Monday 22 January

The 2018 Family Mediation Week is running all week (22 to 26 January) organised by the Family Mediators Association. But what is it?

The aim of the week is to raise the awareness of the benefits of mediation and how it can help couples who are separating. Mediation encourages couples to sit down together and talk about how they are going to organise their finances or arrange the time the children spend with them both, rather than resorting to costly legal battles.

This week Stone King is offering couples or individuals a free half-hour appointment to find out more about how mediation can help them. During the free half-hour appointments - that are available throughout mediation week 2018 - mediators will be on hand to discuss how mediation can help your family.

Throughout this week we will also be publishing a series of short articles outlining how mediation works and how it can help you.

What is Family Mediation?

Tuesday 23 January

Mediation is about finding solutions, rather than trying to muddle through or turning to the courts or lawyers to “argue it out”. Mediation helps couples to find solutions to the problems facing them. It is not counselling or therapy but rather a trained, independent professional who assists families to sort out their financial arrangements or make plans for their children in a constructive, solution-focused way.

Mediators are impartial. They don’t take sides and it is their role to help couples make decisions together. After all, it is likely that they chose their house and what school their children should go to together, so why shouldn’t they jointly make decisions about what will happen after separation? Mediation is a place where couples can be heard and where they can make decisions together that work for them and for their children.

Whilst mediation should be the first choice for couples, sadly it often is not. More and more people are turning to courts, which takes away their choice and options. It means that someone who doesn’t know the couple or their children is making the decisions for them. If a relationship breaks down, consider using mediation to find the best way forward.

Court vs Mediation

Wednesday 24 January

Even though separating couples have to attend a mediation information session before issuing family proceedings, many are still using court as a way to resolve their family difficulties. In November 2017, figures released by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) showed that 30% of applicants in children proceedings had already been to court before. The reasons for such applications tended to be high conflict between the parents or a change in circumstances.

If these families had gone to mediation the first, second or even third time, the outcome could have been very different. Putting aside the time and cost of litigation, the court process does not help parents work together to co-parent after separation. Unfortunately, it is often the case that when a court has to make decisions on the parents’ behalf, the parents almost forget how they can work together and instead of viewing things jointly for the benefit of their child or children, they start to see it as more of a competition. If these parents had taken the time to work through their options and found solutions together, it is highly likely that they would have avoided the need for conflict and court.

What is often not considered is the impact that court proceedings can have on a parents’ mental health, as well as that of the children. “Voices in the Middle”, a project led by The Family Initiative, reports that one in three children will see their parents split up before their 16th birthday. The quotes on their website from children who have been through a family break up are testament to how children can feel “stuck in the middle” all too often. Court proceedings exacerbate this.

On the other hand, mediation can help parents work together to help their children. Divorce and separation is never going to be pain free, but by working together through mediation you can be certain that you are trying to do the very best for your family by remaining amicable.

The child’s voice

Thursday 25 January 2018

How will I know what my child or children want? All too often a parent’s view of what their child wants is very different to what the other parent believes. When parents take the approach of asking courts to decide what is best for their children, it unfortunately means that parents frequently become entrenched in “their view” rather than actually listening to the younger members of their family.

How can mediation help? During the process, experienced mediators will encourage the parents to work together to co-parent their children and also to think about what their child would like to happen. Mediators can also help by advising parents on how to communicate with their children about what will happen. Most children, when asked, will say that they want the arguments to stop and not to feel like they are in the middle.

Mediators who are specially trained can also speak to the children to get their view. This can be helpful because all too often children will say what they think they want that parent to hear and not what they are actually feeling. Direct consultation with children gives them the opportunity to say how they are feeling and express what they would like in a format they feel happy with.

How will this work? With the parents’ agreement, the mediator can speak privately to the child or children to find out how they are feeling and then agree what they want the mediator to tell their parents. This information can help parents to make informed decisions about their family’s future security and happiness.

Of course this approach will not work for every child and family. However, what we do know is that every child and family will benefit from dealing with separation in an amicable, family-focused way.

What does the research say?

Friday 26 January 2018

“Never argue in front of your children” – simple advice but often difficult to follow. One in three children will see their parents split up before their 16th birthday, according to Voices in the Middle. Almost all children who are asked express the view that they don’t want to feel stuck in the middle and that they want the arguing to stop.

Research shows that it is not the divorce that can cause damage to children but the conflict they experience. How a child reacts to their parents’ divorce or separation depends on the depth of the parental conflict, how long they are exposed to it and also the parents’ ability to focus on their children’s needs.

In September 1996, a three-year study by Peter McCarty and Janet Walker of the Relate Centre for Family Studies at Newcastle University surveyed separating couples who had gone through mediation to resolve their financial and childcare matters. The study found that these individuals felt that mediation had helped them to reduce conflict and maintain a good relationship with their former partner and generally felt less bitter and resentful. Whilst this research was carried out more than 21 years ago, recent studies are reaching the same conclusions.

In 2003 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reviewed the services that were available to support children during family breakdown. Unsurprisingly, the research found that how parents communicate with their children and how they deal with the conflict themselves is very important. When parents are not able to manage their own distress it can make it difficult for them to support their children or give them appropriate information. All too often children become involved in the adults’ decisions.

According to The Ministry of Justice, in 2013 “nearly two thirds of couples who attended a single mediation for a child dispute reached a full agreement. Almost seven out of every ten couples who opted for mediation reached an agreement” (Ministry of Justice Press Release 2014).

Mediation will not work for everyone, but it does enable you - the only experts on your own family - to make the decisions on what you would like to happen after separation.