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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Managing Christmas as a divorced or separated parent

Although it is only November, as soon as the clocks go back it seems that everyone is trying to get us to focus on Christmas.  Christmas can be a great family time of year, an excuse to take some time to visit friends and family, but equally it can be a dreadful time of financial and emotional stress which can, for some families, be the final straw.  Or it can just be average:  most peoples’ Christmases are in fact just that - ok, nothing more nothing less.  But unfortunately the weeks of hype that lead up to Christmas encourage everyone to expect that Christmas should in some way be fantastic -  full of smiling parents and beautiful children, the perfect Granny and other relations in attendance, everyone with lavish and perfectly prepared food and great presents which everyone receives with beaming smiles.  Although we all know in reality it’s not like that, the marketing hype inevitably gets to us. 2 children at the windowSo, how can we manage Christmas better particularly if we do not happen to belong to the perfect family?  I think that what people are really short of, despite the recession meaning that people are also short of money, is time and that instead of spending hours shopping for loads of presents or even buying our children lots of things, we should actually propose a different sort of Christmas where spending time is more important than having presents.  Most adults have far too much stuff and I think that can be said of children too, although they might not so readily admit it. The message must be that if parents can work together in relation to the arrangements for the children, whether together or separate, it is in their best interests.  Try and manage everybody’s expectations so you do not end up being disappointed about the lack of perfection which is an artificial creation anyway.  Reality might actually be better. Some key points to focus on if you are separated: -
  • Agree which parent will have access to the children and when.
  • Allow the children to be able to fully relax and have a fun time with only one parent, without feeling disloyal or missing the other parent.
  • Avoid any competition between you about the provision of presents and stuff generally.  Is the parent with a better job or a new partner able to give the children a better time?  Don’t go there!
  • Think about how you deal with the fact that there may be sad memories of past Christmases when you were all together.
Of course Christmas is a difficult time of year for all families, particularly post separation.  Perhaps the following might help: -
  1. Perfect the essential art of enjoying the now - becoming a human being rather than a human doing.  Perfection is, as we have established, impossible so just enjoy what and who you have.
  2. Count to ten or take three deep breaths and relax before responding to a wind up from your nearest and dearest in whatever form  – text, or even Twitter, Facebook e.t.c.
  3. Try and make up your mind that you are going to have a good time this Christmas whatever the circumstances leading up to it and plan ahead.  Having a schedule in place for when the children will be with each partner if you are separated will ease their anxiety and help any transitions between parents.
  4. Try and let go and have fun!
For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Who cares for the children?

Whenever parties separate and there are children, then a decision has to be made as to whom the children are going to live with.  Do they stay mainly with one parent and have contact with the other or is there some sort of shared parenting arrangement whereby, as far as possible, the children spend equal time with both parents?  Is this a good idea?  Is it a good idea for the parents but not for the children?  How do families best manage the care of their children?  Who cares for the children? 2 children at the windowVery often both parents want to be fully involved with their children’s lives but face the practical difficulty that really the children can only live with one parent which means contact with the other can often be intermittent, alternate weekends and a few days during the week.  Is this enough to maintain proper contact and a good relationship with your child or children? Lots of fathers fear losing their children if they separate from the child’s mother.  But equally mothers too fear losing their children in some way.  Even if the children live mainly with the mother, there will be weekends when they will be with their father who may have a new partner and possibly even a new family.  Separation can cause pain all round. There has been a lobby suggesting that if the time the children spent with both parents was equal this would necessarily be the best in all cases.  This highlights the fact that this presumption actually risks subordinating a child’s best interest to the parents’ expectations of ‘equal’ rights.  It can be hard when parents separate to decide what is best for the children as opposed to what is the best for them, the parents.  Do children really want to spend half the time with one parent and half the time with the other with all the practical difficulties involved in changing from one house to another? Sometimes this can be the best arrangement, particularly if the parents live near to each other and get on well.  But if the parents do not get on well and cannot see each other without arguing then going constantly backwards and forwards creates a lot of tension. Obviously it is best if that tension can be avoided or dissipated altogether as both parents and children learn to move on and deal with their new situation. All that can be said really is that there should be no hard and fast ‘rule’.  It is not the case the children automatically stay with their mother:  it is the case that both mums and dads need to look at what is actually best for their children and most of all try and have a good relationship with each other, even though you have separated, to ensure that the time the children spend with both of you is good. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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It’s the children who suffer most

