The annual Family Mediation Week initiative, this year taking place from 21 – 25 January, has become a useful way to highlight the many benefits of making those all-important post-divorce settlements without heading straight to court, writes Jane Robey.
The timing of the initiative is no accident, of course. January has long been known as a busy time for separation and divorce. Mediators in our national network always report a spike in enquiries after the Christmas and new year holiday is over.
There’s a sense of irony that this year, at the time this initiative is running, the nation is completely consumed with the country’s proposed divorce - from the European Union. Huge attention and coverage has of course been given to Brexit: meanwhile those in my profession wish to use Family Mediation Week as a vehicle to promote what we do, and how it can help families up and down the land with their own very personal divorce.
Just as the United Kingdom needs to negotiate exit arrangements having chosen to end our 40-plus year relationship with the EU, so divorcing parents need to settle issues around parenting, finance and property when they decide to call it a day.
In some ways it’s perhaps unwise to draw parallels with Brexit, given the huge length of time taken to negotiate a deal, only for it to be rejected. At the time of writing, huge uncertainty prevails. Too many MPs seem to have forgotten who they are supposed to be working for, instead focusing on their own wishes and ambitions rather than on the outcomes for those they are supposed to serve.
Bringing the focus back to families, though, what I can confidently say is that family mediation is usually much quicker than taking the ‘traditional’ and acrimonious court-room route. And mediation can give the children a voice in the process to reduce the chances that, as with MPs and Brexit, the adults are primarily focused on their own hurt and anger with their ex, rather than thinking about what the future looks like for their kids.
As statistical return after statistical return show falling figures for family mediation, with the disastrous impact of LASPO continuing to hit the profession hard, Family Mediation Week offers an important opportunity to proclaim the merits of what we do.
Family mediators are fully trained in all aspects of family law and their personal and focused approach makes the mediation process flexible. There are no off-the-peg solutions or approaches: everything is carefully negotiated to suit the family’s unique needs, and we know it works extremely well for mothers and fathers alike.
Interestingly, shortly before Christmas came the publication of ‘Testing Times’, a new Centre for Social Justice report which focused on fatherhood.
The report rightly shone a light on the importance of fatherhood in improving childhood outcomes. However, it was noticeable that whilst it recognised the need to strengthen relationship support services, it didn’t properly address the value of fully involving fathers in genuinely shared parenting after separation or divorce has taken place.
That was regrettable, in my view. We know that divorce and separation becomes a reality for many thousands of parents every year, and a focus on the significance of the father’s role cannot be allowed to diminish in these circumstances.
Sensible agreements over shared parenting duties are often pivotal to children’s future wellbeing. The experience of our network’s mediators is that couples who are prepared to genuinely take joint responsibility for the child’s future, making parenting agreements on that basis, work better together after separation than those who bow to the clarion call of litigation.
This brings huge benefits to the child who has initially been caught in the middle of a separation storm. And agreements that help separated parents move forward in relation to finance and property issues help them avoid the poverty trap that litigation encourages.
Together as a profession, we continue to press the government to push the promotion of family mediation up the agenda. Ensuring more and more separating couples mediate, not litigate, will improve the quality of active parenthood, and childhood outcomes to boot. Family Mediation Week provides another chance for us to do this – and it’s one we are taking.