On Wednesday 3rd February, a number of CFDRG members met with representatives from Relate Cambridge to see what really goes on in a couple counselling session! Relate director Claire Nunes showed a video promoting their children’s counselling services and provided some thought provoking statistics on the number of families and, in particular, children who are affected by parental separation issues today.
The role play provided by two counsellors and an actor, gave us all an insight in the different perspective each party to a separation can have, and reminded us that often they are not both in the same place in terms of coming to terms with the relationship breakdown and this can present challenges both for counsellors, mediators and lawyers.
Relate offer much more than simply counselling couples through separation and it was highlighted that early intervention for couples who want to work at their relationship can be very successful. In addition they work with families at any point to assist with generational or communication difficulties.
Following this event, CFDRG decided to donate 50% of the profits from its Dispute Resolution conference, to Relate’s child counselling service.
Partner Silver Fitzgerald Solicitors
The newspapers report that the first working day after the Christmas-New Year closure is the peak day for couples to seek a divorce. Whilst this may be more of an urban myth than reality, it could be that the extra stresses both on finances and of time spent with close and not so close family and friends at this time of year leads some couples to make that final decision to split.
The more important question than “when “ is “how”. It is only the bitterly fought cases that make the newspaper headlines whether over money or the arrangements for the children. However a significantly greater number of couples resolve their issues in a co-operative and civil way using lawyers or mediators or a combination of the two. Choosing mediation or the collaborative approach can help maintain a good working relationship for parents or for couples who simply want to stay friends. Collaborative law especially has the advantage of all decisions being made when everyone (lawyers, parties, with financial advisors and family consultants when needed) in the same room so everyone can participate in the discussion and the decision.
Even where mediation or collaborative law is not appropriate, Resolution professionals who have these dispute resolution skills can work to achieve a negotiated settlement away from the formal litigation of a court room.
If the first week of January is a tipping point for separating couples, each of them still has the option to choose the right way to handle that, to give both them and their children a positive way forward.
There are several areas that need addressing in divorce and separation - the legal and financial aspects are obvious but the emotional side is crucially important for the whole family and can sometimes be overlooked or not properly acknowledged.
Divorce is one of the most stressful life events - indeed the Holmes and Rahe scale (which measures stress levels) puts divorce only second to the death of a spouse. The end of a marriage or relationship is often experienced as an enormous loss. Whether the marriage has lasted for one year or thirty, separating couples often experience an enormous range of emotions - they might feel sad, angry, fearful, relieved, ashamed, hurt, confused, lost, in denial, depressed, resentful, anxious, bitter, betrayed, let down, misunderstood, rejected and many more besides. All these emotions are completely normal and similar to those going through bereavement but each person will experience their own unique combination of feelings in varying degrees. It is important that these emotions are allowed to be processed rather than denied or buried otherwise they have an uncanny way of erupting at inappropriate times and can often derail the divorce process.
Even when a marriage naturally comes to an end and is mutually agreed between the couple, emotions can and indeed often do run high. It is unusual for both spouses to be in the same emotional place at the same time and so it can be difficult for each to understand the other. One might feel that the other is being incredibly slow in coming to terms with the end of the relationship because they themselves are feeling fine about it. Conversely, the person who is struggling more might feel offended or confused about how well their ex partner is dealing with the breakdown. The emotions experienced can also be far more complex if they trigger previous experiences of loss and thus the feelings are greatly amplified. It can be hard for friends and family to understand this – typically we hear about well meaning friends saying things like, “I thought it’s what you wanted, why are you finding it so hard to move on?”
When separating couples aren’t able to be open and honest about their emotions, as in all areas of life, they get ‘acted out’. Normally rational, kind people become unrecognisable as they battle to make sense of what they’re going through. If they feel betrayed, they might seek vengeance by denying their ex-spouse access to the children. If they feel anxious, they will be far less able to make informed choices of themselves and their family. If they feel angry, they are likely to look for any opportunity to punish the other person, often to the detriment of children who can inadvertently get dragged into the crossfire. However, if they can find a voice for these emotions, either with the support of a friend, family member or professional, they can learn to ‘park’ the feelings so that they can focus on achieving the best outcome possible. Good, assertive communication is critical in order to be able to let others know how they’re feeling and couples often need help with this.
Cambridge Family Dispute Resolution Group members will help you think this through and if you or your ex partner choose, introduce you to a trusted colleague who will be able to offer you the space to work through any difficulties you or your family might experience.
