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New resources and services available to children whose parents are separating and when should children be involved in the family mediation process?

Posted on April 1, 2013

In a recent joint family mediation session I held with parents to three children, the parents had agreed to separate but were unsure how to tell the children that they would be divorcing shortly.
Parent One wanted to tell the children with both parents present while the other parent (Parent Two) initially did not want to be present. Parent Two then took some time to reflect during the joint mediation session and agreed that both parents should be present when they spoke to the children. It was agreed that a unified front would be best for the three children to see even though the parents would be living separately. Both parents also wanted to show that they could still communicate to each other so agreed to plan in advance what would be told to the children. It would be an impossible scenario to plan the reaction of the children but they would also think through what questions they may be asked. Exams were going on for the next week so it was agreed that they would both speak to the children after this stressful period when everyone would be calmer.
The parents left the session together talking about what resources and people their children may consult once they had discussed the divorce which prompted me to look into what is currently available.
Resources and Services
The children’s TV programme ‘Sesame Street’ has explored the sensitive topic of divorce in December 2012 for the first time and has posted online videos for its viewers. In one of the videos the scene shows drawings held up by the Sesame Street characters:

“This one is where I live with my mommy. And this is the one where I live with my daddy,” says the Muppet character about the two houses. ‘But, Abby why don’t you all live in one house together?’ ask Elmo. ‘Well, because my parents are divorced,’ says Abby. ‘Divorced? What does divorced mean?’ Elmo asks. Abby then explains to her friends what divorce means.

In contact centre cases I have worked on at Welcare it is not unusual for one child to ask the parent during a session why do the parents no longer live together. By Sesame Street posing these questions for young children this could in some way help.

Also a short film has been created in America called ‘Split: Children’s journey through divorce’ which is available online. The children filmed are aged between 6-12 years old. The film aims to get children talking to each other, to their parents and to other adults in their lives to encourage children to say what they need and want as their family environment changes through divorce.
Children And Family Court Advisory And Support Service ‘CAFCASS’ has used social media through Twitter in January 2013 for young people to voice parental separations impact on Kids. Someone tweeted “I was worried, but it was ok because I went through it with my brother. It was confusing at first, but it slowly made sense.”
‘A Kidspace’ in London has been formed by an experienced drama therapist and counsellor. They run a support programme for children going through family breakdown. I have been fortunate to meet one of the founders twice and she speaks very passionately and knowledgeably about how their programme helps children to cope, manage changes and come to terms with the separation of their parents. A parent has provided feedback on the service on the ‘A Kidspace’ website ‘When my children arrived at your door they had no ‘points of reference’ and absolutely no ‘coping mechanisms’ in place for what was happening to them, and indeed for anything that might be going to happen to them. Within the safety of ‘A Kidspace’ they were able to be quiet, to be angry, to play, draw, listen and talk…..if they wanted to. I know that each of my three girls got something different from the experience’.
When I arrange supervised contact sessions CAFCASS often ask how will the children be prepared when there has been a long gap since the child had contact with one parent so I am pleased to see ‘A Kidspace’ offering this valuable service to children.
Direct Consultation With Children in Mediation
Since training to be a family mediator three years ago, several of my children issue mediation cases have led to the parents deciding that they would like to involve their children as part of the mediation process.
A training course needs to be undertaken to carry out Direct Consultations with Children (DCC) and have an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau carried out before you can mediate with children.
How does a DCC work?
During a DCC, the children have a session with a qualified Direct Child Consultant where the parents are not present and the children are given the time and space in a safe and confidential place to discuss what they would like, their wishes, and feelings for the future to be.
The wishes and thoughts of the children are then passed on to the parents in a separate meeting so that the desires of the children can then be taken into account when making decisions for the child arrangements for the future.
It is important before arranging a DCC session that the parents sign a consent form agreeing for the children to take part in the session.

When might involving children in the mediation process be appropriate?
Both parents may feel that their children should be given the chance to have a voice in the future family structure and can play a part in how new arrangements are going to operate. This may help to allay some of the fears that children have about the parents separating.
Children can be asked to have a session with the mediator at different points of the mediation process.
I have been involved in a case when the father relocated to Japan and the three teenage children and mother remained in London. The three teenage children wanted to find out why the parents’ relationship had broken down as this had not been explained to them. The three children had only been having contact through email and wanted to use the session to arrange when they could have direct contact with their father.
In other mediation cases the parents had previously been litigating in court to decide which A-level school the child should attend. When the child attended the direct consultation a school was proposed that neither parent had considered which helped to decide which school should be applied for and avoided further litigation.
It can also be useful to discuss the children’s on-going relationships with the wider family.
Involving children in mediation will not always be the best option but from my experience of working with children at a contact centre for over ten years most children like to be given the chance to be heard in person.
Parents will be informed before the mediation session with the child that:-
• The children will not be asked to make the decisions and choices;
• The mediators respect their parents’ authority;
• A child will not be seen without both parents’ consent;
• Parents will be briefed clearly how the mediation session with the child works and the purpose of the meeting before asking if the child would like to be part of the process.
The mediator has to respect the confidentially of the information the child shares with the mediator unless there is a risk of harm.
I often get asked at what age children should be mediating. I personally would find it hard to mediate with a child younger than 8 years old. This really is down to the parents’ view on the child’s capacity to use and understand the opportunity. I have not experienced a situation where a child has refused to be part of the mediation process yet.
For cases that have complex issues I would look to co-mediate the children session.
Some children have preferred to come straight after school while other children have expressed a preference to mediate at the weekend. It is also discussed with the children who will bring them to their session and where the person collecting them should wait. The children are also told when the feedback will be given to the parents and what format the feedback will take.
Meeting with the children will not resolve all of the issues but from my experience has in several cases aided communication at a difficult time. The childrens’ needs are given paramount consideration in the process. A lot of children have liked the session with the mediator as they know the mediator is independent from the family and will not take sides to their expressed views.
The child mediation sessions are not therapy as the mediators are not trained for this but children have commented to me that the mediation session helped them to understand the changes that were about to take place, find their own way to cope with the separation when they may feel that they have to take sides and to express their feelings about the separation. It is important to acknowledge how the child feels and have soft drinks available along with time for short breaks if the child wants this.
If the child wants to have support from people other than their family it can be explored if there is someone at the child’s school or a school counselling service who may be of assistance.
I believe that where it is appropriate children should be given the opportunity to be part of the mediation process. From my experience children do not want to be involved in any conflict arising from separation but would like to help shape their future arrangements particularly on shared parenting issues by voicing their views.
Austin Chessell is a Family Mediator at FAMIA and Family Solicitor at Shortlands Solicitors.

