THE FAMILY TEAM
Why use the ASM Plus family dispute resolution service?
ASM Plus provides a cost effective and time saving family dispute resolution service with plenty of options that really works.
The processes of family breakup and divorce are without doubt the most demanding and stressful events that people will ever encounter. We deliver promptly and efficiently and are committed to helping you not only to resolve your divorce or family difficulty at the earliest available opportunity but to helping to ensure that the all-important channels of communication remain open. All the members of our expert team are completely neutral, encourage the clients they are assisting to be frank and to look at matters objectively and dispassionately. The parties are in control of the decisions made which helps to ensure confidentiality.
Using our family service will:
- Save you and your family members hundreds or thousands of Pounds;
- Save hours of your valuable time that can be put to more productive use;
- Save you hours of form filling, waiting around at court for hearings that might not go ahead and having to deal with the stress of giving evidence;
- Save you immense amounts of upset, worry and anguish.
The ASM Plus family team provides a first-class family mediation and facilitated discussion service to separating heterosexual and same sex couples who have financial and child-related issues to resolve.
ASM Plus’s highly skilled experts also offer their skills and expertise to grandparents, transsexual couples, in cases where there are issues relating to wills, probate and inheritance and disputes about family businesses, family housing/sharing arrangements, educational issues and sibling rivalry. Where appropriate we can offer all our family services not just on weekdays but in the evenings and weekends.
ASM Plus Testimonials:
“The mediators without any doubt added very significant value and helped us avoid what would have been potentially very significant legal costs. Without their help I doubt we could have got a sensible conversation between us and the defendant”.
“Excellent Service from a dedicated and well-informed group of individuals! Certainly, recommend their services!”
“Expert practical advice from an approachable team of professionals with experience of responding to dispute resolution.”
ASM Plus’s family services
ASM Plus offers:
- An initial, unique complimentary Divorce Navigation Call during which our divorce strategist will provide all important initial practical guidance
- Mediation which is a process by which parties in conflict come together to resolve disputes and negotiate mutually acceptable agreements with the assistance of an impartial mediator facilitating the discussion and negotiations.
- Facilitated Meetings are a very good alternative to mediation that are used in cases where there may be some agreement and the parties need help from an independent facilitator to ensure a prompt resolution.
- A unique family oriented Critical Thinking (CT) option provided by a highly accomplished CT expert. The service is offered alongside facilitated meetings and works very effectively in helping people to ensure that they remain focused and so can concentrate on the significant issues.
- Relationship Systems Coaching is an effective way for couples, teams, businesses – anyone who is in a relationship in their personal or professional life – to improve the dynamic of the relationship, whatever stage the relationship is in. There are many applications of this type of coaching for family systems. It can be a powerful intervention to improve the dynamics in family businesses, for example, including family businesses where a couple is divorcing, but intend to continue in business together.
Our services are provided either face to face or online using Zoom. The online option works very well if the parties live a long way away from one another or where they are unable or unwilling to meet face to face.
Complimentary divorce navigation call
This unique service is offered by ASM Plus’s divorce specialist and strategist, Suzy Miller who provides practical guidance for individuals and couples in the UK and abroad about how to stay out of court when divorcing or separating.
This service is particularly suited to people who perhaps unexpectedly find themselves in the midst of a family dispute and are unprepared for the difficulties that may lie ahead. Using her strategic insights, Suzy’s unique service ensures that those affected by family breakup or discord have ready access to initial assistance and advice that will help them identify possible options and address whatever difficulties they may have to face in the future.
What is family mediation and what are its advantages?
Mediation is a process by which parties in conflict come together to resolve disputes and negotiate mutually acceptable agreements with the assistance of an impartial mediator facilitating the discussion and negotiations. It is very flexible and is geared to the needs and wishes of the parties. They, rather than the mediator make the decisions and any agreement reached is voluntarily decided by them.
The mediator helps those involved in a mediation to remain focused and ensures that all concerned have an opportunity not only to state their points of view but to listen to what others have to say. The process is flexible and very much geared to the needs and wishes of the parties.
