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


Research reveals high satisfaction with collaborative law

An interdisciplinary research project looking at how people accessed help in family disputes has just published preliminary findings from a national survey into the three major forms of out of court family dispute resolution which are Mediation, negotiation between Solicitors and Collaborative Law.

The three year study commenced in July 2011 and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Panel.

Client at a deskGenerally Mediation was recognised as the most common way of dealing with matters outside of Court but there was also higher than expected recognition and experience of Collaborative Law, which has only really been available in Britain since 2006.  Collaborative Law also achieved the highest level of satisfaction amongst the participants to the questionnaire.  There were some problems expressed with Mediation, some clients feeling dissatisfied as they felt intimidated and unprotected by the Mediator.  There is often insufficient time spent explaining the difference between Mediation and the Collaborative process.  They may sound similar but in practice are very different, particularly if you feel vulnerable or anxious and need the support of a solicitor with you in negotiations.

In Mediation you are on your own with the Mediator and your partner or ex-partner.  That can be frightening or at least intimidating, certainly disconcerting. The Mediator does not intervene on your behalf, the Mediator is neutral.  However this can be a very cost effective way to negotiate settlements but equally it can be intimidating.

With Collaborative Law you have your lawyer with you who supports you but also in the collaborative process, both lawyers are trying to reach a settlement and it is all carried out in a very open and transparent way with all parties present.  There is little opportunity for either intimidation or for one party to become aggressive or intimidating or to be difficult about seeking compromise.

The survey found that people going through divorce found Mediation very hard emotionally as a process – but Mediation is designed to be in parallel with using a solicitor who should support you through the process.  Very often though, of course, cost means that people are reluctant to spend time with both Lawyer and Mediator.

A significant finding of the research was that of the divorce/separated post 1996 sub-sample, women who were offered Mediation were less likely to take it up (49%) then men (71%).  Although of those who did take it up, women were more likely to be neutral about the process (40%) whilst men were significantly more likely to be dissatisfied (55%).

For more information about the project see Mapping the Paths of Family Justice

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email


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


Is a good divorce possible?

little-boy-and-dog-300x216When people separate they are generally going through enormous distress and anxiety, so how can it be in any way good? There is the point that although the process can be a very painful one, for some people they end up in a better place emotionally. The relationship, for whatever reason, has not worked and moving on to be alone and comfortable with that or to be with a new partner is often far better than staying in a difficult and possibly destructive relationship.

Nevertheless if there are children both parents will fear losing contact with the children. Often there is an assumption that the children will stay with their mother. But women still worry about losing their children in some way. The children may spend time with their father who, if he is the breadwinner, may have more resources to give the children a better time, or so the mother fears. So there is anxiety for both parents. Added to that, children will notice difficulties between the parents well before you think they do. So try and focus on the children as soon as possible and this may help to be able to work towards separating on better terms.

In order to separate ‘better’, and to achieve if not a good divorce then at least a less awful divorce or separation, parents need to realise that if they can work together in relation to what is going to happen to the children, then neither of them will in any sense ‘lose’ the children.

Surely collaboration or mediation, whereby from the outset parents agree not to go to court and to do their best to cooperate – often sitting round a table together to find solutions that best suit their particular situation – must be a better way. Inevitably when parties separate there is less money; there is no solution which will enable the parties to be in exactly the same position financially as when together, and inevitably you will be worse off financially. But that does not mean that solutions are impossible. There is generally a way to ensure one way or another that both parents can be adequately rehoused, and in such a way that both parents can have the children staying with them.

Most importantly though, if parents can work together in relation to the arrangements for the children, both parents can then play a significant part in the rest of the children’s lives. Every parent will want to be able to attend school events, university graduations, weddings and any other significant family event. You may not be best friends with your ex-partner, but it would be good to be able to attend those joint family occasions after you have separated.

So right from the outset there are a lot of good reasons to make a commitment to collaborate in some way. To work out with the help of collaborative lawyers, mediators or other advisers how to arrange your finances so that although you are living separately you can in a way you decide together co-parent the children for the rest of their lives. It has got to be worth making the effort from the outset to do this for yours and your children’s sakes.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email



Changing the rules in divorce

children walking through wheat fieldIn February this year the Government proposed changes to contact arrangements and this caught the headlines.  It is perhaps unfortunate that some of the other less provocative, but very sensible, proposals contained in the report were lost in the discussion about whether or not fathers would have more contact with their children.

One proposal was that separating couples would automatically have an on-line information helpline to give them access to all sorts of information when they are separating, not just legal.  I generally suggest that parents take advantage of other non-legal assistance, such as guidance and support in helping their children deal with their separation, or help to deal with their own emotional issues.  It is important that all parties in a divorce can move on from what can be a very difficult emotional situation to a place where there is acceptance and, if necessary, forgiveness.  We all know of people who are trapped in the bitterness of an acrimonious relationship.  Even after many years they can still bemoan their former partner, which actually does more damage to themselves.  It is also of course vitally important that children are helped through what can be a difficult situation.

The court encourages parents who are arguing about the children to seek alternative means of resolving these difficulties.  Anyone wishing to apply to the court is required to attend a meeting with a mediator and parents are then referred to a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).  Many lawyers feel that it is unfortunate that the parents attend these separately, becauss although they are separating, they are actually going to remain co-parents of that child or children so need to work together to help the children deal with their separation and ensure that the family survives well post-separation

There are various proposals envisaged to change the way parents take matters through the court.  One is to change the terms “contact” and “residence” order to something called a “child arrangement order”, which is said to “encompass all arrangements for children’s care in private law”.  What this will actually mean in practise is of course unknown, but most lawyers feel that it is a good idea to move away from the label of contact and residence which suggest that there is one parent who has care of the children, whereas the other “only” has contact.  Arrangements should be joint, even if in practise the children spend more time with one parent or the other.

The overall message is of course that there has to be a better way for families to deal with the issues of separation, whether it be money or children, than arguing through the courts as they still have to exist together as a family, even when the parents are living separately.  In some way or another parents need to be encouraged to address the needs of their children at that time of separation more constructively than many do at the moment.  A court process which polarises parents to take particular positions and a process which can take many weeks to complete, just allows conflict to become further entrenched and any temporary arrangement for the care of the children to become the actual arrangement without any proper consideration of whether this is in fact in the best interests of all parties.

The courts have as their overriding principle the welfare of the children, but it tends to get lost in the mire of legal argument and positioning from the parents.  What we need to do is stop that positioning from the outset and persuade parents to approach their separation collaboratively and to resolve their differences through mediation.

For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email