As the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, it goes without saying NFM delivers … well, family mediation. But I want to take the opportunity to outline another important area of our work – delivery of the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).
In my view the SPIP is an incredibly influential tool, helping those who attend to learn more about the challenges of post-separation parenting, with a particular focus on the perspective and needs of their children.
The SPIP is a four-hour course, usually delivered to a small group of up to 12 parents who are all going through separation, divorce and family court. Participants are directed to attend by a court when they have been unable to agree parenting arrangements. They don’t go to the same course together on the same day, but it is important that both of them attend and engage with the SPIP.
It’s true to say that participants often find the prospect of attending an inconvenient nuisance at first, but most who attend say they find it very helpful. That’s one reason why some liken it to the driver education courses that so many people choose rather than taking the hit of licence points. Unlike those driver courses, however, the SPIP is free to attend for those who are court-ordered. Few people apply to attend a course voluntarily, though it’s possible, on payment of a fee.
NFM in its delivery ensures that the programme is delivered by qualified trainers who fully understand both the potential legal consequences of family breakdown, and the complex and diverse emotional needs of families during a really difficult period in their lives.
The aim of the SPIP is to help parents:
- Look at the journey they are on
- Focus on what children feel and need
- Focus on moving forward, and next steps
The aim is to ensure adults put their children first when they are separating, despite what is often an ongoing dispute with their ex. It helps equip them with key principles of managing conflict and difficulties, including how to put these into practice in their own unique situation. It empowers participants to help themselves and, crucially, to help their kids.
It is supposed to help parents think about alternatives to going to court and provide the building blocks for managing their ongoing parenting in their new separated world. It provides some very powerful testimonials from children and the key message is 'we don’t like it when you diss each other and argue about us!'
The SPIP has been running now for 10 years-plus and repeated laments from parents attending are 'if only we had done this sooner'. So what prevents parents from coming sooner in their separation journey? Well, put simply, that is the court process. It is only once parents are in court that the judge makes the order to attend, by which time the battle lines are drawn. It often feels that judges are referring to SPIP because they don’t have any other tools in their armoury to try and make the parents shift position, and agree contact arrangements that would so benefit the children.
In addition we find that the SPIP can also be an excellent foundation for family mediation. Once parents have attended, and begun to acquire some of these skills outlined above, they are better prepared to negotiate future-focused agreements with their ex about other things, like property and money.
And in our experience they have become much better at putting aside their own bitter feuds, and instead making their children’s interests the number one priority.
Sadly this too suffers from coming too late in the court battle and time and again we hear parents say 'if only we had known about this sooner'.
So this is a rallying cry to all professionals working with family breakdown to act sooner rather than later. Help the families you work with achieve better outcomes for themselves and their children. Think ‘Mediation’ and ‘SPIP’ first, not last as is too often the case with the court process
This way we can help more families resolve their separation more quickly and amicably - and prevent the revolving door of contact applications to court.