How realistic is shared care of the children?

3 children runningEven in families with a stay-at-home mother or father, generally speaking most parents share the care of their children in some way or other.  When parents separate they expect to be able to continue shared care of the children but, obviously, whatever arrangements need to be made can be difficult to envisage before the parties actually separate.  What does shared care look like?  Is it one week with one parent, one week with the other?  This might be “fair” in terms of equalising the time spent with both parents but is it right for children to be continually moving from one house to the next?  Do they not need a base – but with whom?

According to research carried out by Oxford University only 3% of separated families in the UK are currently in a shared care arrangement.  In Australia the concept of “equal shared parental responsibility” except where there is violence or abuse has been enshrined in law since 2006.  This means that of cases coming before the Court, 30% are being forced into a shared care arrangement.  So those parents whose relationship is not good – because they have had to resort to the Court to decide how to care for their children – are the very parents who are forced into a shared care arrangement and are therefore having to have constant communication with each other.

The best interests of children after parental separation is not dependant upon the amount of time which they spend with each parent but more with the quality of parenting received, the quality of the relationship between their parents, the practical resources available including income and housing – and definitely not to any particular pattern of care or amount of time.

Perhaps in an effort to be fair to parents there is a danger of being unfair to children?

Frequent moves between households can, for children, bring practical and emotional difficulties in terms of the constant packing and planning.  But, obviously, the level of difficulty depends on the distance between moves, the frequency of moves, the level of any conflict between the parents and also the child’s personality and preferences.  So each case must depend not just on practical arrangements for the child but what their personality and the effect of a shared arrangement would be on them.  How is the voice of the child heard?  Is it heard at all?

The Courts are currently directed to look at the best needs of the child or children – the welfare of these children should be paramount.  Is it actually possible to achieve both “fairness” to act in the best interests of the child?

Rather than arguing through the Courts and becoming more and more polarised, parents should try and work together to ensure that everyone’s needs – theirs and the children’s – are met, and family therapy may be more appropriate than litigation.  Parents have a responsibility to ensure the long-term wellbeing of their children.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Mediation or litigation?

What is Mediation | Advice from Cotswold MediationIt is the New Year, and according to media reports, a time when many people face the reality of separation and most will at least start out in the hope that whatever needs to be done can be dealt with as painlessly and economically as possible.  It should therefore be the case, when choosing between mediation or litigation, that mediation is the preferred option.  It might come as some surprise then that the figures speak very differently.

Most couples who separate or divorce do not in fact seek the mediation route.  They may well go to a solicitor who suggests or even recommends mediation but for one reason or another they end up litigating, arguing through the courts rather than engaging in far more constructive round table discussions.  Why is this?

Well actually, although mediation may seem the most sensible and rational option, when you fall out of love and when you separate, rational thinking often gets lost in the heat of the moment.  There may be bitter recriminations, painful memories, resentment, anger, despair, sadness.  All these emotions can persuade people that using the courts, “having their say”, having their day in court, putting their case as forcefully as possible, possibly even proving that they are right in some way is worth the agony and expense of litigation.  I disagree!  It is hardly ever worth it.

In mediation you are on your own with the mediator, there is no one there to help, defend or speak for you.  The onus is on you and perhaps people find it difficult to behave well with the person they once loved who is now very much on the opposite side of the fence.  People may want the support, advice and encouragement of their lawyer and may feel justified in putting forward their case to possibly get more of the assets or more time with the children.  But obviously there is only so much to be divided and if money is spent on court proceedings then there is less for the parties.

For whatever reason, it can be difficult for people to choose mediation which is why the take-up has been surprisingly low but perhaps this year’s New Year’s Resolution should be mediation and not litigation for separating couples.  

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Protecting children during separation

 

Children playingGenerally, when parents separate, one of the most difficult aspects for them both is how to tell the children and how to make their separation as painless as possible for their children.

There is obviously no good time for telling bad news and no ideal way of doing it.  It is going to vary tremendously according to the ages of the children and circumstances of the separation but equally, obviously, if the parents can be seen to be working together to ensure the best possible outcome for their children, that will help their children enormously.

Most children will know long before they are told that there have been issues between the parents. Maybe there have been arguments or just a feeling of unease and lack of communication.  Most children, too, would prefer the arguments and unpleasantness to end and it may well be that if the parents are happier apart then so will the children.  The important thing to avoid is giving the children the impression that they have to take sides.  They want to be able to love both parents and both parents must allow them to love and have a good relationship with the other.

As parents, we must try not to let our children see us upset when they go to the “other” parent.  They may feel guilty about spending time with one or other parent, if the other is left at home alone and sad.

Most parents manage to work out some sort of practical arrangement so the children see both parents, the children know when they are to be at one or the other’s house and in time a new pattern and new relationships develop.