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Shared parenting presumptions are set to be introduced by the Government in the Children Act 1989

Posted on January 27, 2013

Proposed Clause
The Department for Education announced on 6th November 2012 that it proposes to introduce amendments to The Children Act 1989 to allow for a presumption of shared parenting. There will be a new section 1 (2A) inserted into the Act as follows:
“(2A) A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”
The restrictions upon the presumption will be elaborated in new sub-sections (6) and (7) as follows:
“(6) In subsection (2A) “parent” means parent of the child concerned; and, for the purposes of that subsection, a parent of the child concerned -
(a) is within this paragraph if that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm; and
(b) is to be treated as being within paragraph (a) unless there is some evidence before the court in the particular proceedings to suggest that involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering harm whatever the form of the involvement.
(7) The circumstances referred to are that the court is considering whether to make an order under section 4(1)(c) or (2A) or 4ZA(1)(c) or (5) (parental responsibility of parent other than mother).”
In simplified terms this would mean that the courts’ starting position would be that both parents should be involved in the raising of the child and that there would need to be a clear reason to have one of them not involved, e.g. the risk of harm to the child.
The legal changes are likely to come into effect in 2013.
Courts will continue to apply the welfare principle and the general ‘checklist’ of factors will not change.
Explanatory Note
The draft clause also has an explanatory note:
‘The purpose of this amendment is to reinforce the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests. The effect of this amendment is to require the court, in making decisions on contested section 8 orders, the contested variation or discharge of such orders, or the award or removal of parental responsibility, to presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each of the child’s parents in his or her life, unless it can be shown such involvement would not in fact further the child’s welfare’’.
Examples of where I have encountered risk of harm to the child on contact cases
I have encountered this as a solicitor and even in this situation some form of contact was ordered by the court. A mother was threatening to physically attack the father and the child so it was ordered that contact should be indirect through letters three to four times a year where the letter was checked for suitability before being passed to the child.
I do volunteer work at a contact centre and have recently interviewed a mother. It was ordered at court that the father has supervised contact at a contact centre as there was a concern that the father may poison the child’s food. In this case contact was supervised with no food being allowed to be given to the son from the father during contact.
Burden of Proof
With the new changes it will no longer be necessary for one of the parents to prove why contact and residence is in the child’s best interests and the burden of proof will now be on the opposing parent to the application to detail reasons to rebut the presumption.
From my experience, shortly after separation emotions can run very high which may account for a parent to look to rebut the burden of proof, but, over time, both parents reach a business-like relationship for contact and residence arrangements so hopefully this new burden of proof will not create further litigation between the parties. If the separating parents work together this really can play a big part in the child’s future positive development. I give each of my mediation clients a copy of the leaflet ‘Kids In The Middle’ which helps to explain this approach.
Other options or services to resolve contact and residence disputes
With legal aid in family law matters likely to be withdrawn next year for contact and residence matters, it is important that where both parents are minded to go to court and who may now be forced to act in person, do not feel that before they get to court it will be a case of ‘’winners and losers’’.
If parents are properly advised before they go to court that there is now a presumption of shared parenting, this should encourage more couples to attempt family mediation to reach a balanced arrangement to decide where the children will live and how contact will work. I find these agreements are less likely to fall apart as the parents know their own commitments and the child’s commitments and can then shape contact accordingly to suit these factors.
Also, if parents attend the Separated Parents Information Programme at the start of their separation rather than being ordered to attend the course at the end of a final hearing this may help them to agree contact and residence arrangements at an early stage rather than having a long and contested court hearing.
Contact time
The proposed changes do not state how much time the child should spend with each parent. This will be for the court to decide.
From the couples I work with in mediation sessions it is very rare to get an actual split of 50/50 contact time.
For cases where the baby is only a few months old the non-resident parent tends to have frequent and regular contact for a few hours as the baby needs to sleep and be fed but there are some examples where both parents live in close proximity and overnight contacts do happen for 3-4 nights a week where both parents are accustomed to caring for the child’s daily and overnight needs.
When we are arranging contact for teenagers this is often done with children being part of the process (Direct Consultation with Children) as the teenagers are keen for parents to be aware that they sometimes want to be with their friends at the weekend or do sports activities to mix with their peers.
Where there is not a 50/50 split of contact time in the week, or where one parent lives abroad, then the non-resident parent tends to have more generous holiday contact time so that there is a nice balance in contact time.
Skype is no substitute for direct contact, but this is increasingly forming part of contact arrangements where one parent lives abroad.
Other Jurisdictions who have introduced shared parenting
Shared Parenting schemes have been introduced in Australia and Denmark but there are question marks as to how successful they have been. The Scottish legal system has a more modern approach which sets out a declaration of parental rights. Hopefully we can learn from what has worked and not worked in other jurisdictions when the new changes come in to force.
Other views to the proposed changes
There are mixed views to the proposed changes being introduced.
The Law Society: ‘’The Welfare of children must always come before the rights of parents and no legislation should create or point to a perception that there is an assumed parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents. While the government’s intention to promote co-operative parenting is welcomed, legislation to promote shared parenting is not needed. Current legislation adequately provided the right framework for securing a child’s welfare.’’
Ken Sanderson, Chief Executive Office of Families Need Fathers has welcomed the announcement: ‘’This is a very positive move, and will help to ensure that as many children as possible can continue to benefit from a meaningful relationship with both parents following separation and divorce’’.
Final thoughts
The ‘shared parenting’ provision appears to be in line with what YouGov surveyed in June 2012. 84% responded that both parents deserve equal custody rights and 85% said fathers are instrumental to a child’s life.
Shared care will now be a regular reminder to parents that the children were created by both parents and should not be brainwashed against a parent or be used to win points against their former partner.
It is hard to predict if this change will result in fewer children disagreements proceeding to court but it is hoped that parents will recognise and take on board the new presumptions and if disagreements do arise they will be settled by incurring fewer costs and using other options such as mediation which can generally offer a quicker timeframe to the court timetable. Listing a matter at court from my experience can be around 6 weeks. Most mediation clients I see who reach agreement do this within a 6 week period.