2 children at the windowWe perhaps all know that the traditional nuclear family – mother, father and children that they have produced together, although possibly the “norm” is by no means the only concept of “family” which society recognises. With the increasing recognition of same sex relationships, other family arrangements are made and it follows too that when these new families break down, the court has to adapt some of the traditional concepts of “family” to meet these new challenges. A recently reported case dealt with a family dispute between two same sex relationships who shared the care of two children.  So you had the child’s father with his male partner and the child’s mother living with her female partner.  The two girls lived mainly with their mother and her partner, but had contact with their father and his partner. The adults then fell out and the judge introduced the concept of “principal parents” to describe the two women and “secondary parents” to describe the father and his partner.  The court dispute between the four adults was about what role the men should play in the girls’ upbringing moving forward.  The women felt that it should be limited, whereas the men considered that it should reflect what they felt had been the case so far – to be fully involved in the children’s lives. Unfortunately the situation between the parents became very acrimonious and this had a devastating effect on the children.  A CAFCASS Officer (court welfare officer) was involved on the children’s behalf and she spoke in relation to one of the children of “the horrendous tangle of emotion and conflict that exists between these adults [which] has resulted in such misery for [the child].  The misery is not because of the way in which she was treated, it is because these adults and their failure to manage their own conflicting feelings, reactions and personal baggage, have handed over the responsibility for coping with this mess to the child.” Interestingly the judge put it that the child needed “emotional permission” to continue her relationship with the men and that this permission lay “purely in the gift of the women” and they were not prepared to give it. Although the family arrangement was in some ways far from normal, it does highlight even more clearly how disputes between adults can irrevocably damage children.  It was clear that both children were quite unable to deal with this conflict – and of course why should they have to. Remember, in any family situation it is never separation that damages children, but conflict.  So whatever the family situation, the adults owe it to their children to keep conflict to a minimum and certainly to avoid involving the children at all in their disputes. Taking the mediation route instead of going to court will help ensure that some sort of relationship is maintained between the adults as, going forward, although they are separated they will need to both have contact with the children and that needs to be managed well for all concerned. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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What is Mediation?

mediationThis might be a strange question as everyone assumes they know what mediation is.   But when you also have collaboration, arbitration and compromise, what exactly is mediation and how does it differ from the other approaches to problem-solving? With mediation there is generally one mediator with two people who have, for whatever reason, not been able to resolve the difficulties between them.  There may be some conflict; if there is a relationship breakdown there is generally a degree of hurt, anger, sadness and other emotions, all of which can make it difficult to resolve issues.  But the point is to deal with differences, not in a destructive adversarial way, but with a more rational, positive approach to problem-solving.  You are not going to eliminate conflict but rather transform it and separate those involved and their emotions from the particular problems. The issues or problems can be:  how are the couple going to separate, where are they going to live, how are they going to manage the children?  There will need to be some degree of co-parenting but how will this work out in practise?  A rational approach does not mean leaving aside personal feelings but to try and concentrate on what the problems are, not the emotional aspects of the relationship. If you are separating it must be better to work towards your own solutions rather than having a decision dictated by someone else.  So often you hear talk about “going to Court” as if it is some sort of panacea that will automatically solve all the problems.  It might produce a decision but whether it is the right decision is a moot point.  It is not the decision the parties may have chosen for themselves and it is sometimes not one that may have thoroughly considered the practicalities of its implementation.  The best solution for a couple going through a divorce or separation is one they have created rather than the one that is imposed. It may be difficult not to take up positions and feel that any sort of compromise is giving in.  But the more people position themselves, the more committed they become to that position, defending it against attack and so becoming concerned about saving face rather than reaching an agreement.  The more attention that is paid to positions, the less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of both parties.  A mediator can help move from positions to focusing on what the parties really want, looking at interests rather than positions. Mediation is not a question of one party imposing their view, as any settlement achieved by hard bargaining may resort in short-term gain but often the result is damaging to the relationship.  The whole point of working through issues either through mediation or the collaborative process is to preserve some sort of relationship between the parties.  Although parents might be separating, it remains essential for their children that they maintain the ability to communicate. People often come to mediation realising that the stakes are high and feeling threatened, fearful or anxious.  Emotions in one party will generate emotions in the other – fear and anger may take over.  It is important to recognise, understand and acknowledge emotions, many of which are driven by concerns.  Attending to those concerns can possibly deal with the emotions and so create a more positive climate for problem-solving.  Emotions are legitimate but they should not necessarily take over and determine outcomes. With the lack of legal aid now available to fund most Family Court actions and with the cost of arguing through Lawyers and the Courts rising, it makes sense to look for alternative ways to problem-solve.  Mediation and the collaborative approach in divorce not only are a means of problem-solving, without the bitterness that can ensue with Court battles, but also far more cost effective. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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