As Susan Trussel, The Banbury Therapy, said in a recent article, the most important thing is that the children know they are loved by both parents and they don’t have to choose between them.  Working together will help to ensure the best possible outcome for your children and mediation is often a good place to start that process.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Is getting divorced expensive?

Getting Divorced: Know your options | Help and Advice from Cotswold MediationMost people would answer a straight “yes” with the implication that the process is often out of their control:  costs escalate, emotions get in the way of rational decisions and discussions, and the lawyers end up the only beneficiaries.

However, the cost of the divorce process is actually very much in your hands – you can decide how much or how little you use your lawyer.  The more you do and the less your lawyer does will reduce your legal costs.  Law is a service you pay for like servicing your car – you do it or you get a garage to do it.

Also, of course, the more you argue, the more it is going to cost and that cost is met out of joint assets so there are less resources for everyone.

There is, obviously, the practical cost of getting divorced.  In most cases both parties will be financially worse off as a result of a divorce because they have to live in two separate households – obviously more expensive than living in one.  A house may need to be sold and smaller ones purchased, a pension may need to be divided, other family assets – whether savings or photographs or pets – have in some way to be divided and these often involve painful and costly decisions.

However, not only can you reduce the cost by using mediation, whereby you both employ one person rather than both employing a separate lawyer, but you can also reduce the cost by only using your lawyer for part of the process rather than all of the process.

You might decide to come for some initial advice and then actually make an application for a divorce or a financial decision yourself.  Or you may see a lawyer and then go to mediation and then go back to the lawyer for legal advice pertinent to your situation.  You decide how much or how little you use a lawyer and you pay accordingly.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Values in family matters

Values in family matters can mean those such as honour, dignity, trust etc and values as in terms of how much the property and other assets are worth.

Very often valuations are difficult to agree because of the breakdown in trust and communication that it is an inevitable part of divorce.  It may also be caused by the fact that if there is not quite enough money to enable both parties to rehouse themselves or start again in a satisfactory way, then the value of the assets become critical and therefore hard to agree.

Values in family mattersIf for instance the wife wants to stay in the family home she may have to pay something to the husband to enable him to move on – how much she pays depends on the “value” of the property.  But in reality it may depend on how much she can afford and how much she wants to stay in that house.  It may also depend on how much the husband needs together with his earning and mortgage capacity to enable him to buy a suitable or similar property.

Even more problematic are business valuations.  Very often only one of the parties will have been involved in the business and the other party may have an over inflated idea of what the business is worth.  Just because the business has in the past generated a good income for the family it does not mean that either the business will continue to generate that income or that it is worth for instance three times the profit.  These valuations are unrealistic.  What a business is worth is what anybody is prepared to pay for it and they will weigh up the risk of taking on a new venture with or without the current proprietor and so a business valuation can be very problematic.

This difficulty can be very expensive for the parties.  It can be the source of endless litigation which as everybody knows is very expensive, as well as emotionally damaging for all concerned, trying to establish exactly what the business is worth.  One party will argue that it is worth a lot more than the other – but neither really knows.  There is a strong argument for calling in experts early on.  They can help, although they also cost money, in determining the value of key assets – the family home, a pension if it is of significant value and the business.  If figures are agreed this makes negotiation much easier.  Even if the figures are not particularly palatable to either or both parties, they are at least fixed and enable negotiations to take place.

Although valuations may be expensive when money is tight – as it always is when people are separating – it may actually be cost effective to get an early and professional valuation of key assets.

Pensions have what is known as a cash equivalent transfer value but any independent financial advisor will tell you that this does not necessarily mean what it says, there are some pensions which carry significant benefits within them which mean that the face value, the CETV is actually a significant under value.  So again worth getting an expert opinion early on.

Sentiments I would also echo in relation to advice in relation to divorce and mediation too.

Expert valuations can provide clarity, not just in terms of actual price but also in explaining complex financial information or providing a professional judgement on the value of a key financial asset – particularly important if one asset, whether it be business or pension, forms a significant proportion of the couple’s total assets.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Lack of trust

 

I recently heard Evan Davies on the Radio talking about trust in the business context and how recent research suggests that businesses actually run better from the bottom up rather than the top down.  What that means in practise is that responsibility has to be delegated, employees need to be given the trust, the resources, the authority to implement policies and procedures, the more you trust people the more they respond positively.

Couple in talksOne example used was customer service.  It is key to any business, you must deal with your customers well to keep them coming back but you cannot write a manual on how to do customer service, it has to be innate, it has to be genuine and it has to come from the desire to do your best for the customer.  People generally will naturally try to please if they are in an environment that encourages them to make decisions.  So trust is good for business, is good for employees, good for profits and is good for customers.