Austin Chessell is a Family Mediator at FAMIA and a Family Solicitor at Shortlands Solicitors.

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Divorce – The Process

Posted on September 26, 2012

If you are planning on getting a divorce, there are a number of steps you must take in order to complete the process. Generally speaking, the more you and your husband or wife agree on regarding the ‘facts’ or ‘grounds’ for divorce, the quicker the process will be. In this case, a divorce taking place in the United Kingdom it is likely to take at least four months. If, however you and your spouse do not agree on key issues, then it might take much longer.
The main issues that ideally require agreement from both parties are:
• Reasons for getting divorced
• Who will look after any children or dependants
• How will you divide up assets and money between you both
There are five types of ‘grounds’ you can use for a divorce.
• Adultery – whereby your husband or wife had a sexual relationship with another person. In addition you must not wish to live together, or already be living apart as a result of the adultery.
• Unreasonable behaviour – a situation in which your husband or wife’s behaviour is intolerable. This might take the form of physical or verbal abuse, or not showing enough affection or attention – among others.
• Desertion – whereby your spouse has left you. Absence of one and a half of the previous 2 years must be established. If there has been no good reason and no agreement about the spouse leaving, and furthermore that they deserted you in order to finish the relationship, then desertion may be grounds for divorce.
• Living separately for more than 2 years with agreement of both parties
• Living separately for more than 5 years

Separation is the situation whereby you and your husband or wife live separate lives, but have not yet reached the stage of divorce. Indeed, the aim of separation is sometimes to allow time for the marriage to be repaired. A court order may be granted during a separation in order to establish things like child custody and division of money or assets.
The Stages of Divorce
To begin divorce proceedings, you must file a ‘divorce petition’, also known as form D8. In this you will provide your personal details along with names of any children and reasons for divorce. You will need your original marriage certificate to do this. The cost of filing a divorce petition in the United Kingdom is currently £340.
Once the form is received by the court, a copy is sent to your husband or wife. They will then be asked if they wish to defend or not to defend the divorce. If they choose to defend the divorce, the process is likely to take a lot longer and lead to much bigger legal bills.
If your husband or wife does not wish to defend the divorce, you can apply for a decree nisi, which means the court accepts that there is no reason not to grant the divorce.
The next and final stage is to obtain a decree absolute, which will formally end your marriage.
Written by James Sheehan, a passionate blogger with past legal experience

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Mediation and Divorce Update August 2012

Posted on August 29, 2012

Using mediation to improve communication.
In my Family mediation practice I am heartened at the amount of cases where both people who hold entrenched positions and often have raised emotions at the intake meeting and early joint sessions then go on to reach a full agreement on the issues raised.
Below are some examples of my recent mediation cases. Certain facts have been changed to protect the clients’ identity.
• The mother had recently moved out of the former matrimonial home in Surrey. She was looking to relocate in the south of England with the son of the family and wanted the son to reside with her during the week. The father worked at home on a self-employed basis and he wanted the son to live with him during the week. The father was concerned that the mother was going to make domestic violence allegations against him as an argument to aid her contact case after finding domestic violence leaflets in the lounge. The mother was concerned about the father’s choice of activities with the son after the son who was aged less than 10 years old regularly said to the mother ‘dad is taking me to the pub this weekend’.

The mother explained in the mediation joint session that she did have a domestic violence leaflet but only because they were provided to her as part of the leaflets given to her at an initial consultation from a solicitor as she wanted to know her legal rights but said that the leaflets were not of interest to her and acknowledged that there had never been domestic violence in the relationship.

The father when hearing the mother’s child activity concerns agreed that even though the child was taken to the beer garden and not inside the pub, other child activities such as going to the cinema or the park would be more age appropriate.

After this session the parties realised that the son was picking up on the tension of both parties not compromising and a shared care plan was then agreed whereby the son would live with the dad in the week and the mother was happy to have more contact over the holiday periods. Mediation encouraged communication which improved understanding and resulted in agreement.

• With many couples, one party wants to discuss financial matters as the main issue first while the other party is interested in contact matters as they may not have seen their children for a long time. In these cases the parties either decide to split the joint session of 90 minutes into proportions of children and financial time. Or it is agreed that financial and children matters need to be fully discussed before any agreement is documented into a Memorandum of Understanding (which is the mediation agreement). If there are finances then a financial summary is also prepared.

• For high value financial matters mediation can also help to improve communications. In one case, throughout the marriage the husband had been the higher earner. He was established in his career but towards the end of the marriage he returned to his studies. The wife who was mainly a home wife started to work in a company but was given some shares by the employer.

The wife was then at the right place at the right time when an announcement was made at work that the employees had the option to cash in some of the shares for several hundred thousand pounds. Just after this had happened the parties separated. There had been recent domestic violence so this case was mediated on a ‘’co-mediation shuttle’’ basis. Shuttle mediation is where both parties are in separate rooms. It is not something that I promote but sometimes it is a good option as the couple do not want to be in the same room. As part of the agreement it was proposed that the wife would pay the husband a lump sum of the fees already received from the shares but she would be entitled to the full benefit from any further shares from the company. This was a high conflict case where at the start of the case the wife was saying that she was prepared to leave the company so that no one would benefit from the shares. The financial disclosure was also completed in two 90 minute sessions which from my experience is a lot quicker than disclosure through a Form E document which often takes much longer.

