Emma 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.