Trust is something that is often very lacking in family disputes, trust is after all the very thing that may have been destroyed when a relationship breaks down.  Lack of trust then leads to an escalation of misunderstanding.  One party might genuinely want to do something that they think will benefit both parties but the other is so suspicious that they will not agree and/or assume an ulterior motive which means that agreements are hard to reach, negotiations breakdown and parties head inevitably to Court.  Court further damages relationships and costs an inordinate amount of money and ends up satisfying no one.

So how to deal with the lack of trust.

I feel that any kind of face to face encounter, however difficult is actually an important step in dealing with lack of trust.  It is far more difficult to misunderstand or deceive face to face.  Both parties can see that the other is finding the situation difficult, which can be reassuring.  Often one party thinks that the other does not feel any pain or is not going through any emotional or financial difficulties.  This is rarely the case, both parties find divorce/separation difficult; but it is a joint problem which needs a joint approach.   The sooner the parties can begin to work together despite what may have happened between them, despite the lack of trust, the better it will be both financially and in the long term emotionally.

Mediation is a relatively cost effective way for the parties to meet face to face and discuss in the way they want to, how to deal with their particular situation and with the help of the Mediator to try and work out the arrangements that can best suit all the family members as far as possible.  There is rarely an ideal solution but somehow parties need to work through any potential lack of trust to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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The most popular age to get divorced?

There were several articles in the press recently about the latest divorce figures suggesting that the only reported rise in the divorce rate is amongst the 60+ age range.  This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that this is the most popular age for divorce, merely that there is a new trend – the numbers of those over 65 getting divorced is certainly increasing but in my view the most common age for divorce remains mid-late 40’s.

This may be because younger people have never married in the first place.  With short-term relationships or marriages there are often no children or few assets to argue over – it is only when there are children, pensions, property, mortgages and all the other aspects of aging and longer relationships that separation becomes more complicated.

IMG_9769webSo why more divorces amongst the over 65?  Is this simply an aspect of us all living longer and having higher expectations of our retirement?  We are no longer prepared to simply settle down with our partner of the last 20-30 years.  We may decide that the prospect of possibly 20 years with your current partner and no work as a diversion is simply too much to bear.

It can though come as a shock to anyone expecting to retire on a comfortable pension to suddenly find themselves faced with a Divorce Petition which will involve sharing that pension and possibly selling the matrimonial home and looking at either down-sizing or taking out a mortgage when you least expected it.  There are some advantages though to divorce so late – children are generally grown up, possibly even having left university, you are no longer responsible for them in any way, you no longer have to provide a ‘family home’ in the traditional sense.  But however old they may be, children still feel the impact and possible pain of their parents’ separation.  They may have left home but they would like the possibility of returning to what was their childhood home intact, and also what about the grandchildren?

While the percentage of divorcees amongst the over 65’s is still relatively low, the rate of disengagement is growing fast.

Divorce for the retired certainly has different aspects to a separation where there are young children, mortgages to pay and a career to establish – but similar principles apply.  Far better to separate constructively and collaboratively than incur unnecessary legal costs with stressful arguments through the courts.  One expenditure which is hard to avoid however, is an actuarial report.  Pensions obviously loom large in post-retirement separation and a proper actuarial value of your pension is essential.  You will not only want to look at its actual cash value, but also projected incomes going forward for both the male and the female – with their different life expectations they will need different pension pots to produce similar incomes.  Never has professional advice in relation to pensions been so important.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Mediation explained

From 6 April 2011 the Ministry of Justice proposed that before anyone made an application to the court in relevant family proceedings (and this is not divorce – relevant means an application in relation to money matters or children issues), the person making the application should contact a mediator.

Nicky GoughMediators must be authorised to carry out the mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs).  The applicant attends an information meeting at which the mediator will give advice about all forms of alternate dispute resolution.  This could involve mediation, whereby both parties meet with a trained mediator to see if the three can make any progress with regard to agreeing what is to happen either in relation to financial matters or in relation to the children.  The mediator may also discuss a collaborative process, whereby each person going through the divorce or separation has a collaborative lawyer and the four meet round the table to work through what needs to be done either in relation to money, property e.t.c., or children or both.

Hopefully a form of mediation acceptable to all the parties can be agreed.  If not, to demonstrate compliance with the Ministry of Justice pre-action protocol, the applicant would need to provide a form FM1 with their application to the court.  This is generally completed by the mediator, but can be signed by the solicitor acting for the applicant.

So what does the initial meeting with the mediator consist of?  Generally the mediator will try and meet both parties, either separately or together, and explore with them the various options available.  Also whether mediation is suitable if there is a risk of either party being influenced by fear of violence or intimidation.  A mediator can also assess whether they qualify financially for Legal Aid for family mediation.