• In another financial case a cohabiting couple came to mediation where the mother wanted to separate from the father. The mother had become disillusioned by the relationship. The mother had qualifications but had not worked for many years while the father was a wealthy businessman who worked with technologies. It was agreed that the expensive flat where the rent was over £100,000 per year would be retained by the father. The father would look to buy a holiday home in the Mediterranean where the mother could visit with the child for holidays. The father would also purchase a flat for her and the child in a commutable distance to where the father lived until the child reached 18 years old. It was also agreed that the property would be near to where the mother’s grandfather lived to assist with the childcare.

• In some cases agreement may be reached on say 85% of the issues and the couple decide to go to court on the remaining points. In these situations at least the issues have been narrowed for court proceedings and where children are involved communication has been maintained which is important as the parents will need to continue to liaise with each other even though they are living separately.
Controlling the fees incurred
When couples come to mediation it is explained that, there will be an intake session which is can be attended individually or together. There will then be between 3-5 joint sessions depending on whether children and / or financial issues are raised. This means that the parties could have an idea in mind before they start mediation how many sessions there are likely to be involved.
The joint sessions can move as fast as the couple wish them too. Costs are therefore more tightly controlled by and affordable to the parties.
Why separating couples need to communicate effectively to resolve their financial and / or children issues whilst also keeping their fees under control and how mediation can help.
F v F [2012] EWHC 438 (Fam)
The case of F v F was a final hearing case. It was a financial remedy application in a complex big money case. Mrs Justice Macur’s opening paragraph highlights how millions of pounds in fees were incurred by both parties and that even the Counsel did not want to communicate unless they were in the court room. She said:
“This ancillary relief dispute has been the subject of three substantive directions hearing and conducted at a final hearing by specialist matrimonial leading and junior counsel on each side, instructed by specialist matrimonial solicitors and costing the husband and the wife £2.4million between them. Both the husband and the wife have been surrounded by a legal entourage of at least five personnel throughout the eight days of proceedings in court. I regret that these statistics have not ensured compliance with rules of evidence, the Pre-action protocol and FPR 2010 or the spirit of practice direction 25A effective for proceedings commenced post 6 April 2011. In these circumstances the raised emotions, distrust, entrenched position and consequent waste of court time were entirely predictable. The positions has not been ameliorated by the apparent disinclination of Counsel to communicate throughout the hearing save in the Court room itself culminating in the necessity for me to direct the exchange of written closing submissions before I was addressed on the same since otherwise “the usual practice” of providing them just at the moment when the address began would have been followed. It is difficult to conceive that either party can have their expectations realistically managed in such a scenario.”
Whether the cases are big money cases or not, Family practitioners will be familiar with the antagonism between the parties which seems to have migrated to the respective legal teams despite the introductions of MIAMs on 6th April 2011. The above quote is a salutary reminder of the need for the parties and their representatives to communicate. In my experience, mediation is a useful tool to achieve that and can help to save costs.

Austin Chessell is a Family Solicitor at Shortlands Solicitors and is a Family Mediator at FAMIA

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“Quickie Divorce”

Posted on July 20, 2012

We are constantly bombarded in the press with stories about celebs getting divorced. This month is no exception with the breaking news about Katie Holmes deciding to divorce Tom Cruise. The general public always seem fascinated with following the highs and lows of the lives of celebrities. Seeing them deal with births, deaths, marriages and divorce makes celebs seem more like “real” people. It reminds us that they too go through the same challenges in life as us “normal” people.
Divorce holds a stigma (rightly or wrongly) for being expensive, acrimonious and taking a long time to finalise. This theory is then thrown out of the window when we read reports about celebs getting “quickie divorces.” If we believe the press, the Holmes/Cruise divorce has taken about a week to finalise. Seriously?! Does their celeb status and huge wealth mean they can manipulate the legal system to their advantage by getting their case heard quicker in the courts than us “normal” people? Or, does it mean that there is such thing as a quickie divorce, and they are available for everyone? Or, is it something else entirely? I have my own theories. What I do know however, is that it is important to remember we will never know the whole truth, and can only rely on massaged information provided by the media.
Given a choice, I suspect all my clients would opt for a “quickie divorce” if this was available. There is a natural desire to want to get the divorce over and done with as quickly as possible. Why is this? In my experience there are several reasons:
1. No one gets married thinking they will get divorced and it is a very upsetting and difficult time. It is understandable they would want this sad period in their life behind them as quickly as possible, so they can move on to happier times.

2. The theory is that the quicker the divorce is over with, the less time spent with the solicitors and consequently the less money spent on legal costs. In reality, the length of time the divorce case takes is largely dependent on how quickly and easier the divorcing couple reach agreement on financial and children matters.

3. The legal process has a reputation of being intimidating and complicated, and clients want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

4. Mediation can be very helpful to improve communication, and keep the cost down.

5. Your friendly divorce coach and family law solicitor can also support and guide you through the process. You may not need to step inside a court, and solicitors are not that scary really.