The ASM Plus family mediators are Austin Chessell, Paul Sandford, Anthony Wooding and David King
Facilitated meetings in family work with the special ingredient of Critical Thinking
In some family cases, a facilitated meeting is a very effective alternative to mediation. Like mediation, it can relieve you from the stress of paperwork and save you considerable amounts of time and money. Whereas mediation is generally used for helping disputing parties who have a significant level of disagreement, facilitated meetings in which the parties meet face-to-face are a very good option in circumstances where:
- there may already be some level of agreement;
- a disagreement may be at an early stage and those involved have recognised that there is an issue and want to try and get it resolved before things get out of hand;
- they may wish to preserve an existing personal or business relationship.
The special ingredient that ASM Plus provides as part of Facilitated Meetings is Critical Thinking (CT). This has been very effectively developed and used in the corporate, private, public and educational sectors by one of the ASM Plus family team members, Dr Roy van den Brink-Budgen, who works alongside Nicole Godetz and Paul Sandford.
The important role of Critical Thinking in family mediation
In the context of family mediation, using critical thinking (CT) can bring a number of special (and highly effective) features to the process.
By stressing the value of clear thinking, CT will encourage the participants to
- focus upon the central issues and the way in which they see them;
- look carefully at the underlying assumptions they are making in the way in which they see these central issues.
By focusing on possibility thinking, CT will encourage the participants to think of and to consider possible options beyond those that they might already have put ‘on the table’.
By focusing on the notions of open-and fair-mindedness, CT will encourage the participants to see the value of giving full consideration to the positions that are being presented (including those which are causing considerable disagreement).
By seeing the value of a reasoned facilitated discussion (avoiding inconsistencies, contradictions, unsupported claims, and other weaknesses in reasoning), the participants will move towards well-reasoned positions.
By emphasising the significance of self-reflection, CT will encourage the participants to literally stop and think in order to actively consider how any claims they are making need to be seen in relation to any counter-claims being made (including the giving of examples and other evidence).
By making use of the power of hypothetical thinking, CT encourages the participants to look at alternative scenarios in a productive way by using a creative ‘What if?’ approach.
By using analogies, CT encourages the participants to look again at certain aspects of the discussion by employing analogies (‘Could we see this in a different way – like this, for example…? Isn’t this like something else…?).
Online mediation and facilitated meetings.
In many instances, people are able to meet and discuss things face-to-face and this is all to the good. However, this option is not always appropriate and the experience of ASM Plus’s family team is that online mediations and facilitated meetings work very well.
People who for various reasons would otherwise not be able to meet and could not otherwise benefit from mediation for facilitated meetings will be assured that their safety and privacy are maintained. Cutting out travel means even greater time-savings and using online tools makes it much more likely that any meetings can take place in the evening or at weekends. The avoidance of travel expenses and possible venue hire costs will be avoided as will any possible losses incurred as a result of taking time off work or having to pay for childcare.
Online mediations and facilitated meetings are conducted using easy to operate Zoom or Skype software. All that is required is the following:
- a good quality Internet connection;
- access to a good quality PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone;
- a good quality microphone and/or headset;
- a quiet and private indoor location;
- access to an e-signature facility or an acceptable alternative.
Because the process is controlled by our mediator or facilitator, the parties do not need to have high levels of technical expertise in order to participate. Parties to mediations are strongly advised to prepare well beforehand and ensure that they are fully familiar with any documentation that has been disclosed in advance.
The ASM Plus Family Team
Austin Chessell is the convenor of the ASM Plus Family Team. He is a highly experienced family mediator who has successfully mediated and facilitated in many hundreds of cases ranging from divorce cases involving assets of millions of pounds to those others requiring the resolution of a short-term child contact issue. He is qualified to interview children as part of the mediation process and also specialises in assisting grandparents.
Austin has an excellent track record of helping divorcing and separating couples to resolve their differences and to negotiate mutually acceptable settlements. With his highly skilled input, disputes and disagreements that would otherwise take months or years to sort out, are promptly and effectively resolved without the need for lengthy and costly court proceedings.
Testimonial – From N, Knightsbridge, Client
“Mediation with Austin provided a calm and confidential space for us to discuss these things. Austin helped us to clarify what we wanted, made sure that each of us could speak and be listened to, and kept us focused on what is possible for the future. We were able to agree quite quickly, the arguments on these points are over, and we are now moving on.”