If the parties do qualify for Legal Aid then the mediator cannot charge for this initial MIAMs meeting.  If either party qualifies for Legal Aid and they both decide to proceed with mediation, they are given the option of an onward referral to a Legal Aid Mediation Service if that particular mediator does not offer Legal Aid mediation.  The parties can decide to stay with their mediator, or choose the collaborative option.

The role of the mediator is of course totally neutral.  Mediators do not give legal advice.  For that, in the collaborative process, you need a collaborative lawyer or a solicitor, whether or not collaboratively trained.

What will it cost?

At the moment it is approximately £80 per person for attending the MIAMs meeting, or £200 per session if the parties attend jointly.

If the parties decide to proceed to mediation the cost will, subject to any particular consideration, be approximately £180 per hour per couple, with additional charges for the production of documents, depending on the amount of work involved.  The fees can be shared between the parties on a 50/50 basis, or in any other way that they may agree.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Is the divorce process unfair to men?

I make no apologies for revisiting this issue as it does seem to be a common concern.  There is a widespread perception that with the divorce process and any issue or argument over children, particularly if it is conducted through the courts, favours women.  Is this correct?

post_imageThe courts, when dealing with children, have as their primary concern the welfare of the children.  A fairly neutral position and certainly one that is supposedly child focused as opposed to looking after the interests of either parent.

Similarly, if the issue of finances is debated through the courts, then again the court would take a position that both parties to a divorce need to be adequately re-housed and that both parents have to have accommodation suitable for their children to visit.  So why is there this widespread perception that men do badly in divorce, or that the whole process is unfair and biased in some way against them?

It may be in some way related to the other statistic, which is that most divorces are commenced by women.  This may have something to do with the fact that women tend to want to do something about a situation that is unsatisfactory, whereas men are more prepared to put up with a degree of difficulty, provided house, home, pension, finances, remain intact – when these are all disturbed they take it rather badly.

Many men feel that they have worked all their lives to achieve a certain standard of living, and with that, an adequate or even good pension provision.  Obviously a divorce means that the family home may well have to be sold and the sale proceeds distributed, therefore both are in a smaller house, and the highly prized pension pot is also split.  If you are not the instigator of the divorce, you may feel very badly indeed when all these things happen to you, seemingly through no fault of your own – and if your wife is in a new relationship then the pill is even more bitter.

However, if you can step back from the situation, the courts really do try to be even-handed and if you avoid the courts altogether, so much the better.  By using mediation and a collaborative approach to divorce, the focus is on how both parents are going to manage their separation to avoid any damage to the children and to ensure as far as possible, that everyone continues to have a similar lifestyle afterwards.  It cannot be avoided that both parties will be worse off financially as a result of the divorce, but through mediation, there is the real prospect that both parties will feel they’ve had a fair and workable outcome.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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Are Mediation or Collaboration possible when you’re going through a divorce?

If people are separating or divorcing after many years together, particularly when there are children involved, then obviously there are emotions that may inhibit a calm and rational approach.  But surely it is better to try, rather than straight away decide to use the court which is an adversarial approach that merely polarizes the parties, is extremely stressful and costs an awful lot of money.  These must be reasons to look at collaboration more seriously.

So how does collaboration differ from mediation?

weighing scalesMediation involves the two parties going to a professional mediator who doesn’t necessarily need to be legally qualified.  The idea is that they explore ways of reaching a settlement through that one mediator.  The parties have to go back to their lawyers to convert the results of mediation into a settlement within the legal parameters of the divorce proceedings.

With the collaborative process there are two lawyers, both working towards achieving a satisfactory settlement, albeit one that is necessarily based on compromise.  It is often said that the best solution is one that neither party is terribly happy with, but is prepared to accept.   Generally speaking there are no winners in a divorce – what should be happening is every effort is made to limit the damage.  That is not only financial damage, but emotional damage to the parties and above all the children.

Obviously one of the main reasons for doing things collaboratively is to preserve a relationship between the parties for the sake of the children and to enable the parties to focus on the needs and interests of the children as well as their own emotional and financial needs.

Within the collaborative and mediation process both parents acknowledge their role in caring for the children and that this role will continue despite their separation, so every effort needs to be made by both parents to ensure that the children maintain a good relationship with both parents.

Surely everyone wants both parents, separated or not, to attend the family occasions – christenings, graduations, weddings e.t.c. without any lingering animosity as a result of separation or divorce.  At Cotswold Family Law we offer a variety of ways of resolving difficulties without necessarily going to court.  It may be that we bring the parties’ company accountant or an independent financial advisor or a family therapist into the meetings to help the parties deal with all aspects of their separation, whether it be the impact on their business or the effect of the separation on the children and how best to deal with this.  Every effort is made to ensure that the parties separate on the best possible basis.

Collaboration or mediation makes sense – emotionally, financially and practically.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

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