6. There seems to be a presumption that a quick divorce is less painful because the legal case is over with quickly. Less arguing over assets and children will mean the legal case should be over with quicker. But you still need time to process your feelings and recover from the personal, practical and emotional issues which a divorce inevitably brings. This takes time and everyone deals with things in their own way and at their own speed.
For more information about support and guidance relating to all issues regarding divorce and separation, please get in touch with me at
Rhiannon Ford
Divorce and Separation Consultant
Tel. 07970 2231744

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Solicitors Journal Article – Family Mediation & Divorce Update April 2012

Posted on July 20, 2012

A year after the Ministry of Justice introduced mediation as an integral part of certain divorce proceedings, Austin Chessell reflects on his experience in practice

Twelve months have passed since mediation information assessment meetings (MIAMs) were introduced on 6 April 2011, during which time FAMIA has seen more than 90 privately funded clients for children and financial mediations.
In September 2011, Coronation Street characters Steve and Becky mentioned that they were taking part in family mediation together. The storyline was positive, in that Steve mentioned that the couple were getting on better than before. I believe this is true of a lot of mediation cases; often with each session that passes communication and trust between the couple, which may have been strained since their separation, improves. This is vital where there are children involved as the parents will still need to communicate despite planning to lead separate lives.
Court referrals
Many of the mediators I have spoken to have commented on how many judges have asked whether the parties have tried other options to court and, if they have not, the judge has suggested that they do so. I have experienced this with clients three times in the past year from London courts.

In the first case I received a referral from a north London court where the judge was deeply concerned about the parents arguing over where the children would reside and how contact would work when it was clear that both parents were committed to being competent carers. The mother was suffering from a serious illness but had the support of her immediate family and the judge could sense that the court proceedings were not helping. He suggested that proceedings were paused while mediation was attempted. I have conducted the intake session for both parents and am now waiting for a date to start the joint session to see if an agreement can be reached between the mother and father based on their contact and residence proposals.

In the second case I was contacted by the mother after the judge adjourned proceedings. The parents are from different countries but both reside in England. There were long protracted divorce proceedings and also child abduction hearings. Finances had been resolved through the court. However, there was a dispute over contact now that the children were older and one party to the case felt that the children contact order needed to be updated as it was five years old.
I met both parties for their intake session. Their issues were defined but little progress was made at the first joint session. Nevertheless, both parents agreed that the children should have a voice and be involved in the mediation process. I arranged for the children to see a child-trained mediator. The case is now moving to a co-mediation model. The agreed wishes and feelings of the children will be explained to the parents from what the children have agreed to be passed back to the parents. We will then return to exploring solutions for the children issues that have been raised.

The third case was also referred from the Principal Registry. The first appointment had taken place but the father requested mediation be attempted before the financial dispute resolution hearing. The couple were both of Asian background and married in India. Both had children from a previous marriage but no children from their short marriage, which lasted 18 months. Financial disclosure took place and options were then explored for settlement. This case returned to court as the parties would not compromise on how the financial assets could be divided but found that a lot of the issues that were originally raised had been narrowed for the next court hearing.

A judge promoted the benefits of mediation in the case of V v V [2011] EWHC 1190. Justice Peter Jackson ensured that the parties were aware of the court’s powers to adjourn the case and the requirement to bear in mind mediation. The judge said he “expected this option will be very much in the mind of judges concluding any future cases”. This follows the comments of Nicholas Wilson, Lord Justice of Appeal, in the foreword to Lisa Parkinson’s excellent book, Family Mediation – Appropriate Dispute Resolution in a new family justice system (2nd Edition), where he says: “For long mediators have been forecasting a breakthrough for family mediation. Today, at least, the forecast is solidly based.” And then goes onto say: “Mediation will no longer be outside the system nor even running in parallel with the system. It will indeed be in the system.”
It is apparent that month by month at FAMIA there are an increasing number of clients selecting mediation as the process to resolve their financial and/or children issues and I think that the implementation of MIAMs is playing a key role in this.

How it works
Arranging sessions
Whether this is for a MIAM or the first mediation session it can sometimes take several hours to get everything arranged and scheduled, of which only half of this time will be the meeting itself. After speaking to the clients to explain how mediation works, I send the client’s proposed schedule dates from Doodle ( to make scheduling the event easier.

90-minute joint sessions on different days
Two mediation cases have requested for family mediation to take place in a day or half day rather than have sessions over several meetings. At FAMIA we tend to discourage this as we find that family mediation agreements are best reached when the parties are not being rushed and have time to reflect on issues between sessions. There will also be cases where clients need to obtain legal advice in between sessions or collect further information.

In one case, the parties had already completed form E through their solicitors. There were two properties and it was proposed that the mother could retain the holiday home and that the former matrimonial home would be sold and the proceeds divided 60/40 in favour of the father. The father was in agreement for the children to reside with the mother and then holiday contact and weekly contact arrangements were discussed and agreed with a review to follow when the children were older. In this case we agreed to the one full-day mediation which had regular breaks as the mother was going on holiday for a month and there was a danger that the former matrimonial home would be repossessed if nothing was acted upon urgently. Both parties sought legal advice after the session before the memorandum of understanding was prepared into a consent order.

Shuttle cases
I have acted with a co-mediator on two shuttle cases recently. In one case the parties argued a lot in their first joint session so it was agreed that future sessions move to shuttle. Sessions two and three discussed a name change for their children and contact issues with the parties being in separate rooms and the parties then decided to come together for the fourth session where a proposal for everything was agreed upon. Time was of the essence as the court proceedings had already been adjourned once for mediation. The memorandum of understanding was drafted into a consent order by the client’s solicitor to vacate the hearing. This case demonstrated that a variation of shuttle and joint sessions can sometimes work well.

In the other case there had been allegations of recent domestic violence.
Both parties did not want to be in the same room but wanted to try and reach an agreement together outside of court on financial issues. Also, in this case one party left the office 15 minutes before the other at the end of the session so that they would not meet when leaving the office premises.

Shared experience
After I had completed my family mediation foundation training in 2009 I was fortunate to be able to observe family mediation sessions at several family mediation services that were based both inside and outside of London.
Each mediator and practice followed pretty much the same structure for each session but it was useful for my development to see a number of practices as each mediator had their own style which they had developed according to their personality and professional background.

I wanted to create a group where mediators of all levels can meet every few months to discuss family mediation concerns, practices and marketing.

The first meeting took place in May 2011 in Knightsbridge and the next London family mediation group breakfast meeting is on Tuesday 8 May 2012. If you would like to be part of the group or be a guest speaker on a family mediation topic, email and we will add you to the group mailing list.