Paul Sandford, David King, Russell Shackleton and Anthony Wooding specialise in mediating in cases involving disputes centring around probate and inheritance disputes, family residential arrangements, family businesses and in cases of sibling rivalry. Paul also conducts facilitated meetings. Using his accountancy background, David mediates cases where there are particular tax or financial issues to consider and from time to time, he may assist Austin Chessell.
Like other members of the ASM Plus family team, Paul, David, Russell and Anthony provide a timely, cost-effective service that gets results and saves ASM Plus clients considerable amounts of time and money.
Paul Sandford – Director of ASM Plus, Mediator, Facilitator, Retired Tribunal Judge and Solicitor
From Ludwig Appeltans
“Paul is a highly skilled professional mediator. He helped us resolve a really difficult issue with skill and humour. I can’t recommend him highly enough.”
From Steve M
“I have known Paul for many years and I have benefitted greatly from his knowledge and experience. Paul displays the utmost professionalism whilst remaining very approachable and achieving the best results for his clients. The breadth of Paul’s expertise and knowledge is very impressive and ensures that he is able to quickly grasp the key issues, salient points and find the best way forward to achieve optimal solutions and results.”
“Henry is reliable, knowledgeable and very helpful! Fantastic people skills.”
Anthony Wooding – Mediator, Solicitor and Lecturer in Dispute Resolution
Testimonial from Tim Mills
“Anthony is steeped in expert knowledge and experience and he never pretends to know anything about which he is not completely confident. He has a strong sense of what is right and wrong. He has extremely high ethical standards and a very finely tuned sense of integrity. The results of his work were precisely what was both wanted and what he said could be achieved – in difficult moral and legal circumstances.”
Testimonial from a very satisfied Solicitor
“A successful mediation aided very well by Mr King.”
Roy van den Brink-Budgen
Roy van den Brink-Budgen is one of the world’s foremost Critical Thinkers. Having advised and facilitated in a number of diverse sectors including commerce and education at all levels he also offers his highly accomplished services via the ASM Plus family team. He is highly adept at helping disputing parties who are endeavouring to try and find solutions to complex financial or social issues with looking at issues analytically, creatively and with a focus on productive evaluation.
Testimonial from Community Development Trust Administrator, Birmingham
“The way in which the nature of critical thinking was clarified by Roy was shown to be of considerable value in the way in which we looked again at our decision-making process.”
Kathleen trains and coaches students, school district personnel, stay at home parents and those involved in child related disputes.
“People take for granted “Mediation in Friendship” – but not Kathleen. She mediated for myself and a friend who had a falling out over a misunderstanding. Her facilitation helped us see where our communications went wrong, gave us the opportunity to speak without being judged. Thank you, Kathleen.”
Nicole’s background is in working with families in the education sector including in many cases where difficulties in the school environment stem from problems at home. She also brings copious experience of supporting families faced with special educational needs, separation, loss resilience and grievance. As a facilitator Nicole is particularly adept at getting to the heart of the matter very quickly and helping those in disputes to see a way forward and to resolve issues amicably.
Testimonial from Susanne Tutsch
“Nicole is full of energy and ideas but also a good listener with empathy and sharp analysis.”
Suzy is the first and only ‘Divorce Strategist’ who provides practical guidance for individuals and couples in the UK and abroad about how to stay out of court when divorcing. Divorcing and separating people and their children and families all benefit if the process is less adversarial through reduced workplace stress and less divorce debt. As a divorce strategist, Suzy helps people navigate through the journey of divorce and separation successfully and to understand its potential difficulties. She fully appreciates that navigating the journey successfully and choosing the dispute resolution options available is challenging for many. Her considerable expertise helps people to understand and follow through the process successfully and ensures that stress and discord are kept to a minimum. The process also results in the saving of considerable amounts of time and money.
Testimonial from AE, Client
Just when everything is crashing and collapsing, she can calmly show you the green shoots of change amongst the pain of your broken dreams. She shows you your action now, while using her step by step guide can drastically reduce the fear that stops us starting that next new chapter of our life.
