“it’s the most wonderful time of the year” But is it???

So, it’s “that” time of year again and already in town there is a sense of pressure and panic as I watch busy shoppers struggle with bags laden with gifts for family and friends. There’s a bustle around the supermarkets as trollies collide, stacked high with sprouts, parsnips, turkey and pudding.

There is also anticipation and excitement from children who are queuing to see Father Christmas or gazing at the bright lights dancing high above the streets of the town. As the song tells us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”

But is it???

For some people, Christmas is a time of dread for one reason or another. Finance (or lack of it), having family to stay, thinking of loved ones who may have died at this time of year and especially the extra pressure put upon us to complete all the tasks that need to be done before “the big day”. It is particularly difficult for those families affected by separation or divorce.

It is hard for parents even to consider being away from their children on Christmas Eve/Day and so battles often occur between parents over who will have the children during those special days. Ultimately the end result is often unhappy parents and unhappy children who are stuck in the middle.

As a therapist I help families who are struggling with contact and co-parenting issues, so I thought it might be useful to let me tell you what I know children of separated parents say about Christmas;

  • Children love you both and want to spend time with each of you
  • Children love having Christmas twice (what child wouldn’t?) and often don’t mind which order they go in
  • Being around grandparents and extended family is something that children of separated parents can miss out on, so Christmas is an ideal time for them to catch up
  • Parents who are uncivil to each other at handovers and especially at Christmas make it harder for children to be excited about leaving one parent and going to the other.
  • Children often have a good sense of fairness and are very adaptable to change-what gets in the way is parental conflict.

So, at this busy time of year a few “Try” and “Try not to” points to help you have the best possible Christmas

  • Try to remember if you are feeling angry and upset with your ex, that these are your feelings about your relationship- the children have a different relationship with your ex
  • Try to make it ok for the children to be with and get excited about being with your ex- they love them as much as they love you
  • Try to be fair-children will notice when it isn’t and it upsets them when they feel a parent is missing out
  • Try to negotiate alternate years for Christmas Eve/Day to make it fair to both of you and especially for the children
  • Try to be excited for your children when they are going to the other parent, even if you don’t feel it. They will be excited but if you seem sad it causes them distress.
  • Try not to compare the two Christmases-both are equally important experiences for your children
  • Try not to argue with your ex at the handover-if something is wrong save it for another time
  • Try not to contact your children too much when they are with your ex. Remember that hopefully they will be having a good time- they still love you but they will want to be involved in Christmas Number 2
  • Presents are exciting for children but time with each of you is much more important. Try not to get too upset is your ex has bought the latest gadget or more expensive gift-what children remember is the time you spend together.

It’s hard for everyone involved when couples separate, especially for the children and particularly the first Christmas apart. Parents have a choice about how to behave in front of their children. Remember that children learn from the adults in their life and will mirror their parents’ behaviour.

If things go wrong try not to worry too much, just try to do your best for next time.

As parents we can only be ‘good enough’-we are not perfect but we can aim for better co-parenting relationships in the future.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that your children have lots of fun with both of their parents.

 

Can Collaborative Divorce Save Time And Money As Well As Protecting Families?

There is no question that divorce and separation is a time of high stress and emotion for all parties involved, including children who are caught up in proceedings.

What is clear from research carried out by Resolution is that parties who separate or divorce using the Collaborative process properly, can often minimise much of this stress and emotional anxiety.

There has been much said and written about traditional family litigation being phased out in preference for alternative ways of resolving problems, with lawyers increasingly encouraged to work with parties to find amicable and constructive ways forward in divorce and separation matters.

Whilst the majority of clients that we now encounter respond to this kind of approach, we also acknowledge that divorce is still a difficult and painful process. Those of who practice Collaborative Family Law, can see the obvious benefits of using this process for the above reasons, but could this actually provide additional benefits in terms of time, money and future family relationships?