Austin Chessell is family mediator with Massy Ellesmere at FAMIA (

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Difficulty with Decision –Making: Another Symptom of Divorce

Posted on May 3, 2012

There is a scientific reason why you may be finding decision -making so difficult.
Dr Roy Baumeister tells us that “decision- making is a physiological process, directly affected by how rested we are, how much glucose we have in our system and how many other decisions we have already made.” Making choices, he says “requires mental energy or “will power”, which gets gradually depleted with every choice. The result is “decisions fatigue” which stops us making a decision at all”.
When we are stressed, our ability to make decisions is challenged. Long term stress can make it impossible to make decisions.
When you are going through divorce, you are faced with many life changing decisions. The decisions you face are most probably involuntarily, (no one asks to be in an unhappy relationship and then having to deal with the consequences of a separation) and are mixed up with a great deal of emotion.
Why I believe decision- making is so difficult in divorce:

1. You don’t want to make the decisions you are faced with. You don’t want to be in this situation to begin with. Psychologist Sue Firth says “when anxious, your adrenalin rises up, which shuts down the rational, decision making part of your brain. It’s a vicious circle. The more our brains shut down, the more we cannot make up our minds”.

2. Emotions are running high. There may be panic about making the wrong decision and being faced with making decisions that will change your life. Psychologist, Sue Firth and Dr Rob Yeung say that “when it comes to life changing decisions, it’s not only choice, but fear of the finality of the outcome that can cause mental paralysis”. Sue Firth goes on to say “The more permanent the outcome of the decision, or so we perceive it to be, the more our confidence levels are challenged. “

3. You’ve made so many (uncomfortable) decisions that your brain just can’t take it anymore. You feel stuck, unable to make the even the smallest decision. It’s as if you are completely empty of decision-making energy/fuel. Bridget Harrison describes a “vortex of indecision” when making a decision- big- or small- seems so impossible that your feel sick and panic-stricken, like you’ll never work out your best option.”
Please don’t worry. There is a way out of this. I come across these situations time and again with my clients. I totally understand the challenging decisions you face and I have a wealth of experience in dealing with this. I am here to provide support and guidance to help you navigate through this difficult time.
If you or someone you know can relate to anything in this article, please get in touch with me at Rhiannon Ford Divorce Consultancy to find out how I can help you.
©Rhiannon Ford 2012

» Filed Under Changes through divorce and seperation, Dealing with Financial changes, Divorce, Divorce Tips, Surviving Divorce, Tips on dealing with separation and Divorce, Tools helping you through seperation / divorce | 2 Comments

The Hundreds Of Questions

Posted on April 18, 2012

Your child is going to have hundreds of questions about what you and daddy are going to do now you don’t want to live together.

Full of emotion and probably feeling irrational -¬‐ them not you -¬‐ is not really going to be the best time to discuss with them the full details of the separation. When they have managed to understand what you are telling them you will need to find a time best for both of you to discuss all the questions that they will have. Ask them, ‘When is the best time for you?’ as they know best when they want to talk about this issue. Their main concerns are going to based around them, ‘What is going to happen to me and my life?’ They may not be thinking about the logistics of mum and dad not being under the same roof and find it hard to imagine what that is going to be like.

You need to be honest with them and tell them in simple terms what is going to happen over the course of the next few weeks and months. You will also need to get them to understand the process to a degree and when they will be spending time with mum and time with dad. Before your discussion/meeting you could ask them to write down all the questions they want to ask you so that their emotions don’t blur out the issues they are concerned with. Otherwise your discussion will end up with your child still not knowing what is going to happen.

Your children’s list will probably look something like this:

• Where am I going to live?
• What will happen to school – they will be concerned about if they will attend the same
school and still see their friends
• Will I still be able to have independence?
• Where am I going to keep my clothes/stuff – will there be enough room at dads/mums
• How will I get to the other parents place when it’s my turn to visit
• Will I be able to change these days?
• What will I do when I am away from my more permanent place of residence and I am
away from friends those days
• How and when can I speak to other parent
• Will I still get to go to my after school activities

You will not be able to address them all at once and explain that you are here to help and will try to make their life as easy as possible without too much disruption but it will not always be possible that everything will stay the same for ever.

Naomi Richards
The Kids Coach
The UK’s Life Coach For Children

‘Coaching Children for Positive Change’

Twitter: @thekidscoach

» Filed Under Changes through divorce and seperation, Children in Divorce, Divorce Tips, Effect of divorce on children, Helping children through divorce & seperation, Surviving Divorce, Tips on dealing with children, Tips on dealing with separation and Divorce, Tips on parenting, Tools helping you through seperation / divorce | 1 Comment

Stepfamilies and How to Survive Them

Posted on March 24, 2012

The difference between step families and our own children is that we don’t set out to have them. They come as a package with our new partner. They are born out of divorce, and, after being part of an often heart wrenching transition, they are thrust into the bosom of their parent’s ‘new love’ (and the ‘new love’s’ offspring) which they are inevitably expected to adjust to. Fortunately most stepchildren are able to accept their new ‘family’ situation and most challenges are ironed out. However it takes open discussions, a great deal of planning, positive attitudes, mutual respect and lashings of patience on the part of the adults to make it work.
The Emotional Divorce
Whilst the parents may have legally divorced, emotionally there may still be unresolved feelings of anger and hurt. This means there is potential for an ex-wife or husband to stir up trouble. This is really difficult for the children who may want to be loyal to both camps, but feel guilty when they leave mum to stay with dad or vice versa.
That’s why it’s vital for a divorcing couple to learn how to ‘divorce emotionally’. This takes time, understanding and skill. As an experienced Divorce Coach and Mediator, I help couples ‘complete’ their marriages by giving them the exact skills and strategies that will allow them to move forward with their lives free from blame and guilt. Of course, if you want to remain bitter and angry, you can do so for as long as you wish. All you have to do is hold on to how right you are and how wrong your ex is. However you will not move on and you will make it hard for your kids. Kids don’t divorce, parents do. This is not their choice and whilst a ‘snide’ comment may feel fabulous at the time, the fall out usually lands on the children.
Are you ready for your Brady Bunch?
So you have chosen your new partner and the deal is, you get their kids to combine with your own. The first job now is for couples to discuss the following:
• The role each step parent will play in bringing up their respective children.
• The household rules
• The children’s behaviour, how it might impact the whole family and who is allowed to say and do what.
• Time for themselves as a couple (which we will look at later)
I have coached many newly ‘blended’ families and the vital key to making this work is communication. Being able to talk to your new partner openly and agreeing together how you would like to raise you new ‘family’ is a skill by itself. If ‘dad’ insists that ‘mum’ is not allowed to comment on anything their ‘own’ child does or says, alarm bells should ring. You must be able to speak out when a child’s behaviour impacts you. Of course you need to know the most effective way of doing this so that you keep the relationship in tact. But these are skills that can easily be learned.