‘She has a high degree of emotional intelligence and has a natural style, which generates empathy and rapport, bridging difficult situations and putting people at their ease. Her hard-won business experience combined with her skills in bringing together differing perspectives to build consensus make her a powerful and insightful person to work with in any situation.’
“… given the serious and committed work, I highly recommend her as a mediator for demands related to Family Law.”
Testimonial from Del – a family mediation Client
‘Joanne is amazing! She is an absolutely phenomenal person, who possesses great listening skills and has a very calming soothing tone to her voice.’ You can tell Joanne comes from a place of concern, for the well-being of all parties; by the professional way that she delivers each session. Considering that divorce can be a difficult and emotional process; Joanne has always been willing to give extra time to allow me to speak, and fully get my point across without feeling pressured or rushed.’
Rosalind Nunoo – Legal Expert in Immigration Law and heda of Immigration at Wellers LLP
Testimonial – From an appreciative client
“ Had a family immigration case and it was handled smoothly with professionalism at its excellence. Thanks to Ms Rosalind Nunoo.”
“Russ has a very positive attitude and always applies himself fully to the task in hand.”
What are the time and costs savings of using the services offered by the ASM Plus Family Team?
As our case studies demonstrate, using the ASM Plus Family Team will indeed save considerable amounts of time and money and ensure that the stress that divorcing or separated couples and those involved in family disputes experience, will be kept to a minimum.
Although mediators and other ADR professionals do not provide substitute services for those involved in family disputes seeking legal advice many people who go down the court route are simply unprepared for what can happen. Even in divorce and family cases that are considered to be “straightforward” there can still be long delays that make it even more difficult for people to resolve their differences and move on. Additionally, in an era when legal aid funding is very limited and people are conducting their own cases, the delays are even more significant. People will need to take some legal advice from time to time but the bulk of the work and all of the decision-making will take place during the mediation.
Even in cases where people do represent themselves, the levels of court fees charged in the family and civil courts are very high and, in many instances, will constitute a very significant drain on already limited resources.
By contrast, using Suzy Miller’s unique complimentary Divorce Navigation call, a family mediation in a case involving a property dispute and issues surrounding child custody and contact could be resolved in five or six weeks. This will be at a fraction of the cost of a court case that could cost three times as much and take over a year to resolve.
Considerable time and cost savings can be achieved in a mediation in a case involving a family business or a probate dispute. The online option means that the parties to a particular dispute can minimise their travel and waiting time and they will not need to pay for any venue hire costs.
In appropriate cases, facilitated meetings can result in resolutions being achieved even more quickly than where a case goes to mediation. The critical thinking related expertise offered by our facilitators provides additional help to parties to resolve their differences and move forward with a clear mutually acceptable strategy in place.
Can goodwill and effectiveness be maintained by use of the ASM Plus Family Services?
In practice, people are much more likely to adhere to the terms of a mediated or facilitated settlement that they have agreed and which has not been imposed on them by a court, family member or ex-partner. In addition, particularly in cases where there may be animosity, using our comprehensive service means that people find themselves on a level playing field. Therefore, they feel less intimidated and are more likely to engage promptly and meaningfully.
This is particularly true in family cases where decisions made in the course of relationship breakdown and family disputes can affect those involved for many years to come.
What are the success rates for family mediation and facilitated meetings?
The success rate is very high. Typically, 90% of cases that go to mediation resolve very satisfactorily. ASM Plus’s unique service offerings can help to ensure an even higher success rate.
Case studies demonstrating how family mediation and facilitated meetings save time and money.
An example of a divorce-related mediation successfully mediated by Austin Chessell
A married couple came to mediation as they had spent tens of thousands of pounds of legal fees and Court hearings costs and wanted to avoid the further legal costs of a final hearing.
They own multiple properties which had already been valued. They had obtained recent mortgage statements and taken tax advice.
At an early Financial Dispute Resolution hearing the Judge had given an indication that the wife should have a slightly higher split of the assets as she did not work and was continuing to raise the children. Both parties had instructed leading firms of solicitors who were preparing to engage costly senior barristers for a potentially lengthy final hearing. It was made clear to them that if the case went as far as a lengthy final hearing it would cost them each tens of thousands of pounds.
