no evidence otherwise the assumption is that they are Joint Tenants in law and that the property should be divided equally between them.
Dividing Assets – Property owned by one partner
If property is owned by one partner, then the other partner has no automatic entitlement to any share of the property, but it may be possible for them to make a case that the they have an interest in it. Ideally this would be in the form of a written agreement. Or if they can prove that they made a financial contribution to the purchase or upkeep of the property, or that there was an understanding between partners that both would have a share in the property if it was sold. A court could therefore decide the unnamed partner had a ‘beneficial interest’ in the property. In rare cases this might mean that they then have the right to live in the home, preventing the named owner from living there, or it might mean them getting a share of the proceeds if the property is sold. Inevitably these cases are very hard to prove, and can be very expensive and time consuming.
Property – Children Involved
The other circumstance when it could be possible for a partner whose name is not on the property deeds to claim an interest in a property is when there are children living in the property. Under Schedule 1 of the Children’s Act 1989 if there are children living in a family home, even if the primary carer’s name isn’t on the property deeds it is possible that court would order a lump sum payment, or the transfer of the property to the primary carer if it was felt to be in the children’s best interests, but it would usually link this to a return of the named partner’s capital when the children grow up.
Property – Rented
If cohabitees have been renting a property together, the tenant with their name on the tenancy agreement will have the most right to stay in the property, although it is possible to convert existing sole tenancies to joint tenancies if the sole tenant and the landlord agree. With a joint tenancy it only takes one person to bring the tenancy to an end, and once it is done the court cannot do anything to get the tenancy back, but a court can make an order stopping either partner from giving up a tenancy. Unmarried partners can also get short-term rights to stay if they apply to court. For council or housing association tenants a court can transfer a tenancy from one partner to another, whether it is a sole or joint tenancy. The court would have to weigh up financial and housing needs and the needs of any children before deciding whether to transfer a tenancy
There is usually no entitlement to each other’s pensions for unmarried couples (unless they are already being paid).
Arrangements for Children
When it comes to making arrangements for children, it is important that both parents have ‘Parental Responsibility’.
Both parents are assumed to have on-going financial responsibility for their children whether or not they are living with them. Since December 2003 unmarried fathers who are on their children’s birth certificate automatically have Parental Responsibility for them. This gives them the right to have a say in important decisions about the child’s life – i.e. schooling, religion and education. If the father is not named on the birth certificate and the couple is not married the father can apply for Parental Responsibility on separation. Similarly if the father is named on the birth certificate and the child was born before December 2003 the father would need to apply for Parental Responsibility.
This is the one area of law where the rights of unmarried parents are no different from married parents. Unmarried parents have the right to cliam child maintenance and unmarried parents are still liable for claims of Child Maintenance whether or not they have Parental Responsibility.
No spousal maintenance is payable between cohabiting couples. However, a court can consider the position of a parent (usually the mother) who is the primary carer of the child and “should have control of a budget that reflects her position and the position of the father, both social and financial.”
How Mediation can Help
In mediation we are often aiming to come up with a Memorandum of Understanding and an Open Financial Statement. For unmarried couples these can then be incorporated into a legally binding Separation Agreement which constitutes a full and final settlement between them.
As you can see the law is particularly complicated for unmarried couples and it can be easy to become involved in costly litigation.
However, in mediation couples can make realistic, practical and fair settlements that do have regard to the law but that can focus on the practical reality of their life and their children’s lives in the future rather than the minutiae of the law.
If you would like further advice on separation when not married; please give us a call on 0117 924 3880.
Today’s blog is written by a Mum who separated from her husband last year. Both her and her ex have both met new partners and so as time moves on she wonders if, when and how she might introduce her new partner to her 3 children.
“John and I split up last summer, we have been amicable about the whole thing and thankfully still communicate regularly about the children. We are now both seeing new partners and although neither of us feel ready to introduce new ‘friends’ to the children, it has opened up the conversation between us about whether it is a good idea to do it, also when and how do you do it?
Everyone’s divorce or separation is different, but I think it’s sometimes helpful to read about what other people have gone through, particularly when you are feeling that there is no good way out of your situation. These are two recent cases we have worked on which I thought would be worth sharing. When they first came in both couples were very stuck and couldn’t see a way forward. Through Mediation both couples reached settlements which, if they were not exactly happy about, they could live with. Even more importantly communication improved dramatically and they could begin to build their new relationship as separated parents.
- Respect and support each other as parents even if you are furious with each other as exes.
- Don’t fight in front of your children and particularly don’t fight about their arrangements in front of them.
- Be happy that your child has another parent, and if you can try to foster their love for the other parent and encourage them to have a healthy relationship.
- Listen to your children and (depending on their ages) allow them a say in the arrangements for their lives. Be prepared for those arrangements to change as they grow and develop.
- Write a Parenting Plan. A Parenting Plan is a written document which spells out how you and the other parent intend on sharing childcare duties and responsibilities going forward. The plan can include everything from where children spend the nights on weekends to who they spend Christmas day with.
- Make a will. You may have written one already, or it may never have crossed your mind, but your new situation requires a new will, or at the very least an update to your existing one.
- Take your time before introducing your children to a new partner, and don’t expect them to click immediately.
- Allow your children the right to express their anger at the new situation without fear that you will become upset or defensive.
- Don’t beat yourself up! Children are adaptable and have been shown to cope well with separation. What causes them long lasting difficulties is on-going conflict between their parents, so if you can overcome that you will have done as much as you can.
- Talk! To each other, to your children, to others who look after them. Keep people in the picture about your new circumstances otherwise they won’t be able to support you. If you can’t talk about things without arguing – you may need to get some help. We would be happy to talk to you and discuss with you whether mediation might be able to help you and your children. Call Frances or Charles on 01179243880 0r 07889039393