Building Bonds Takes Time

Each of ‘your children’ has their own personality and will have different needs, interests and ways of reacting. You will, given time, learn to respond differently to all of them but they will all need to be treated with respect, interest and at the very least, an intention to love them.
Some of the feelings that children of all ages experience are feelings of loyalty to one parent (or even you) which could mean disloyalty to the other. They may feel rejected by one parent but feel resentment towards you for replacing the other parent. They may experience jealousy at having to share their parent with you and your kids. Perhaps they feel insecure, because life as they knew it has crumbled around them and they have no power to do anything about it. It follows that there may also be the sad feelings of disappointment as it hits them that their parents will never be together again. This is not by any means a comprehensive list, but you can see what you are taking on, can’t you. Does this sound like something which will fall into place over night? Probably not. This is going to take courage, patience and commitment.
If it seems like your partner’s children are rejecting you or purposely making your life difficult, please don’t give up. It will be because they are reacting to a situation they just don’t like and have no control over. Don’t take it personally because it will eat you up. It’s not about you per se. They would behave like this with anyone their parent lived with. Get out of your own way and find new ways of building your relationship with each of them. Be available for them. Ask for help from other family members that they respect and always refrain from saying anything that is not positive about their absent parent.
What if it’s never enough?
Having said all that, you cannot allow yourself to give until you are drained. There must be boundaries that the children learn to respect. This especially applies with older children and adult children. If you become a pushover in your earnest effort to build a relationship, they will push you until you really lose the plot. At which point some children will be quick to point out that ‘they knew you were like that’ or tell you in no uncertain terms not to speak to them like that because ‘you are not my mum/dad’. It really is a fragile line and might remain that way for a long time. Even if a child has a loving home with you, it could be that he or she is terribly hurt that it simply is not that way with the other parent. However much love you offer or however generous you are, it might never be enough especially if it shows up clearly what they cannot have from the other parent.
Never, Ever ‘Collude’

There is a word I use a lot with my clients and its ‘collusion’. To explain what I mean I use an extreme example of ‘collusion’ by asking the question “why do some men and women beat their spouses”? Most people give me reasons like, ‘they want to be in control’ or ‘they need to exert their power’. Well, maybe. But the bottom line is that they beat their spouses – BECAUSE THEY CAN. If you keep beating me and beating me and one day you come home and I am not there, can you continue to beat me? Of course not. To a much lesser extent (I hope), you cannot allow your step children to ‘beat’ you in any way. If they are behaving in a way that impacts you, unless you stop it immediately you are virtually giving them your full permission to continue with their behaviour. You are, perhaps, silently telling them that it’s ok for them to treat you this way. And, if you carry on being giving and loving in an attempt to placate them, you are virtually rewarding them for their unacceptable behaviour. Do not under any circumstances collude. Notice that you are doing this and address the behaviour immediately with your partner as well as the child in question.

Does Age and Gender matter?
Well, yes it does when it comes to understanding the behavioural issues of each child.
Statistics show that children under 10 accept their new family more easily. They are still in need of hands on love, routine and stability. They may exhibit jealously if they think their parent loves their new partner more than they love them;,so bear this in mind. Kissing your partner on the settee is ok for the under 10’s as long as the children get hugs and kisses in the same measure.
Children aged 10-14 are a little more challenging. They understand more and have their own opinions. They are often very sensitive. This is a tricky time for girls hormonally and boys too. So all of this is added to the mix. Keep open communication, always explain your actions. A good ‘because’ will a generally create buy in. For example “we are going to turn the TV off now because it will give us a chance to talk to each other while we have our meal” is a fair enough ‘because’. However, “‘because’ I say so”, is just not good enough. These kids are astute. Be honest and clear at all times.
15 plus children are much more independent so you won’t be wiping noses or tucking them in. However they are not so keen on open displays of affection between the two of you. This is a time for them to discover their own sexuality. Seeing you being overtly ‘touchy feely’ in the home or in public will probably evoke comments like ‘gross’ and ‘sick’ to use their current phraseology. So you’ll need to respect this so you can respect them. This age group can either be the easiest of the three groups or exactly the opposite. They should be labelled ‘handle with care’ to give you some idea of the eggshells you could be treading on. Once again though, do not collude. These guys need boundaries every bit as much as their younger counterparts. Make rules that make sense and invite them to participate in family events whilst not being offended if they say no. They’ll still appreciate the invite.
Girls and Boys
Girls and boys in blended families really appreciate verbal affection in the form of praise, acknowledgement and compliments. Girls are usually uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from their stepfathers. Boys, on the other hand, often accept a stepfather more easily than girls. Be kind and communicate warmth and allow the trust to grow because this will help you create the bonds for the future.