At first the wife found it hard at first to be in the same room as the husband but preferred this to being in a separate room with the mediator shuttling between her and her husband.
Facilitated by Austin parties worked through the financial disclosure of both clients and agreed for a 60/40 split of the assets in favour of the wife.
Austin documented the financial proposals in a Memorandum of Understanding and Open Financial Summary. The clients provided these documents to their Solicitors so that a financial consent order could be prepared. The proposals were approved by the court and there was no need for any further court hearings.
There were only 5 joint mediation sessions which took place over a month. These cost each party £1,550 which is a fraction of the cost of legal fees that would otherwise have been incurred.
Both clients were able to reach a decision where they both felt that a fair and sensible compromise had been achieved. Additionally, as part of the settlement they made some long-term financial arrangements for their children. It was accepted by both parties that children were at an age where they should be allowed to express their wishes and feelings. This was helpful to the parties in deciding how best to plan the future.
Antonia’s estate - A worked example demonstrating how much time and money can be saved using mediation in an inheritance/probate dispute
Peter, Paul, John, Maria and Leroy Jones are siblings. Recently, their mother, Antonia, passed away leaving an estate with an estimated value of £500,000. Most of this sum is tied up in her home which is currently occupied by Maria and Leroy.
Under the terms of Antonia’s badly drafted will, her five children will all inherit an equal share of her estate. Her executors are Peter and Leroy. Maria and Leroy were living in their mother’s home at the time of her death and have continued to do so.
The siblings also have a half sibling, Jameson, who Antonia conceived out of wedlock. With the exception of Leroy, none of the siblings have ever had anything to do with him.
Peter, Paul and John think that their mother’s home should be sold whereas Maria and Leroy consider they should be allowed to continue to reside there. They have stated they would be willing to pay their fellow siblings what they have termed “generous weekly rent” and to ensure that the property is properly maintained.
Jameson who is supported by Leroy but strongly opposed by Peter, is very resentful both about his past treatment and being left out of his mother’s will. He considers he should have an equal share of his mother’s estate and threatens to issue court proceedings. Peter, Paul and John are unhappy about what they see as Leroy and Maria’s unreasonable continuing occupancy of Antonia’s home.
Leroy and Maria consult one firm of solicitors, Jameson another, while Peter, Paul and John contact a third firm. All three firms explain to their clients that although there is a considerable amount of money in Antonia’s estate there is a danger that if the case goes to court a lot of this money will go to towards paying legal fees and the siblings will not derive very much benefit. All six interested parties are employed but none of them is well paid and they question whether they will be able to fund what Leroy terms “a full-blown court case”.
A two-day mediation is arranged. Towards the end of the second day the parties reach an agreement that is acceptable to all including Jameson. No lawyers attend the mediation sessions. Instead during breaks in the mediation their clients speak to them on the telephone and the solicitors help oversee and advise on the written terms of settlement.
Aside from the costs savings that are explained below, a case that might have taken two years to resolve has been settled in only a few weeks. The parties have not had to raise the necessary money to fund a court case and none of them has had to take too much time off work.
The table below is for guidance only and gives an outline of the cost implications of this case study.
Costs of the two-day mediation
These included the mediator having preliminary discussions with all parties and in some instances their solicitors and reading a modest number of letters and documents.
daily rate £1250 per day plus VAT of £250.
Venue hire fee of £600 per day plus VAT £120
Incidental legal costs for solicitor input during the course of the mediation
Approximately £500 plus VAT per firm giving a total of £300
Additional legal costs for advice given prior to the mediation
Assume that the two firms of solicitors representing Leroy/Maria and Peter/Paul/John spend four hours per firm as an hourly rate of £300 plus VAT. (Total £720)
Jameson’s solicitors who were in the process of getting ready to issue court proceedings have spent 8 hours at £300 plus VAT (£2400)
NB. It should be borne in mind that £300 per hour plus VAT is a modest hourly rate.
|Total mediation costs||Total legal costs|
|Total = £4140 divided six ways
£690 per party.
|£4920, the equivalent of £820 per party|
Children mediation example
A typical example demonstrating how Austin Chessell’s child-related work not only involves children in involved decisions that saves their parents considerable amounts of time and money
A lot of Austin’s children mediation clients have an international element to their situation.
