Choosing the easy way or the hard way

In the past mediation has been viewed as an easy, softly-softly, touchy-feely process, exploring feelings rather than getting to the heart of a dispute and actually sorting anything out.

To begin with, you need to be aware that mediation is not easy.  Every family dispute will be different and some situations may benefit greatly from the involvement of solicitors and courts, so during or after separation it is important that you seek advice from a solicitor if you are in any doubt about how best to protect the interests of you or your children.

That said, generally we believe that in most family separations the easy thing to do is to leave your interests and those of your children completely in the hands of a solicitor or a court judge.  However, neither a solicitor nor a judge will know you very well.  If you have children, they will not know your children very well either.  So if you do leave to someone unfamiliar like this the power to make decisions about your future, your finances, property, the lives of your children, and so on, can you be really sure that those decisions will end up working for you, for your children, in the way you hoped?

We know that the harder thing to do is to sit down with your ex partner or ex spouse, someone that might elicit still a strong emotional response from you, and to work through constructively what each of you want to do with your separate futures, what each of you think would make sure any children you have don’t end up defined by the separation and, instead, flourish through your responsible and continued commitment to them as parents.  We are sensitive to this, and know it is not easy to take control of these things at a time when everything might have been spinning out of control.  In mediation, however, the mediator can help make this a little easier, by helping you and your ex partner or spouse look forward rather than backwards, and to focus on what needs to be done to push past your disputes and move towards regaining control.

The entire process of mediation helps place all that power back into your hands, so although it might seem hard to take that first step towards a constructive dialogue with someone you may prefer never to see again, taking a deep breath and doing so gives you a great chance to find some peace for you and your children.

Financial and property disputes in separation

After you separate, you may need to agree what happens to the house in which you have been living with your ex partner or spouse.  There may be joint or separate bank accounts that need to be dealt with, or investments, shares, pensions, motor vehicles, inheritances, ongoing monthly commitments, child maintenance issues.

In mediation, you can brainstorm and explore in a way more detailed than in other forms of dispute resolution, what you and your ex partner or spouse really want or need financially.  Our CALM lawyer-mediators can give you all the legal information you need to understand your rights and entitlements in relation to the finances, but importantly can also help you understand the benefits of thinking ‘out of the box’.  Once it is clear what money or property is there to be divided, rather than drawing a line down the middle and agreeing a financial split that seems fair from an objective point of view, as might happen in court, in mediation you have a better opportunity to think more carefully about what each of you want to achieve in the future.

For example, one of you might be adamant that a pension should be divided equally, but the other is equally adamant that it remain untouched.  When both your interests are explored in more detail, however, it may become clear that what each of you want to do in the next few years means one of you needs money in the hand just now and the other can wait until retirement.  So understanding what you and your ex partner or spouse really want out of life in the future and what you might need to get there, can help you look beyond a traditional “50/50 approach” and towards something a little more helpful and tailored for each of you.  One of the main advantages of mediation in financial disputes, is that parties have a great chance to achieve a ‘win win’ outcome, where both of you get out of the discussions an agreement that you are each comfortable with, and your mediator can help you understand each other’s interests and aspirations in order for you to get to that stage.

Residence, contact, and other arrangements for children

If you have children and are separating, we know that one of your main concerns will be to protect your children, to safeguard their interests, to keep things as stable as possible for them in a time of real upheaval.  We also know how difficult it can be to juggle all this and to come to an agreement with your ex partner or spouse whilst trying to push to one side the emotions still raw after the separation.

It can be very easy to adopt positions about the children in a time of conflict.  Where will they live? When will they see each of you? Who has parental rights and responsibilities? What school will they go to? What surname will they use? Question after question will come up and you might feel very clear about the answers, about how wrong and unhelpful your ex partner or spouse is.

Our mediators have great experience in helping parties consider these questions.  We understand that there is more to raising children in a separated family than working out the basic living arrangements.  In mediation you can explore how to communicate with your ex partner or spouse in a way that benefits the children.  You can iron out your differences about the living arrangements.  Together in a safe and confidential environment, you can look into the lives of your children more deeply and think creatively about all the possibilities available that might inspire and shape their future.

For us, helping you work out the future of your children is more than about parents’ “rights”, your child’s “best interests”, whether your children should be back by 6.15pm after time with the other parent.  We believe that in most cases, amongst other things your children will benefit from the knowledge that both their parents will always love them, that their parents will respect each other and co-operate responsibly in their interests, protect them from harmful parental conflict, and support them as they develop independent relationships with both their parents.

Given the conflicts which led to your separation, all this might seem a really big ask.  If it does, talk to a mediator about your fears.  You might find that despite what has happened until now, despite how each of you has acted in the separation, if both of you commit from now on to working things through in mediation then all those dreams and ideals for your children you thought unrealistic and out of reach previously might end up a just little closer.

To find out more on how the mediation process can help you in your situation, have a look at our frequently asked questions or contact one of our mediators today.

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