By entering into the Collaborative process, parties to a divorce or separation are assisted by Collaborative trained professionals who will assist them in resolving their own issues in an open and constructive environment. It is this environment that can save time and money, not only through the process, but thereafter.

By also committing not to enter into court proceedings, this also has the added advantage of removing the threat of such proceedings over the parties and encourages people to work together to find lasting outcomes for themselves and their families.

Obviously, by entering into open and constructive discussion and avoiding court proceedings, this can save considerable time and cost in terms of the processes that people employ.

However, over and above this, the way that parties interact with each other during the Collaborative process, in terms of reaching agreements around their separation, financial affairs and their children, creates a framework for future discussions and a format of resolving disputes that can work to protect the best interests of families.

When looking at the benefits of the Collaborative process, we believe that these can fairly be summarised as follows;

The protection of children

Children are often impacted by contested divorce proceedings and anyone who has gone through the court process knows how difficult this can be. By collaborating to find the best solutions for themselves and their children, parents often find a new way of communicating that is centred around the best interests of their children in the future and this can take away a huge amount of the potential distress that conflict often causes.

Saving time and money
When compared to litigation, the Collaborative process will invariably be considerably cheaper and quicker. Traditional litigation can often cause parties to become entrenched in their positions making the process slower and even more expensive over time.

The protection of extended family
Whenever there is litigation, inevitably, extended family and friends become engaged and are often forced to choose who they support. This can have long-lasting impact on both family and friends and ultimately damage longer term relationships not only with the parties but also the children at the centre of the dispute.

Privacy

In an increasing age of transparency, many clients want to keep their divorce and financial affairs out of the public domain. The Collaborative process is entirely confidential and can maintain everyone’s privacy.

In summary, we believe that the Collaborative process achieves not only a high success rate in terms of outcome, but more importantly meets parties needs and requirements in terms of preserving their dignity and respect, as well as being a timely and cost effective process . It can also have additional benefits in terms of the protection of family relationships long after any divorce or separation is concluded in a legal sense.

Contact details of qualified Collaborative professionals in the Black Country area who can provide you with more information can be found here

Kids in the Middle

‘Kids in the middle’ is a phrase we hear often in the media, family courts and amongst friends and family if they happen to be separating. But what does it really mean to you, now that you are on this journey?

For most couples who separate and for whatever reason, if they have children together, causing emotional damage to those children is usually high on the list of ‘things to avoid’.

However, for many, as emotions run high and disagreements occur, sometimes inadvertently the opposite happens.

Parents may end up using their child/children as:

  • Pawns
  • Bargaining tools
  • Weapons
  • Support
  • Someone on ‘your’ side

Children tell us that they cope well with their parents separating even though in the beginning it’s upsetting, if:

  • They get to spend time with each parent
  • There is reduced conflict between parents
  • Parents don’t criticise each other to or in front of the children
  • They can see their parents moving on
  • They don’t have the intricate details of the separation

So, understanding what puts children in the middle is important and it may not be quite as obvious as you think.

If you consider that communication is:

  • 55% BODY LANGUAGE
  • 38% INTONATION
  • 7% WORDS

then it is probable that your children are ‘reading’ you much more than you think.

Watch this short video and note the ‘unspoken’ messages.

  1. Ask yourself as you watch are these children comfortable in the company of their parents?
  2. Are the parents making it ok for the children to love and be happy with both parents?
  3. What are the children doing to make this situation ok?
  1. Are these children in the ‘middle’?

https://youtu.be/-DFaKVcnHvA

Understanding your emotions and the body language that emerges as a result of this journey is not always high on your list of priorities, especially when there are so many legal and financial aspects of divorce to ‘get your head around’.

However, once the divorce is over from a legal perspective, the rest of your life begins and being able to co-parent your children and reduce the likelihood of emotional damage, I would say is on the list of priorities.

