Category Archives: Court Proceedings

Separating Parents where Drugs and Alcohol Are Involved

Any separation or divorce is going to be difficult and painful for the whole family however amicably the split is dealt with. Unfortunately, though it is all too common that alcohol or drug misuse is a major contributing factor or the reason for the breakup. What we want to cover in this blog post is the way that mediation can help the family move forward to allow for contact to be possible and regular for the children with both parents. Each situation is different, and the level of the misuse can vary. Of course, in some situations, children will have been removed and placed into care by social services before any separation of the parents has occurred. These are severe cases and are dealt with by the courts, so mediation is not a relevant option in these situations.

Child Arrangement Disputes
As family mediators we have helped many separated parents to find resolution to child arrangement disputes. When alcohol and drugs are prevalent in the home the mediation needs to be run in a different way. Often, the situation after separation, is that one parent will refuse to allow the other parent contact with the children due to their addiction and volatile behaviour. The breakdown of the relationship is usually caused by the addiction which has brought about many issues including financial strain, unreasonable behaviour, unpredictability with care of the children and sadly in some cases there is violence and abuse. For children to live with this in their home is the cause of long-term emotional issues and a tendency for them to use alcohol and drugs themselves later in life.

Psychological and Emotional Effects For Children with an Alcoholic Parent
The alcoholic is usually under the misconception that their drinking habits do not affect anyone else and their main priority is always where that next drink is coming from. The child will not know any other type of ‘normal’ life and as they grow up they will only have their parents as role models, if one or both parents are heavy drinkers, alcohol is a ‘normal’ way of life in the family home and alcohol use has been ‘normalised’. Here are some of the effects on children who live with an alcoholic parent:

  • Children will struggle to distinguish between good and bad role models. For example, they will not know that a drunken shouting parent is not a good role model and that is not how people should behave.
  • Trust issues – If denial, lies, and broken promises are the norm at home, these children will never have the capacity to trust anyone as they have never experienced honesty.
  • They will often adopt approval seeking behaviours to avoid conflict or an angry confrontation.
  • Harsh self-judgment is also likely, as often the alcoholic will blame everyone else in the household when things go wrong. The child will blame themselves for the angry abusive behaviour and believe it is their fault.
  • Fear of abandonment – if an alcoholic parent has been physically or emotionally unavailable to their children, they will always fear being alone due to not being good enough. Later in life they may hold on to an abusive or toxic relationship for fear of being alone.
  • Anxiety – this is very common in children with high conflict parents but even more so where a parent drinks excessively. The child lives in a constant state of anxiety not knowing what the day will bring. Will the parent be angry abusive or violent that day?
  • Embarrassment – children with parents who are always intoxicated will not want to bring friends home after school for fear of what situation may arise.

We have written before about the effects of conflict between parents on their children, these are only heightened with alcohol and substance abuse.

Working Out The Arrangements for the Children After Separation
Depending on the circumstances and the extent of the substance abuse, working out arrangements for the children is not going to be straight forward if one or both parents are inebriated. One of the main effects of alcohol is that it causes heightened emotions and loss of the ability to judge a situation. The alcoholic will often not remember arguments or occurrences from the day before or in the past.

As an example, a father who had been having regular contact with his children since the divorce suddenly found himself banned from seeing his girls by the mother who believed his drinking whilst he was looking after the children had become dangerous. The father had absolutely no recollection of throwing his daughters out of his house whilst in his care. He could not remember why he had become angry with them and was confused the next morning when they were not with him. Luckily, the mother had been alerted and had come to pick them up.In this situation clearly the mother is not going to want the children going anywhere near their Dad but upon sobering up he wants to see them and is full of remorse and regret.

How Can Mediation Help?
Mediation sessions can work well if both parties are willing to listen and acknowledge the other’s side. In the situation described above where the trust has been broken, we would focus the mediation sessions on how to move forward with practical solutions to the issues. Whilst we will acknowledge the past events and the reasons for the breakdown in trust and communications, we would not focus on those – only on how to move forward positively.
For example, what do they need to do to make contact possible? There could be practical steps and suggestions to help build the trust again for the father to prove he is making positive steps towards changing himself for the better and addressing the addiction. Part of the agreement for making contact with the children possible again could be for him to:

  • Join AA or another substance abuse support group and attend regular meetings.
  • See a councillor, therapist or psychiatrist.
  • Be breathalysed before having contact with the children (with no overnight stays to begin with).
  • Start with supervised visits only at the family home or arrangements can be made through a contact centre with full supervision.

Can We Help You?
As experienced family mediators we have years of experience helping all types of families with different issues and reasons for conflict. We help separated couples and their children to move forwards positively with compromise and agreement. If you would like help or advice to see if mediation can help you in your situation, please do call us on 0788 903 9393.

Here are some further articles that you may find helpful:

A Step Closer to No-Fault Divorce

The UK Government has been planning the reform of the current divorce process for some time now. We first wrote about this in June 2019. The biggest change is to remove the necessity for either or both parties to claim a ‘fault’ with the other if they wish to divorce.

The current process has often been dubbed the “blame game” divorce and has been heavily criticised for years for the antagonism it causes between separating couples and their children.

What Will the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act Mean?

  • No Blame Game – The current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of either adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour will not be necessary.
  • Give Notice Jointly – Couples will for the first time be able to make a joint statement on the breakdown of the marriage. This replaces the necessity for one party to ‘petition’ and the other ‘respond’ which makes the process more lengthy and appear that one party is actioning the process without the consent of the other.
  • No Mutual Agreement Required – The new divorce process will also negate the necessity for mutual agreement of both parties on the divorce or any aspect of it. The opportunity to contest the decision to divorce will be removed, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
  • Faster Process – A new minimum period of 20 weeks will be introduced from the start of proceedings to confirm to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made. This will allow greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation has not been possible and a divorce is inevitable. The existing law created a very long drawn out process for couples who did not want to apportion blame: Separation of more than two years (if spouse agrees to the divorce) or a separation of at least five years (if spouse disagrees with the divorce).

