Tag Archives: Children

Supporting your children

Suzy PowerCreative Divorce’s Family Consultant Suzy Power looks at how best to support your children through separation and divorce.

For most couples who are struggling with their relationship, children are the overriding concern when considering the possibility of separating. All parents worry about the effects of parental separation on their children and the prospect of an uncertain future for the children can exacerbate the trauma of the decision-making. The most common question I am asked is “will they be ok?”.

There are certain key things that all parents can commit to, which can really help their children through the period of separation and beyond.

  • It’s crucial not to fight with each other. If you can’t do that, you need to ensure that children are protected from any future conflict. Conflict is damaging for everyone and particularly for children.   If you say to your children that when you separate there won’t be any more fighting, then it’s important to keep your promise.
  • Give your children an understanding as to what’s happening. Children generally want a simple straightforward explanation of what’s going to happen rather than being kept in the dark.
  • Respond to their questions when they’re ready to ask rather than overloading them with too much information at the outset.
  • Acknowledge that this is likely to be a sad/difficult/tricky time for everyone and that you will both be there for them to work things out and listen to their worries.
  • Children need to be able to spend time with each of you knowing that you’re both comfortable with this arrangement. This means the children can go between you without having to worry about divided loyalties or keeping secrets.
  • Retain as much continuity as possible – school, activities, sports, friends and grandparents can all provide a sense of stability.
  • Make sure you have plenty of support yourself, whether from friends or professional help from a counsellor. It can be hard helping your children when you’re feeling stressed and emotionally drained, so anything you can do to keep yourself strong will help the children too.

I am a great advocate of mediation and the collaborative process for parents going through separation as these processes keep the channels of communication open and support parents in focusing on the needs of their children as they work out future arrangements. In my experience, this tends to result in outcomes that work better in meeting the long term interests of all family members rather than those reached through litigation. Where collaborative law and mediation are appropriate, they offer the best opportunity for parents to find solutions that work well for everyone and for them to reach lasting and constructive arrangements regarding their children’s wellbeing.

suzyepower@blueyonder.co.uk

 

A Different Mediation Model

Suzanne KingstonSuzanne Kingston explains how mediation’s flexibility as a process makes it ideal for resolving complex and entrenched disputes.

For the last few years, policy-makers and family law practitioners alike have been raising the profile of mediation as a dispute-resolution process in order to try to relieve some of the strain of litigation both on individual families and on the courts. The discussion tends to focus on the traditional set-up of family mediation. This is where two former partners meet in a room together with a mediator for 3-5 sessions of about 90 minutes each, and work out a way forward which is tolerable to both, and works for the wider family if relevant. However, this is not the only way to practise family mediation.

Where a family’s circumstances are more complicated, perhaps because of the scale of the assets involved, the involvement of foreign interests or difficult tax arrangements, the family involved may find that a ‘quasi-civil’ model of family mediation suits them better. This tends to involve the estranged spouses and their lawyers attending mediation for a few days if necessary with a specially-trained family mediator who directs the process and assists the two people at the centre of the dispute to come to an agreement. Some meetings may take place between the mediator and each team without the other being present; some meetings are between the spouses and the mediator only; and some are with everyone together, perhaps to hear from a jointly instructed expert about tax for example, or to negotiate specific points. The process can adapt to the needs of the family involved.

I myself have had several successes as a mediator with this model even where cases involved have been at final hearing stage. One example is where I assisted in a large complex mediation where the parties had jurisdiction issues in the background but were willing to put those to one side in order to mediate, knowing that they could resurrect them if needed in the future. We worked together over four days to discuss all issues – money and children – and reached a successful conclusion which enabled the couple involved to move on in a positive way.

In mediation, of course, all discussions are ‘without prejudice’ meaning they cannot be referred to in court if the process does not lead to a resolution – this takes away the risks involved in trying, and enables everyone to put their cards fully on the table in the knowledge that it cannot be used against them later.

One of the many benefits of dealing with a family dispute in this way is that the couple involved are able to resolve their disagreements at a substantially lower cost both in financial and in personal terms than if they had proceeded with a final court hearing. The semi-civil model of family mediation is not universally practised by family mediators, and is not appropriate in all cases. However, where it seems that all else has failed even in the most complicated of circumstances, it may be worth your while to seek out a civil/family mediator for one final roll of the dice.

Suzanne.kingston@withersworldwide.com

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.