Using the collaborative approach to divorce is one way to help begin this journey. Another is getting as much help and information as you can to ease it.

Together Apart is a one day workshop designed for parents going through separation/divorce and is aimed at parents, just like you. It can help you in practical ways to:

  • Reduce conflict
  • Improve communication
  • Understand the emotional process of relationship breakdown
  • Provide you with useful skills to help you manage your emotions
  • Help you to understand what your children need from you during this difficult time

 

Adele Ballantyne MA Relationship Therapy

Family Consultant, Shropshire Collaborative Law Pod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Separating without Blame

The current law provides that the ground for seeking a divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage based on one of five facts being adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years desertion, two years separation with consent and five years separation.

Resolution, the national body of Family Lawyers and Practitioners, has long campaigned for reform by introducing no fault divorce in order to reduce conflict and support separating couples to resolve matters amicably.

Nigel Shepherd, the Chair of Resolution reports that Resolution’s campaign has led to a high level of media coverage and public declarations of support for no fault divorce.

A report in “The Economist” agreed that it was time to introduce no-fault divorces and went on to say:

“sorting out the division of assets and arranging for the…future care of children are always the hardest aspects of ending any marriage. Eliminating questions of who is to blame for the split would allow those involved to focus on dealing with these”.

This campaign for reform is supported by the public with a YouGov poll published in March 2017 reporting that 69% of the public want to remove blame.

We at the Black Country Collaborative Group believe that the introduction of no fault divorce will help separating couples to resolve issues relating to their children or division of assets in a constructive way without divisive arguments about who is to blame for the separation.

Is my case too big for Collaborative?

I am often asked the question as to whether the circumstances of a particular case would be suitable for a collaborative solution or whether the case if too big or the circumstances not right.

In short, I do not believe that there are many cases, if any, that are not suitable for collaboration, provided that the parties and their lawyers enter into the discussions in the right way.

Recently, I have been involved in a divorce case which has been resolved using the collaborative procedure between two parties with total assets of somewhere between £10 million and £12 million.

This was further complicated by the fact that there was a trading business of which both parties were equal shareholders with some disagreement over the ongoing treatment of this business and its day to day running and operation.

Whilst this kind of case may not for the fainthearted, it is important to remember that with two experienced collaborative lawyers, a case like this is not impossible and can be dealt with.

What helped in this case is that both parties had seen friends go through more “traditional” divorces and witnessed first hand the consequences of litigation and bitter negotiation that only served to increase both the animosity and cost for everyone involved.

What both parties recognised was that they had two children who they both wanted to put first in their consideration’s and both of the parties were sensible and experienced entrepreneurs who could see the benefit of dealing with their divorce in a different way.

Having both instructed experienced collaborative lawyers, the first step was to speak to both parties as to their reasons and motivations, before the collaborative lawyers then spent some time together working out where they saw issues between the parties and preparing themselves for a face-to-face meeting.

Of particular importance was to get the agenda right to the very first meeting.

The reason I say this is that both of the collaborative lawyers recognised the power of getting early agreement.  What became apparent quite early was that there were a issues where one or both parties expected there to be disagreement, but it appeared that matters could be resolved quickly by agreement between them.  These items went on to the agenda early so that the parties could get used to agreeing things that they might have thought would be difficult.

More challenging matters then appeared towards the middle of the agenda, when the parties had already got into a culture of agreement between themselves.

Whilst I am not pretending for one moment that this was an easy process for either party, or their lawyers, the benefits of reaching agreements in this way are huge.

By both parties preparing well for that first meeting, as well as reaching some really sensible conclusions around the business, around 90% of the case was dealt with and resolved at that first meeting, which of course had a huge impact on the saving of legal and accountancy fees.

Whilst the case is not fully concluded and there are still some finer details to be ironed out, what it does show is that by taking a creative and constructive approach to these kinds of issues, individuals and families can reach fair and lasting solutions in an efficient and cost-effective way by using the collaborative process.

