Parenting not positioning after parting

We need to change the culture that gives the impression that when parents separate, their difficulties and relationships are legal or formal. The system needs to always emphasise that parents should not be disengaged from the normality of parenting their children as they did before, but now just within two households, not one.

There have been some significant advances that sow the seeds of hope that we are going in the right direction. But this campaign is a long and hard one.

Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation

Several things hold us back. In the last month, in the media and amongst the parents I work with, I must have heard the phrases ‘custody’ and ‘access’ repeated over a dozen times. I have been working in family law for 30 years, and these terms were abolished before I started. Whilst a cultural shift away from such negative views of family life is never going to be easy, it is encouraging that The Family Law Language Project has recently been launched to try to tackle this.

Over a year ago, a report came out called: What About Me: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation. It set out that the way forward for parents should be centred on meeting their needs primarily away from the court, with a multidisciplinary approach and political oversight.

The hope of the President of the Family Division, on the report’s launch night, was not to see so many parents come through the legal system. “We in the court only know parents exist when they’ve issued an application and walk through the court door and often it’s too late then. They’ve got a mindset that they want a resolution based upon court processes, judges and the rest and it’s very difficult then to manage their expectations, to divert them somewhere else.”

Addressing Potential Problems

The report made clear that steering parents away from considering their issues as being legal ones only applied where there were no safeguarding concerns. The families at risk of harm still very much need to have the court as a safety net.

For all other parents, perhaps asking a few tough questions can help address where problems may lie:

  • are your children at the centre of any decisions made about their lives?
  • do your children feel and are loved and cared for by both parents?
  • do your children have contact with both sides of their families, including any siblings who may not live with them, as long as they are safe?
  • do your children have a [proper] childhood, including freedom from the pressures of adult concerns, such as financial worries?

These questions have been adapted from the wording of The Parenting Charter. The charter itself is preceded by a reminder of why it is needed. ‘Conflict is damaging, especially conflict happening between the two people your children love best in the world. Our Parenting Charter sets out what children should be able to expect from their parents if they are separating and what separating parents need to do in the interests of their children. At times of family difficulty, it is easy for adults to forget what it is like to be a child, distracted as they may be by feelings of hurt and fear for the future.’

Mediation and Parenting

Mediation is one way of helping parents come into a space where they can talk just as parents. Even if court proceedings follow, nothing said in mediation can be used against them (unless for safeguarding reasons). That allows parents to look at their roles through the lens of their children’s wellbeing alone, and not as though their issues with one another need be viewed as a form of legal battle.

Caroline Bowden

csb@anthonygold.co.uk

Family Mediation Week takes place from 17 January 2022 and Anthony Gold is offering free mediation information meetings (MIAMS) for the whole of January.  For more information please contact either Michelle Howarth at mih@anthonygold.co.uk or Jordan Ridley at jri@anthonygold.co.uk or by telephone on 020 7940 4000.

Financial Consent Orders in Mediation

One of the criticisms that have historically been levelled at mediation is that it does not provide finality for family finances. That is not true or fair at this point, as mediators can set out a full pathway to a final settlement, especially since they can now provide the first draft of a document that can be turned into Financial Consent Orders – a binding court order.

Back in the summer of 2019, family mediation’s governing body, the Family Mediation Council, (FMC) gave the green light to this change. There has perhaps been less publicity about this evolution in how mediators work than might have been expected.

Financial Consent Orders before 2019

Traditionally mediators only drafted very top-level financial agreements. These basic summaries of intent then had to be reshaped by solicitors into much tighter and more detailed legal wording, as they had to fit the formalities of a draft court order. Sorting out long term financial arrangements, especially relating to property and pension issues, can be very complex. A draft court order, which then has to be approved by a judge, must be as well drafted as if a judge themselves had handed down the same terms after a fully contested hearing.

Before 2019, many solicitors would struggle with the expanding and reshaping process of the ideas formed in mediation. There was often not enough detail from the mediator’s memorandum to make every part of the arrangement watertight. This would mean having to have secondary negotiations of the fine-tuning and the details. As indeed ‘the devil is in the detail’, some arrangements fell apart at this stage. It was frustrating for participants who thought that they had ‘sealed the deal’, to find themselves being presented with choices, with both naturally wanting the option more favourable to them. It is also not hard to see how, if they are already experiencing an element of ‘buyer’s remorse’ about the overall terms, they may decide that even a minor extra concession or two would be a step too far.

 

Financial Consent Orders since 2019

Over the last few years, since being approved by the FMC, mediators themselves can draw up the first draft of the financial consent order. The mediation participants are taken through the drafting details that are needed during the meetings, based primarily on the judicially approved standard precedents. The initial draft of the consent order, based on these mediated discussions, will then be included in the mediator’s normal memorandum. So the only difference is not one of structure, but of providing a more granular level of detail in practice. There are two advantages to this approach.

Less negotiation and drafting

Firstly, the solicitors who advise the individuals about the ultimate terms of the consent order will need to do much less additional negotiating or drafting of new terms that were not discussed before. This will mean that there will be less threat of undermining the progress contained in the main provisions that were agreed in mediation.

 

Greater client agency

The second advantage comes about because, previously, the parties could feel more marginalised during the drafting of the secondary terms by their solicitors. The dynamic shifted around with the solicitors being in control of this process, not the clients themselves. These clients can now have greater agency throughout, as the mediator will take them through the more nuanced or technical issues whilst they are there together and facilitate a resolution to any issues that arise from them. It is much better to spot issues that make the proposals unworkable or unpalatable in mediation, than when the mediation process has come to an end.

A better outcome for mediators and clients

Of course, the parties must be allowed to make any amendments to the draft created by the mediator even after it has left the mediation process. It is hoped that these changes will now be minor, rather than a complete reworking or unravelling, as the parties have invested so much in the process of considering the detail already.

So mediation can indeed lead clients through to getting a consent order, providing a full and binding outcome on financial matters. It can be an arrangement that is truly tailored to their individual needs, as the participants have been able to be so involved in all stages, from working out the main ideas to considering the workable legal terms that will make their settlement watertight.

Caroline Bowden

csb@anthonygold.co.uk

Family Mediation Week takes place from 17 January 2022 and Anthony Gold is offering free mediation information meetings (MIAMS) for the whole of January.  For more information please contact either Michelle Howarth at mih@anthonygold.co.uk or Jordan Ridley at jri@anthonygold.co.uk or by telephone on 020 7940 4000.