He has often worked with families where they have relocated with the children to America, Australia and Asia after a separation or divorce.
In these types of situations, it is very hard for parents remaining in the UK to agree to the relocating parent and children moving abroad as they know it will not be possible for them to see their children as frequently as they had done in the past.
Austin encourages parents look at important issues such as holiday time for their children. He also helps them to arrange time for the non-relocating parent to spend more time with the child during the holiday period and to arrange for regular Facetime or Skype calls during term time.
Austin also encourages parents to consider whether the UK based parent will travel to see the child or if the child needs to be accompanied to travel to that parent. As part of this process, consideration is given as to the travel costs can be met and how far in advance the incidental arrangements should be made.
Children relocation court cases can cost tens of thousands of pounds if parents instruct legal teams to represent – particularly if their case proceeds to a final, possibly lengthy court hearing.
Those who go to Family Mediation will only have to spend a few hundred pounds rather than tens of thousands of pounds. Typically, there would be around 5 joint sessions to cover both children and financial matters. If the focus is on children matters usually 1-3 joint sessions would be required.
It is also possible for the child to be involved in mediation if that child, both parents and the mediator think it is appropriate. In Austin’s experience children can come up with sensible ideas that neither parent had considered. He is one of a select number of mediators who is trained to mediate with children.
Hazel Joe and Martin - A demonstration of how a facilitated meeting can effectively resolve a significant dispute in a family company and in so doing save considerable amounts of time and money
Siblings Hazel and Jo are highly accomplished software experts and computer engineers who set up their own niche company, Prime Solutions Ltd, approximately two years ago. Because neither of them is very good at either management or marketing, a year ago they decided to engage Hazel’s brother-in-law Martin as “director of operations” and gave him a vaguely drafted brief to “sort out the accounting system” and “implement and operate a proper marketing strategy”. Martin was given a generous commission-based remuneration package and a 10% shareholding in the company with an option to purchase further shares.
Some members of Hazel and Jo’s family see Martin as a highly accomplished, capable professional while others think that he is “a bit of an operator” who cannot be trusted. Hazel and her husband have misgivings about his appointment but Jo’s insistence holds sway.
However, Hazel subsequently come to agree with her sister that Martin’s appointment was a bad move. It turns out that the company accounts are in a sorry state and whilst he has worked quite well a with the few existing business contacts that Hazel and Jo had established before his appointment Martin does not introduce any new clients.
Discussions about Martin’s perceived poor performance become heated. Family members who up till now have nothing to do with the company start venturing opinions and, fearful that their dispute with him will escalate, Hazel and Jo tell Martin that his contract is terminated “forthwith”.
Never one to take things lying down, Martin threatens legal proceedings and says that he will report the company to “Companies House” and what he terms “the financial regulator”.
Informally, a solicitor friend of Hazel’s advises that if this matter did go to court then the costs could “easily” exceed £100,000 plus VAT. The company accountants are very concerned about the impact that a protracted legal dispute would have on the its finances and reputation and at their suggestion, Hazel, Jo and Martin all agree to go to mediation.
In the course of initial brief discussions with the parties conducted by the ASM Plus director, it becomes apparent that although there are a number of areas of disagreement, there is some common ground. It is clear that in reality, none of the interested parties has an appetite for costly litigation and that they are all concerned to ensure that their reputations remain intact. Hazel and Jo accept that they are going to have to buy Martin out. In reality Martin is happy to accept a “satisfactory” payoff and will bow out gracefully.
Accordingly, instead of mediation, a day-long facilitated meeting costing a total of £1250 plus VAT is suggested. A morning’s discussion and negotiation results in an agreement being signed during the afternoon that all parties are happy with. They take the opportunity offered to speak plainly and openly and guided by the facilitator, focus on the key issues. In so doing they save themselves hours and hours of time and avoid the hundred thousand pounds plus costs bill that Hazel solicitor friend warned of.
As part of the agreement, Martin relinquishes any right that he might have to purchase company shares and the company accountants then take the opportunity to very quickly sort out the accounts without any interference from him.