The new laws will reduce conflict and the damaging effect this has on all parties including the children. The aim is to align the divorce law process with the government’s approach elsewhere in family law – which is to encourage a forward-looking non-confrontational approach wherever possible.

Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP said:

“The institution of marriage will always be upheld, but when divorce cannot be avoided the law should not exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing.

These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.”

When will the New Divorce Law Be Passed?

Whilst significant progress has been made and the proposed legislation to remove fault has passed through the House of Commons (17th June 2020). It must still return to the House of Lords before receiving Royal assent. The current proposed implementation period is for the Autumn of 2021.  

So, unfortunately if you are hoping to be able to proceed with a ‘no fault’ divorce, you will have to wait until the end of next year.

Always Putting the Children First

Here at Progressive Mediation we are overjoyed to see the bill go through the first part of its parliamentary journey. As family mediators we know only too well the heartache and conflict that can be caused during a marriage breakdown with the divorce law only increasing that discord.  Every effort should be made at all stages of separation to keep the lines of communication open between parents so that they can make the best decisions for their children together.

Do You Need Mediation To Resolve Divorce Conflict?

We are experienced family mediators and can provide MIAMs and family mediation sessions via Skype, Zoom and video conferencing. If you would like to find out more, please call us on 0788 903 9393 and we will advise you on the best course of action for your circumstances.

Reform of the Divorce Process – No-Fault Divorce

The UK Government plans to reform the current divorce process to make several changes including removing the necessity for either or both parties to claim a ‘fault’ with the other if they wish to divorce. Last month, in April 2019, the Government confirmed they would go ahead with the planned changes and introduce new legislation, as soon as parliamentary time becomes available.

Current Divorce Process

At the time of writing this, the process for divorce is lengthy, complicated and you will need to provide information to support or prove the following faults:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Unreasonable behaviour

If the spouses can wait longer or don’t want to blame one another there are these two options:

  • Separation of more than two years (if spouse agrees to the divorce)
  • Separation of at least five years (if spouse disagrees with the divorce)

It is easy to see why so many legal professionals see this process as outdated and how it causes more aggravation between separating couples who should be focusing on issues and arrangements for children, property and their finances.

A simplified overview of the current process is as follows:

  1. Petition – One party sends their petition to court. Court then issues the papers to the other party.
  2. Response – The other spouse receives the papers; they must then respond within 7 days by filling in a form called an ‘Acknowledgement of service’. (if it is not returned there is a lengthy process to move this stage forward.)
  3. Decree Nisi – Once the ‘Acknowledgement of service’ has been returned to the court, the petitioner can apply for the Decree Nisi. The district judge will consider the petition and papers to decide if the petitioner is entitled to divorce. If the Judge is satisfied all is in order, a Certificate will be issued confirming the time, date and place when Decree Nisi will be pronounced.
  4. Order From Court – After the Decree Nisi has been pronounced the Order from the Court will be received. The Decree Nisi confirms that the petitioner is entitled to a divorce, but the divorce is not yet finalised.
  5. Decree Absolute – Six weeks and one day from the date Decree Nisi is pronounced the petitioner can then apply for the Decree Nisi to be made Absolute which will finalise the divorce.

Although this may seem simple enough, the process can take months, particularly if one party is not cooperative. At each stage, the process can be held up by objections, financial issues and the respondent not complying within the specified time frame.

What Changes to the Divorce Process are Planned?

No-Fault and No Allocation of Blame

In the first instance, the ‘blame game’ that couples are forced to play currently, will no longer be a necessity. A couple or one party would only need to notify the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

There will not be the need for accusations, finger pointing, and blame apportioned to either party. It is the allocation of blame that causes the stressful courtroom battles that are so consuming and unpleasant for all involved.

Let’s not forget how witnessing their parents fighting is one of the most damaging things to children. For separating parents, it is so much more difficult to focus on the needs of their children when they must prove a fault-based fact against their former partner.

Faster Process

The reforms will also mean that couples will not now have to wait two years (of living separately) to start the divorce process if they had not wanted to apportion blame. Under the current process couples who want to divorce quickly would have to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour which aside from causing emotional issues, could then be contested by the respondent.

If a couple do not both consent to the divorce and there is no evidence of fault, the applicants would have to wait until they have been living apart for five years, before the divorce proceedings could begin.

Mutual Agreement

The new divorce process will also negate the necessity for mutual agreement of both parties on the divorce or any aspect of it. The ability for one person to contest a divorce will be removed.

Allow Couples to Give Notice Jointly

This change will mean that a couple who mutually agree they want to divorce, can start the process together rather than one party having to ‘petition’ and the other ‘respond’. This will save time and a lot of administrative issues if they apply jointly.

These joint applications will also be allowed to become sole applications if the situation were to arise. Equality sole applications would be allowed to become joint applications.

Putting the Children First

These are just some of the proposed changes and we wholeheartedly agree that they will benefit everyone involved in divorce. As much as we would all hope that every marriage will stand the test of time, it is sometimes better for people to be apart. As experienced family mediators, we have seen the stress and sadness that can be placed on young shoulders as they become drawn into adult relationship breakdowns.

How Court Proceedings can Damage Children of Separating Parents

In many of our blogs we have looked at the emotional effect of parents’ separation on the children involved. Fighting and involving the children in the disputes will cause stress and anxiety, putting unnecessary  psychological burdens on to young shoulders.

Continue reading How Court Proceedings can Damage Children of Separating Parents