by Marcus Stanton
Kingston & Richmond Family Mediation Practice
There is a popular TV programme that ends each week with a catchphrase I’m going to borrow, adapt, and use here: ‘Keep talking’. Parents who separate can achieve so much by talking and listening to each other. You might say, ‘well if they had been talking and listening to each other in the first place they wouldn’t now be separating,’ but parents separate for a number of reasons and just because they are no longer together doesn’t mean they should no longer work together to sort out their family finances and any future plans for their children.
The difficulty is that when a relationship ends it’s very easy to adopt a position in negotiations based on how the relationship has ended, how you feel you have been treated and your immediate concerns and worries. This can hamper your ability to have useful discussions with your former partner and can be made even worse by solicitors’ letters in place of face-to-face discussions. Getting entrenched in a position can of course slow down any progress towards a resolution.
It is much more helpful to move away from taking positions based around the past and instead to start discussing what each of your priorities, interests and concerns are now. Don’t be afraid of frank discussions revealing what have been, up to now, unspoken emotions. Getting out all those unsaid things usefully clears the air. Priorities, options and concerns give a starting point for you and the other parent to work on the possible options that exist to resolve matters mutually.
The advantage in getting to a position where you can explore options together is that you both remain in control of your future rather than giving the decision making to the court. This can be fundamental. Moving you from having to live with a decision, to working out the outcome for yourselves. An outcome reached together has more chance of lasting, and is usually better financially and emotionally for all members of the family.
Talking through options and problem solving are important for parents. That can be tough particularly when you have recently separated, but with the help of a family mediator to facilitate discussions it is a lot easier to achieve. A mediator can help you to identify those areas where you agree, where you might reach a mutually acceptable decision, and where there is no room to budge (just being clear about what’s not possible is a help in itself in moving forward!). This often means recognising what your former partner needs and feels. By looking behind any potential barriers you can often find common interests. As an example, A wants to be sure B doesn’t just leave the children with his sister when he has them, B meanwhile wants A to be less controlling when he has the children. In essence there is no disagreement over B spending time with the children and each knows the children will benefit in spending time with both parents, there is just a difference as to how that time is spent. There is clearly a starting point for discussions and the opportunity to reconcile differences.
You can work together to narrow down the options to reach an outcome that will work in reality and that both of you are comfortable living with. As well as facilitating these discussions a family mediator will reality check the outcome with each of you to see that it can work in practice. That is helpful, as you will want to have the solution you reach taken to your solicitors to be made into a Consent Order
so that it’s enforceable.
All of this means of course talking and listening to the other parent. Where there are young children, with the exception of particular cases, you are likely to have to communicate with them for some time to come. So, starting discussions in the room or face-to-face on Zoom is so much better than communicating through WhatsApp, text, email or solicitor’s letter. It’s very easy for words in a text or email to be misunderstood or meanings read into them.
Putting your priorities and concerns on the table for both of you to see and discussing them might help begin the process of moving forward.
Marcus Stanton is a Family Mediator at Kingston & Richmond Family Mediation Practice providing online mediation for separating couples in Surrey. www.kingstonandrichmondfamilymediation.co.uk
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