When going through a divorce, it is not only difficult for the parents but also the children. Here are some children’s books to help children understand the divorce process, their feelings and how to deal with their new situation.
For the younger audience
1. Monday, Wednesday and every other Weekend by Karen Stanton is a wonderfully illustrated book where the story line suits children experiencing a parents’ divorce where they move between house to house. The involvement of a dog takes the attention of the parents’ divorce away from the story.
2. For conversation starters and prompts for the parent and child to discuss and understand divorce, read My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas. It explains the stages of divorce and its aftermath. It helps the child identify their feelings and how they can overcome these and the changing behaviours of the parents after divorce.
3. Jack by Helen Victoria Bishop and Simon Murray is a story of reassurance and comfort which explores the feelings of a child after divorce. It recognises the grief of the child after divorce, and how they blame themselves. It portrays that the child needs reassuring that they are not the cause of the divorce and they are still loved.
4. Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown explains the reasoning, possibility and aftermath of a divorce including a glossary of divorce words. It also explores how to overcome the issue of dealing with two homes, how to tell his/her friends and how to cope with new ‘friends’ of his/her parents.
5. Mum and Dad Glue by Kes Gray provides a soft approach to explaining why divorce happens and reminds the child that his parents will always love them. It is a story of a child realising cracks in his parents’ marriage and trying to fix it but coming to terms with divorce being the best option.
6. Was it the Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins is a story about the life of a child after their parents’ divorce, detailing life with each parent, the things they do and how each house has its benefits. The child looks back on how his actions ‘caused’ the divorce, but with a strong reassurance that divorces are not the child’s fault.
7. Children don’t divorce by Rosemary Stones explores the upset after a divorce and the difficulty of not seeing both parents every day, but then the child learns to accept their new life and their parents’ new partners. It speaks of the realisation of the child that divorce is not uncommon; many parents and children go through the same thing.
For older children
1. The Divorce Helpbook for Kids by Cynthia MacGregor, is a self-help book for children whose parents are going through divorce. It discusses changes in the home, why parents can’t stay together, what happens after the divorce, dealing with their feelings, keeping a relationship with each parent and FAQ’s about divorce.
2. Lemons 2 Lemonade Workbook by Christina McGhee is an interactive workbook which helps the child go through all stages of a divorce such as housing, people to talk to and feelings.
3. The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson is a story about the struggles of a young girl stuck between her parents who don’t get along, living out of a suitcase and moving between houses each week. Despite having to get along with her parents’ new families, getting bad marks at school and losing touch with her friends, she eventually makes new friends and accepts her new life.
4. Clean Break by Jacqueline Wilson is another story about a girl, who has already gone through her parents’ divorce and lives with her new family. However, her new family struggle to accept that the stepdad has left for his new girlfriend especially when they move to Scotland. The stepdad and girlfriend split up and the stepdad ends up returning to the family.
Principal Associate, Mills & Reeve LLP
By Adam Moghadas, Cambridge Family Law Practice
Since April 2004 it has been compulsory for people to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) session before they can apply for a court order about finances on divorce or children matters. So what is it that is stopping couples going on to use mediation to resolve their disputes?
There is still some misunderstanding as to what mediation actually is. It is not a form of counselling or therapy, but rather a negotiation to solve a dispute guided and steered by a neutral facilitator. It is cheaper and quicker than litigation, and can be used to sort out both disputes over arrangements for children and over financial matters, or both.
Perhaps the most obvious barrier to mediation is emotional: if you were all getting on famously and there were no problems, then there would be no need to mediate. So the fact that relations are strained will not make the prospect of sitting down in a room with the person who is causing you grief very appetising. Emotions will be running high, and might include shock, guilt, anger and fear. It requires bravery to sit around a table, with your partner, and a relative stranger (the mediator) and discuss your future. There is no hiding behind lawyers’ correspondence. And courage can be hard to come by at times of emotional distress.
It also takes two to mediate, and two to want to mediate. Sometimes one might want to and the other does not, and sometimes because one wants to the other may refuse. Some might want the support of a solicitor and believe that mediation denies them that. That is not the case, as it is perfectly possible to take legal advice, both before attending mediation and whilst the process is ongoing; in a lawyer-supported mediation, you can even take a solicitor with you. You do not have to go into sessions uninformed or unsupported.