It is my opinion that cases are few and far between that do not fit into this model, provided the willingness is there to enter into this kind of process and the right level of support is provided by the collaborative lawyers and financial neutrals that need to get involved.

Contact details of qualified solicitors in the Black Country area who can provide you with more information on collaborative practice can be found here.

 

Is Mediation always the best way?

There won’t have been many people who watched BBC Two’s Mr & Mrs: Call the Mediator without wincing.

Watching two separated adults tearing each other apart on national television isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But what the three episode series showed is that there are alternative ways to end a relationship, even if doing it in the full glare of the television cameras is potentially ill-advised!

Following the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014, separating couples, before making a relevant family application, must attend a family Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). The aim is to reduce both the potential trauma and cost of prolonged court battles between couples, which is particularly important when there are children involved.

The BBC Two programme showed couples (sometimes not even able to be in the same room) trying to resolve issues such as where their children would live, who stayed in the family home and financial settlements.

The scenes featured in the series showed why it is important to consider alternative, out of court, ways to resolve issues following a break-up. Court proceedings, by their very nature, only increase the stress and emotion of the situation.

In a court case, the judge will have much wider discretion, and can impose an agreement on the parties that neither of them are happy with.  That’s where Mediation can be beneficial, as it gives both sides much more control over the outcome and they can reach an agreement that may be different to what a Judge would order.

People are often concerned about going to mediation because they’re worried about being bullied or that the agreement they reach won’t be fair.  In those circumstances, as an alternative to mediation, many couples may prefer a Collaborative legal approach which aims to create a smoother path to divorce.

Collaborative law is where separating couples have face-to-face negotiations, supported by their solicitor in the room with them. It encourages communication, which in turn reduces bad feeling and hostility between the separating couple and is particularly suitable where children are involved. I would encourage people, where possible, to consider a collaborative law approach in the first instance.

Resolving matters collaboratively enables a more constructive and flexible approach that can produce a far better outcome for all involved.  Contact details of qualified solicitors in the Black Country area who can provide you with more information can be found here.

Putting Children First

 

chidren first

New polling carried out on behalf of Family Law Organisation Resolution has found that around 82% of children and young people with experience of parental separation or divorce would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy, rather than stay together.

Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms”; while another suggests children “will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.”

When asked what they’d most like to have changed about their parents’ divorce, 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to be horrible about each other to them, and 30% said they would have liked their parents to understand what it felt like to be in the middle of the process.

 

Speaking about the new findings, Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said:

 “Being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself. This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process,and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce.

“We should be supporting parents to choose an out of court divorce method, such as mediation or collaborative practice. This will help parents to maintain control over the divorce and ensure their children’s needs are, and remain, the central focus.”

 

Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles said:

“Evidence suggests that it’s parental conflict which has the most damaging effect on children and we see this played out in the counselling room every day.

“Of course, children usually find their parents’ separation extremely upsetting but as this research demonstrates, eventually many come to terms with the situation and adjust to changes in family life. There are plenty of steps that separating parents can take to ensure they reduce the negative impact on their children such as working to avoid constant arguing or speaking badly of the other parent in front of the kids.

“Parents can also involve their children by providing age appropriate and relevant information about the divorce or separation and what it means for them. Trying to understand children’s needs will make them feel secure and loved during this difficult time. Separating parents could also consider accessing support such as individual counselling, couples counselling, family counselling and mediation. ”

 

Parenting Charter

The survey results support the main advice Resolution shares in its Parenting Charter, which sets out what children should be able to expect from their parents during a divorce or separation.

These include children’s rights to:

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

 

At a special event with MPs and Peers in Parliament, Resolution will be calling for the Government to share the Charter with all divorcing parents. The event will also see the launch of an online advice guide at www.resolution.org.uk/divorceandparenting developed by Resolution to help divorcing parents manage their relationship with their children and with each other during separation.