The case of Peter and Mary which demonstrates why in some family disputes, a facilitated meeting is an excellent alternative to both court proceedings and mediation.
Peter and Mary who are a separated couple, have a six-year-old daughter, Paula who lives with her mother. Although at the time of their separation two years ago Peter and Mary agreed that they should both play a full part in their daughter’s life and there are no underlying financial disagreements, over the last year or so there has been a lot of disagreement about when Peter takes Paula out or has her over to stay with him.
Mary complains that Peter does things at the last minute, does not give her proper notice, and that he was guilty of fitting Paula around his very busy social life. Peter considers that Mary is being unreasonable and thinks that the Family Court should be asked to make a detailed order to specify how often he may see his daughter and for what periods of time.
Peter’s solicitor explains to him that generally the family court is very reluctant to make detailed orders in respect of child contact, that it expects parents to try and work things out themselves and there is a distinct possibility that the court might decline to make the sort of order that Peter would like to see. As an alternative, the solicitor suggests mediation which both Peter and Mary agree to.
During brief preliminary discussions with the ASM Plus family team convener, Austin Chessell, it becomes apparent that although there are some things that Peter and Mary disagree about, equally, there is quite a lot they agree about. It is also apparent that although harsh things have been said, that in practice Peter does see his daughter quite often and that for the most part, the channels of communication between him and Mary have remained open. Additionally, both parents quite routinely attend Paula’s school parents’ meetings and other events together.
It is suggested that instead of a sequence of two or possibly three mediations over a course of approximately three weeks, Peter and Mary agree to a 2.5 hour facilitated meeting. Because of their work and domestic commitments, it is also agreed that this meeting will take place online using Skype on a Saturday afternoon.
During their facilitated discussion, which only takes 90 minutes, Peter and Mary talk through their disagreements and differences. Peter concedes that Mary does need a bit more notice and he can see that sometimes he focuses a bit too much on his social activities. Mary agrees that she has been a bit inflexible and says that she will try not to be so hard on Peter in the future. With the help of the facilitator, the two of them come up with a simple, flexible formula that addresses their respective concerns. In so doing they are able to think ahead and discuss future possible arrangements revolving around Christmas, school holidays, birthdays and family events.
Why was the facilitated meeting option so cost and time effective for Peter and Mary?
- The facilitated meeting cost Peter and Mary £110 plus VAT of £55 each. As they were advised to do, parties took advice from their solicitors but these additional incidental costs were quite modest. The meeting took place three days after initial contact was made with ASM Plus.
- Two mediation sessions would cost something in the region of £120 plus VAT per party per session. Additionally, there would undoubtedly have been a little more input from Peter’s solicitor which would he would have had to pay for.
- Even if going to court had been a viable option at the very least there would have been a substantial court fee to pay. The cost of taking legal advice and possibly being represented in the course of court proceedings would be very considerable, possibly running into hundreds of pounds per party and the whole process would have taken weeks or months rather than less than the couple of hours that were expended on the facilitated meeting.
The case of Jane – a real life example of Suzy Miller’s inspiration for more peaceful divorce.
What Suzy did for Jane is what she is offering to do for all divorcing or separating couples who instruct Albert Square Mediation Plus – i.e. offer an initial complimentary Divorce Navigation discussion session to outline what is involved in the whole process of separation and divorce. The purpose of this is to assist individual clients and prepare them for what is to come.
At the time that Jane was introduced to Suzy, she was in the process of separating and divorcing from her husband. Their breakup had been very acrimonious for over two years and it was clear that a lot of very harsh things had been said on both sides. The hurt and upset resulted in ongoing arguments with her spouse and the tension was increasing.
Suzy and Jane first met at a public event. Jane attended Suzy’s talk where she spoke about the issues people have keeping things peaceful during family separation. Jane revealed to Suzy that she had been telling anyone who would listen during the coffee break that she wanted to have her husband killed. And she wasn’t joking. Suzy was characteristically non-judgmental about this since she has known many individuals reach that stage of anger and misery.
Jane revealed that listening to Suzy’s talk was cathartic. She said she cried most of the way through it. At the end she opened her mind – and her heart – to believing that there must be a better way forward.