Is this more than I can handle?
It may be that the transition into a step family is creating serious issues for a child that it’s just not possible for you or your partner to handle. If this is the case know your limits. Professional help is never far away. Consult your family doctor, perhaps get a psychological evaluation, but don’t struggle alone. Don’t think a major problem will just go away. It may escalate. You know your children and you’ll notice the signs when something is seriously wrong. You cannot always heal the hurts of the past for your ‘children’ with a hug. Sometimes the sadness is so deep it needs special help. Don’t hesitate to ask for it.
How to have a happy family

Still with me? Great because I know I’ve given you some worst case scenarios. I just don’t want you to go into this thinking that happy families just happen. You now know it takes commitment, persistence, strength of character, courage and the intention to love.
The good news is that there are thousands and thousands of very happy step families out there and yours can be one of them.
Stay realistic about what’s possible. Take it one step at a time and don’t rush the process. Contrary to the opinions of our gloom and doom press, children of divorce are not damaged forever. Yes it may shape their attitudes and sometimes their beliefs but everything that happens to us from the cradle onwards does that. Don’t be riddled with a guilt that stifles your happiness. You all deserve to be happy. Stay optimistic. Have the intention of helping the children make the transition between one home and another. Try not to have an in-depth discussion with the children if you are:
• Upset
• Angry
• Feeling detached
• Having a bad day
• Too tired

But don’t be too hard on yourself. You are always doing your best at any given moment.
Make Your Marriage Work

Finally, and this is probably the most important priority of all, make your marriage work.
Let’s face it, the last one bit the dust. For whatever reason it didn’t work out. This one will be different – if you are. Make time alone together. Go away together for at least one or two nights four times a year. Take a week’s holiday at least once or if possible twice, without the kids. Go out to dinner or for a drink just the two of you. Plan in advance and make the necessary arrangements to be sure that this happens. Always have a ‘Plan B’ in place. Don’t spend all this alone time talking about the kids either. Take the time to catch up with each other, discuss your feelings, your goals, and your plans. It’s vital that you don’t lose touch with each other.
If you haven’t fully worked out your old emotions or you still have some lingering ‘luggage’ from the past, make an appointment with someone like me and get some great coaching so you can get over it and get on with your life. It’s not like it’s just the two of you sailing off into the sunset. You have a crowd to live with and you are going to need to let go of your own fears and insecurities pdq if this thing is going to work.
Relationship Reminders
So just to recap, here are some reminders of the do’s and don’ts of step parenting
• Have calm open communication with your partner
• Have the same with the children
• Always apologise if you make a mistake
• Be patient
• Allow bonds to evolve slowly and naturally
• Give everyone time and space to adjust
• Don’t expect to be called ‘mum’ or ‘dad’
• Give respect and expect respect
• Create boundaries
• Do not ‘collude’
• Establish your parenting approach and apply it fairly.
• Create stability and have a ‘parents in charge’ attitude
• Agree with your partner about how to handle unexpected parenting situations
• Create a ‘this is how we do it in our family’ approach so that everyone experiences a feeling of belonging to this new group
• Spend time alone with each child to build your bond with them
• Hold family meetings where everyone gets to speak and be listened to
• Establish your new family traditions. Build your own history and memories by sharing unique ways of being together
• Always respect former partners and make sure the children have time with them
• Don’t argue in front of the kids. This is exceptionally upsetting for them
• Invite your step children’s close family members to their celebrations, school plays etc
• Be kind and compassionate to yourself and know that every day you are being the best step parent you can be.
You can do this you know. You can make this work and live happily ever after. Simply see a sign around everyone’s neck that reads “MAKE ME MATTER”. See it resting there even when the opposite is screaming at you. Make each other matter and you will have your own special Brady Bunch. A great step-family can bring you immense joy and happiness as well as loads of grandchildren and very expensive Christmases! Have fun.

This Article was written by Francine Kaye, founder of The Divorce Doctor and author of the The Divorce Doctor published by Hay House. She is also Relationship Expert for The Wright Stuff, Trisha, GMTV and writes regularly for the national press as well as feature writer for Psychologies, Red, Woman and Home and many others. You can follow Francine on Facebook and Twitter and visit her website at or email her at

» Filed Under Changes through divorce and seperation, Children in Divorce, Dealing With Step Families, Divorce, Divorce Tips, Effect of divorce on children, Helping children through divorce & seperation, Relationship, Surviving Divorce, Tips on dealing with children, Tips on dealing with separation and Divorce, Tips on parenting, Tools helping you through seperation / divorce | 1 Comment

The virtue of the unknown

Posted on March 16, 2012

One asset of the modern world is the plentiful presence of solutions and answers.

Technology, science, medicine, pharmacology, physics, just to name a few disciplines, provide people with cures and solutions to most everyday needs.

Such abundance of knowledge also provides a subtle yet un-renounceable belief; that we are on the right track to the ultimate solution, the conquering of death.

Existential thought may sound outdated in such outlook, as it proposes a fundamentally different idea. The unknown is a basic given of human life and as such it can viewed as a resource to be embraced and even enjoyed, rather than abhorred.

Learning to bear the anxiety of not-knowing may be an essential step along the steep trail up the hill of wisdom. It may even add spice to our life, if experienced as an opportunity for experimenting, gambling or, why not, the excitement of waiting for a final “whodunit” on life’s thriller movie.

The difficulty in embracing such philosophy resides perhaps in the necessity to find a suitable compromise between the basic boundaries and structures required by society and environment, and an inner awareness of human nature being mostly unable to control, predict or prevent.

Such attitude needs a good amount of humility, faith and hope, other essential tools in that uphill trail.

If you are experiencing difficulties with separation, divorce, or simply because you don’t know what is going on or how it will end, perhaps existential therapy could facilitate a deeper understanding of the situation and the world around you.

Paola Pomponi
Existential Psychotherapist
Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

» Filed Under Changes through divorce and seperation, Children in Divorce, Divorce Tips, Relationship, Therapy, Tips on dealing with separation and Divorce, Tools helping you through seperation / divorce | Leave a Comment

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