If tensions are running high, then you might be concerned about sitting in the same room as your former partner. Strictly speaking you don’t have to. Mediation can be done in two rooms with you separate throughout, through a form of “shuttle diplomacy” with the mediator moving between. In cases where there are safety concerns but it is still safe to mediate, this can be a good answer, and in other circumstances it can be a good starting point, but if the goal is to make sensible, swift progress this tends to happen better in a same-room meeting. It is rarely as bad as you might expect. The mediator is used to handling tense situations, and trained to assist you both to move negotiations forward.
If you are concerned that your former partner might be dishonest, rest assured that mediation is not an easy option: unless agreed otherwise, you are both under the same obligation to provide disclosure as you would be in the court process. If you have real concerns about dishonesty, then do speak to a solicitor about other options.
You may have concerns that you would be vulnerable in mediation if you’ve never dealt with the family finances and don’t understand them, or if you lack confidence in dealing with your former partner. The role of the mediator is to ensure each party is heard and understood, and to ask questions where this helps move the process on by increasing everyone’s understanding and confidence to a point where an agreement is possible. There is no place for bullying in mediation.
Some people are concerned that if the mediator has been chosen by their former partner then they might not be neutral or independent. It’s important to understand that an initial approach made by one party does not undermine that. Someone has to go first, but the mediator will investigate with both of you your concerns and priorities.
I also hear concerns expressed that because the process is voluntary, any agreement reached might not be honoured. In my experience, most people do honour agreements reached because they work hard for them and only agree what is tolerable (in contrast to a court order, which some people might find intolerable). If you have concerns in that regard, it is possible to have the agreement reached made into a court order by consent. Where the issues are financial, this is particularly important. A lawyer mediator can ensure you have the right information to make arrangements that suit you and will also be approved by the court.
It seems fairly ingrained in our national psyche that when family problems arise, the only thing to do is to go to court to sort it out. Mediation is not the first thing people think of. I hope that with greater awareness of the benefits of mediation and the skills of mediators, more people will see that mediation is a good way to sort out their separation.
Cambridge Family Law Practice
Collaborative law is a different way of working towards family solutions when adult relationships break down. It involves a series of “round table” meetings where both parties, and their respective lawyers, meet in the same room to investigate finding a fair way forward for the family’s particular unique circumstances. Financial, property and children matters can be approached holistically, and third parties can be brought in to assist where necessary with financial advice, valuations, counselling or parenting matters.
The key difference to the conventional approach is that, in collaborative law, both clients and their lawyers sign an agreement at the beginning of the process which commits them to keeping the discussions confidential – enabling everyone to put their cards on the table - and to settling the dispute without going to court. If the collaborative process is not successful, the parties must instruct new lawyers to litigate the outstanding issues, meaning that there is a buy-in from the collaborative lawyers towards making the process work, as they do not want to lose a client.
Cambridge was one of the first places in England to take up the ideas of the collaborative law movement from its origins in the USA, and our lawyers were some of the first to use its principles. As a consequence it is widely recognised that we have some of the most experienced collaborative practitioners around. Despite this, even we are finding it difficult to promote collaborative law in these tricky economic times. We sense that this is down to a combination of factors, namely:-
Time: It is quite a time commitment to attend a series of half-day meetings and, when employment/business circumstances are precarious and childcare is expensive, this may not be a commitment everyone can make. However, in terms of time, clients often find that collaborative law makes it easier to compartmentalise their divorce and stop it from infiltrating their thoughts each day. They know when meetings are going to be, and can prepare for them when they wish, without the fear of too many letters arriving on the doormat in between: Collaborative law works for people who would prefer to deal with matters in chunks of time, rather than little-by-little over a period of weeks or months.
Cost: There may also be a cost issue as, whilst collaborative law is generally much less expensive than a contested court case, the cost of each meeting can seem like a large amount because of the lawyer’s time involved. However, because lawyers’ correspondence is kept to a minimum, and there are no court costs, fees are much more certain and predictable in collaborative law. Decisions about how to cover the costs of the process are made together at an early stage, so there are no surprises later.
