Monthly Archives: February 2015

A better outcome for children

IMG_2467EmmaHcropEmma Hatley explains the advantages to parents of keeping their divorce matters out of court if possible.

The end of a relationship is always particularly distressing where children are involved. I have seldom met parents who didn’t feel anxiety about how their children would cope with the changes in their family unit, or a keen sense of responsibility to make things better. Almost everyone wants to put their kids first on divorce, and to do what they can to make it as easy on them as possible.

The problem is that when your relationship has just ended, there are so many things to think about and so many overwhelming emotions to deal with. Inevitably, parents’ perspective can often remain unwittingly focused on the short term – after all, the future is suddenly a different landscape to what you knew before so it’s difficult to look further ahead. Added to that, legal proceedings in unfamiliar rooms with lawyers speaking for you can make people feel that they are not in control of their own destiny, or their children’s, which can add to the pressure.

It doesn’t have to be like this, however. When parents are separating or divorcing, their desire to do their best for the children usually remains their common ground, even if they have different ideas on how this should be accomplished. In collaborative law or mediation everyone is committed to keeping decisions in the hands of the parents, rather than in the rooms of the court. Collaborative lawyers and mediators work on the basis that you know your children best, you love them most, and you are the people most likely to find a solution that works for them. The lawyers, mediators and perhaps in some cases other independent experts too, are there to help, guide and support you towards making those important decisions in the right way for your family.

In a collaborative or mediation setting when I am helping separated parents work out future family arrangements, whether these relate to finances, property, the children or anything else, it is easier to encourage a long-term view because there is plenty of scope for the discussion of possibilities. I, and my fellow Creative Divorce practitioners, aim to develop an understanding that the adults’ relationship as co-parents will continue for the rest of their lives, even where their relationship as partners or spouses may be over. Where this matters to the parents – and it does to most – we help them to consider the effects of any potential decisions on the children, and indeed from the children’s perspective, before finalising a course of action.

I feel passionately that working things through via the collaborative process or mediation give parents a better shot at being able to smile together at a son’s wedding or daughter’s graduation in years to come than the court process does. I have heard from former clients how good it feels to hear, often many years later, that your children are proud of the way you dealt with your divorce. I really believe that wherever collaborative law or mediation are appropriate, they’re worth a try for the chance of a better future.

Relocation matters

Richard Harrison QCRichard Harrison QC shares his ideas on how non-court dispute resolution can be useful in international relocation cases.

As a barrister, I spend a lot of my time in court. Some of the more difficult cases I deal with are ‘leave to remove’ or ‘relocation’ cases, where one parent is seeking to take children to live abroad permanently after the breakdown of a marriage or partnership in this country. Often, the other parent resists and refuses to give consent for this to happen.

If the agreement of the other parent is not forthcoming, the parent wishing to go has to apply to the court. The legal framework for how this needs to be done is very clear, and the process is a detailed one. In many cases, the court permits the parent to go; in others, it does not. The result is often finely balanced.

Relocation cases have the reputation of being very hard to settle because is always seems that one parent has to win and one has to lose: the children either go or they stay. However, it’s not always that clear-cut. The collaborative process offers parents a real way to talk about whether there is anything that can be done to smooth the path of the parent who wishes to leave the country to make it more bearable for her (or him) to stay, whether there is any possibility that the remaining parent could also relocate and what might make it easier for him (or her) to do so, and if the relocation is to take place what the arrangements for the children to have time with both their parents should be.

Even though the interests of the parents may seem completely polarised at first glance, skilled collaborative practitioners and mediators can use parents’ shared focus on their children to facilitate discussions from which creative solutions might evolve.

The court deals with an application for relocation by deciding whether it is in the children’s best interests to go or to stay. To determine this question, considers a number of different factors.   My role in the collaborative process is most often to explain what a court would do if faced with the facts and suggestions of the family in front of me. This information works as part of the process to allow the parents to consider the court’s perspective on the children’s interests and how closely it accords with what they themselves think.

I can either give a written opinion or come to a meeting to discuss how changes in the proposals made by each parent might affect what a court would do, and give my own views, if asked, on any possible compromise.

I have heard parents explain that even though they know what the outcome of an application to relocate is likely to be, they feel they have to maintain their position – either to go or to resist – for their children’s sake. It’s important to remember that children do not benefit in the long term from their parents fighting, particularly about them. It is often better to discuss matters and try to reach a consensual solution. In my opinion collaborative law is an excellent forum that can yield workable solutions both for parents and for children.