In a later complimentary Divorce Navigation call (available when Suzy is contacted via the ASM Plus website) Suzy identified a number of significant financial and child-related issues, which because of the ongoing acrimony between Jane and her spouse had simply not been addressed, and these issues needed to be resolved quite urgently.
Suzy explained that it was entirely understandable that Jane would feel hurt and bitter, and empathised with her. However, she explained that whilst her outlook and her ongoing disputes were entirely understandable, they were not only impeding progress but making things even worse.
Although she made it clear that she was not in a position to give legal advice, Suzy very gently explained what can happen when couples are unable to agree and as a result, they have to deal with protracted and often complex court proceedings. Suzy explained that there were significant costs issues and that not only would the court process result in further delays but that a considerable amount of time would have to be devoted to that court process. Jane had a part-time job and childcare responsibilities and it was explained to her that court proceedings could result in having to take possibly unpaid time off work and the quality of an already strained domestic situation could deteriorate even further.
Suzy also mentioned that, as an alternative to divorce, Jane and her ex could agree to go to family mediation. It was explained that this was a much more focused, cost effective and time saving process. It was also explained that whilst this process was not a substitute for legal advice, Jane would not necessarily need to spend a lot of time with her solicitors and the bulk of the work could be done within the context of the mediation process.
Suzy did not suggest that Jane should “forgive and forget”. However, she did emphasise that if Jane was able to put her feelings of animosity to one side then progress would be made and her life would be much easier. It was also explained that decisions made during the divorce process would affect the lives of Jane, her soon-to-be-Ex and the children that they both love, for years to come, and that although it may be difficult, displaying a level of objectivity about things could make all the difference. Suzy emphasised that by “change of attitude” that she did not mean that she was advising Jane to “give in” but that, a more measured approach to things might give her a better chance of securing her objectives.
Suzy mapped out the different experts who can support the financial, parenting and psychological journey of divorce, and provided no-obligation personal introductions to those experts.
Jane listened to what Suzy had to say. Whilst it would be incorrect to suggest that there was a complete transformation, Jane did take the advice that was given and towards the end of the discussion indicated that she would not only reflect but address her disputes with her spouse in a more conciliatory way, and develop a strategy to bring the divorce to a swifter and less costly close.
Family finance in divorce – A case study showing the skills of Henry Elliston, ASM Plus’s matrimonial financial expert
I recently met with a high earning couple who were in the process of divorcing and a divorce petition had been filed. Their joint finances were quite complicated and comprised substantial overseas property, a UK buy-to-let investment, complicated shareholding arrangements, UK pension funds and other savings, many of which would generate a liability to pay tax on their disposal. The couple have two children, one of whom is severely disabled, and for this reason the wife was very keen to retain the family home which had been specially adapted. In return the husband was happy to accept a cash sum which he could use as the deposit to buy a new property nearby, so that he could remain near his children.
Prior to my involvement the couple had each instructed solicitors who between them had charged several thousand pounds for drafting an unsatisfactory agreement, essentially a simple 50/50 split of all the assets. Amongst a number of impractical and unacceptable clauses, this draft agreement contemplated the immediate sale of the family home. It also provided for the immediate disposal of the shareholdings which I explained would result in a very large and unnecessary tax bill that would substantially diminish the couple’s resources.
In the course of my discussion with the couple we dete
rmined that the wife had the resources to take over the mortgage on the family home, and indeed extend it slightly. This was because it was established that she was due to inherit a reasonable sum of money from her parents, something which the solicitors had discounted on the grounds that it was not ‘a marital asset’. Accordingly, as a result of my input it was agreed that the family home should be transferred into the wife’s sole name. The husband received the substantial cash payment that covered the deposit and the acquisition costs for his new home and the remaining assets were divided fairly and tax efficiently.
The wife was concerned that extending the mortgage and having a lot of money ‘tied up in the family home’, might leave her short of funds for her retirement. To address this, I provided a detailed cash flow forecast which demonstrated how her pension might grow over the remaining years she was emp
loyed. This demonstrated that the arrangements were affordable and that in fact she might be able to retire a couple of years earlier than she had planned.