Conflict: As many relationships are coming under pressure because of money worries, we are seeing more high-conflict clients and wonder if the idea of a non-adversarial process may be less attractive to those who feel they need a lawyer “in their corner”. It’s a tricky concept to explain, but being non-positional doesn’t mean that the lawyer is not “on your side”, it simply works in a different way when everyone is pushing as a team to find the solution that best fulfills everyone’s needs. Collaborative lawyers are trained in balancing power and creating a level playing field, meaning clients feel less exposed than they might otherwise. It is true that collaborative law requires give and take on both sides, and the idea of compromise can be a difficult one to come to terms with when the end of a relationship brings with it so much fear. The idea of a court case where there is a perceived “winner” and a “loser” is comfortingly familiar. It can understandably take a lot to open minds to the opportunities of a different approach, even where the creativity that collaborative working makes possible can lead to a more flexible, suitable outcome than the strict constraints of the court process.
In summary, collaborative law offers the chance for better solutions for a wide range of people, even where the two clients involved are finding it difficult to communicate without anger. Trained and experienced collaborative practitioners like those at CCFLG are used to and unafraid of conflict. We know how to work with prevailing circumstances to encourage clients to reach solutions that will enable them to face the future with dignity, and without fear of what tomorrow will bring. Most importantly, children facing change in their family unit can benefit massively from the improved communication that usually comes from working collaboratively, in ways that clients rarely expect at the beginning of the process.
Partner, Cambridge Family Law Practice
Article released by Resolution in support of Family Dispute Resolution Week 2015
New polling has found that around eight out of ten 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.
The poll of young people aged 14-22 with experience of parental separation, which was carried out by ComRes on behalf of family law organisation Resolution, has revealed fresh insights from children about the levels of involvement and amount of information they would like during their parents’ divorce. The findings are released ahead of a Parliamentary launch of new advice for divorcing parents.
An overwhelming majority (82%) of the young people surveyed said that, despite their feelings at the time, they felt it was ultimately better that their parents divorced rather than stay together unhappily. 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.”
Key findings from the research shows that children and young people want greater involvement in decision-making during the divorce process:
- 62% of children and young people polled disagreed with the statement that their parents made sure they were part of the decision-making process about their separation or divorce;
- Half of young people (50%) indicate that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live (49%) following their parents’ separation or divorce. Importantly, 88% say it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents;
- Around half (47%) say that they didn’t understand what was happening during their parents’ separation or divorce;
- Two in ten (19%) agree that they sometimes felt like the separation or divorce was their fault;
- 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;
- Positively, Resolution’s research also showed that many parents are handling their separation admirably. 50% of young people agreed that their parents put their needs first during their separation or divorce.
Speaking about the new findings, Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said:
“This new information shows that, despite the common myth that it’s better to stay together “for the sake of the kids”, most children would sooner have their parents’ divorce rather than remain in an unhappy relationship”.
“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.”
Local family lawyer and Resolution spokesperson Adam Moghadas said:
“I know that parents in Cambridgeshire who are going through a divorce will want to put their children first. There are around 2,607 divorces happening in Cambridgeshire each year, which means that there are many local children who might be facing the family issues raised by this research. Divorce is of course a very stressful thing to go through – but the best way forward is to manage separation in a way that minimises conflict, focuses on the needs of children and helps separating couples to avoid court”.
Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles said:
“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.”
The ComRes 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.
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 later this week, 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.
Resolution Press Release
By Adam Moghadas, Resolution Press officer
Cambridge Family Dispute Resolution Members want to raise awareness of the options available to separating couples, so that people know there are alternatives to court. That’s why we are highlighting “Family Dispute Resolution Week” which is to start on the 23rd November 2015.
Last year our members took part in a number of activities to raise awareness, and this year will be no different. In particular, we would wish to draw to your attention that members of the public will be given the opportunity to meet our practitioners (to include lawyers, mediators, financial experts and family consultants) to raise any queries with them directly, or gather information about alternatives to court. Our stall will be held outside The Guildhall on Market Square, Cambridge on Saturday 21st November 2015.
Separation and divorce can be a traumatic process, but by being aware of the alternatives to court available, such as collaborative law, mediation and arbitration, people can minimise the negative impact on them and, crucially for parents, minimise the impact on their children.
Cambridge Family Dispute Resolution Group members look forward to meeting you in order to provide information on the options that would best work for you, and take some of the conflict and confrontation out of a relationship breakdown.
