One abiding experience of those who work in the family law sector helping separating and separated couples to resolve their disagreements and move on is that particularly in cases where there has been a lot of acrimony, resentment can linger. All too often, this means that where children are involved, separating or separated parents continue to disagree about important matters such as maintaining regular, workable contact arrangements and which parent will have which child for birthdays, family events, bank holiday weekends and religious festivals.
Not infrequently, the parent or families with whom the child or children in question reside might “take advantage” and become obstructive. Equally as frequently, parents with whom such children do not reside are accused of insisting on strict inflexible rotations of holiday and related visits or on very strict 50:50 arrangements which may in reality be very disruptive – not least for the children themselves. Sometimes there are underlying financial issues with one parent perhaps contending that the other is not making appropriate child-related provision or being perceived of as financially irresponsible with attendant suggestions that payments made will be used for nefarious purposes unrelated to a particular child’s needs or interests.
Years ago the generally accepted method of resolution was for disputing couples to go to court and ask for a formal order to be made. Then, as now, this invariably proved to be a very unwieldy and expensive process that necessitated judges (who understandably were reluctant to interview children in the formal setting of the court) commissioning special reports that were often long in coming and not altogether easy to digest. Often this meant that in instances where there were no fundamental objections to child contact taking place, using this long, drawn-out process meant that in such cases contact was effectively put on hold. This would invariably result in delays that proved to be as significant a stumbling block to ensuring fair and regular contact arrangements as the objections raised in the first place by one parent or another.
Essentially under this system a disingenuous parent could be seen to be doing the right thing and at the same time stymie the process. Equally and invariably, the court orders generated were complex, detailed, and inflexible, and most people would walk away from such proceedings feeling very dissatisfied.
Recognising this, over the years, judges became increasingly reluctant to sanction these rather unsatisfactory processes and began to place greater emphasis on disputing parents resolving matters for themselves and adopting a flexible approach. In some instances, this is all well and good but in cases where one parent might continue to adopt an inflexible approach, a possibly “innocent” ex might find him or herself bereft and deprived of an appropriate remedy.
In the modern age the obvious response to this conundrum is to suggest the safe, flexible environment that family mediation engenders. Particularly in cases where the parents in question have not been communicating effectively with one another, mediation is a good option and at the very least it can help reopen the lines of communication.
However, not all of those involved in family disputes see mediation as a flexible and informal process that gets good and fair results. For some, despite its relative informality, mediation is quite formal and, in some instances at least, disputing parties sometimes focus too much on the outcome rather than the all-important preceding discussions. The danger therefore is that by the time an agreement is formulated, the parties may place too much emphasis on “getting it over and done with” and an opportunity for genuine resolution may be lost. Some people are affected by the relationship breakdowns to the extent that they are completely unprepared even for mediation but realising that some form of dialogue is necessary, badly need another option.
ASM PLUS can help by offering a facilitated meeting service in which the emphasis is very strongly on the all-important issue of the discussion and because there is no formal or informal focus on the outcome, disputing parents are much less shackled and they are better able to tackle the underlying issues. Such discussions can be very helpful catalysts for parents to appreciate that what really matters is the best interests of their children and they can come to appreciate that issues such as child contact really can be separated from ongoing concerns about matters such as financial provision.
In some instances, the parents may not be ready, even for mediation. In practice, particularly where there is a history of inter-parental discord, they may find the idea of a facilitated meeting to be a very effective icebreaker and come to realise that by not focusing on “the agreement” they have a much better discussion. They may also surprise themselves when they come to realise that they have more in common than they had initially thought and go on to discover that they have actually reached a sensible, workable agreement.
In appropriate individual cases only one or two meetings with an ASM PLUS facilitator will be required meaning that the time and costs savings are very significant. In instances where the disputing parents live a long way away from one another or there are other practical difficulties, we offer a flexible online option which means that parents with work-related or personal issues are saved considerable amounts of trouble and waiting time.
The ASM PLUS family team is convened by Austin Chessell, the highly accomplished family mediator and collaborative solicitor. In so doing Austin works with heterosexual, same sex or transgender couples and is one of only a small number of mediators qualified to conduct mediation sessions with children.
As well as offering our mediation, facilitated meeting and critical thinking services to all divorcing or separating couples, we also offer a comprehensive service for dealing with family disputes involving probate, inheritance matters and family trusts, dispute resolution for family businesses and matters involving siblings. Uniquely, we also offer the services of a family mediator who is a qualified accountant.
Call 07476 279307 for an initial without obligation discussion.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.