Press Officer for Cambridge & West Suffolk Resolution
A rising number of couples contemplating marriage are asking for pre-nuptial agreements and the consensual approach adopted during the collaborative process could help couples begin their married life on a better footing. Using the collaborative model offers a very different approach to reaching agreement than that offered by the traditional approach of lawyer-led negotiations. It provides a forum where the couple can discuss issues and concerns that are important to them and their shared life together to enable them to reach mutually satisfactory agreements about those concerns.
It is an opportunity to plan for the marriage. Financial and property issues are normally the main focus of discussions; but other issues such as plans for children, the role each partner will play during the marriage whether homemaker or breadwinner, what will be joint assets/property and what will be separate property, what resources will be applied to debts, and what hopes or expectations each party has about savings, investment and retirement can also come into play.
Pre-nuptial agreements address the issue of what would happen in the event of a divorce. Exploring these tough questions in the safe and supportive environment that the collaborative process provides can enhance the couple’s togetherness rather than separateness.
The collaborative process helps resolve difficult legal issues by way of four way meetings involving the couple and their lawyers. It is a supportive environment requiring all parties to be open, honest and respectful of each other. For more information on the workings of the collaborative law process please refer to the article below “An overview of collaborative law” by Adam Moghadas.
Some of the benefits of collaborative law that work well in relation to pre-nuptial agreements are as follows:
i) Working together to reach an agreement that suits both parties;
ii) Direct communication which helps speed up the process;
iii) Finding creative solutions;
iv) Both parties can be open and honest about what they hope to achieve in a conciliatory environment; and
v) Low level of conflict.
Please feel free to contact our collaborative lawyers if you would like to consider a collaborative approach for your pre-nuptial agreement.
Senior Associate – Taylor Vinters LLP
For many separating couples, or families in crisis, you may be wondering where to start and what your options are.
We at Cambridge Family Dispute Resolution Group are committed to offering choices, and for individuals being able to make informed choices, not only about the outcome of any dispute, but also about the approach they wish to take in resolving matters.
A relatively recent approach to family law disputes is Family Law Arbitration. This is a scheme which was introduced in 2012 for families following a collaboration between several organisations (such as Resolution, and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators).
So, what does family law arbitration involve?
Arbitration is where you choose a specially-trained and experienced family law arbitrator to make a binding decision about specific matters on which you cannot agree, or on the whole of your case. The process has some similarities to a judicial process in that the arbitrator will make a decision after hearing arguments from both sides, and that decision will be binding unless later unravelled by a court for good reason.
Whilst for some people, the thought of a third party making a decision for them on issues which affect their lives might seem daunting, in practice it can be an effective method of reaching a resolution in some areas where there is a real impasse.
Family law arbitration does have particular advantages, such as:
> it will often be less expensive than going through a court process;
> it will often be quicker than a court process - depending on how many issues are referred to arbitration and whether this requires the arbitrator to conduct a ‘hearing’ or to make a decision simply having reviewed the paperwork;
> confidentiality - the arbitration can be entirely confidential, whereas for certain family court hearings, the press and media are able to attend;
> having a binding decision and being able to rely on there being a decision/final outcome.
Please feel free to contact our family law arbitrators if you would like more information about this approach.
Partner, Cambridge Family Law Practice
Testimonials "In my own case an amicable outcome was paramount for us both because of the children. I think that because of this our children seem to have been unaffected. We can when required still do "birthdays etc" together."
Find a member Cambridge has the largest concentration of collaborative family law specialists outside of London
David Thompson is a partner at Charles Russell LLP and handles all areas of family law with a particular emphasis o
Frequently Asked Questions Individual solutions for individual relationships
News By the Committee of the CCFLG CCFLG is delighted to announce that 3 new Collaboratively trained lawyers have joined the group. George Sprague, Tricia Ashton (both senior solicitors at Mills & Reeve) and Douglas MacDuff (solicitor at Silver Fizgerald) recently undertook the intensive training course and are looking forward to working with the other members of CCFLG in collaborative work. Simon Bethel, Chair of CCFLG observed "CCFLG has always been at the forefront of collaborative work locally and nationally. All three are already well known within the legal community in Cambridge. CCFLG is proud of the fact that, as a group, we supported them in gaining invaluable practical experience even before they underwent their formal training by enabling them (with the agreement of clients) to sit in on collaborative meetings to gain practical experience of how it works best for clients going through separation and divorce". Details of our three new members will be on our members page shortly. Look out for news of other exciting developments in our membership shortly! The Committee of the CCFLG