As part of #Family Mediation Week, Family Mediation North East have put together several stories demonstrating the type of issues that people resolve in mediation. The stories are based on themes that regularly crop up for separated parents and families. The stories are a work of fiction; any resemblance to actual people is entirely coincidental.
We will post one of these stories to our website and on social media every day of Family Mediation Week to show how family mediation can be such an effective way of resolving disputes. And its cheaper and quicker than going to court!
Monday - Different Perspectives
Often when the arrangements for children have broken down and the children have no contact with one parent at all, we find that the parents have completely different explanations to us as to why this has happened. Mediation gives parents an opportunity to talk to each other about their perspective in a safe and effective way.
Peter and Louise
Peter contacted FMNE to ask for help as it was over three weeks since he had seen his two children Jack who is 5 and Emily who is 2. He had been separated from Louise for over six months and he had been seeing the children regularly and they stayed with him every other weekend. He had taken them out for a day with his girlfriend Sasha and her daughter Anna who is the same age as Jack. The children had had a great time but Louise had told him that Jack had come back very upset and didn’t want to go to stay with his dad. Louise had said she was not sending Emily on her own and now all communication between Peter and Louise had broken down.
Peter attended a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) and FMNE wrote to Louise to invite her to attend a separate confidential MIAM for herself. Louise was reluctant to attend at first but was reassured that mediation was voluntary and that she could meet with a mediator before she decided whether she was willing to proceed.
She was eligible for Legal Aid and knowing that there would be no cost to her and that Peter’s costs would be significantly reduced because of her eligibility, a session was booked. Peter and Louise made a plan that gave reassurance to Louise that the children were still Peter’s priority and reassurance to Peter that Louise would not stop him seeing the children. They had a second session four weeks later when they made a final longer term plan which included some proposals that they intended to both follow to ensure their management of the children’s arrangements would look great to the children.
Louise said – “It’s been a difficult time but now we can talk to each about the children and that’s so much less stressful for all of us.”
Tuesday - Grandparents
Family mediation doesn’t just help separated parents. Any family members can resolve arrangements for children in mediation, such as grandparents, aunties, uncles and siblings. Joyce and Freya's situation is one example of how mediation can help grandparents spend time with their grandchildren.
Joyce and Freya
Joyce had been a big part of her granddaughters Jane’s life. When her son Craig and Jane’s mother Freya separated nine months ago she had continued to see Jane and support Freya with child care when Freya needed her. Craig had left the area to work in the South. Joyce contacted FMNE following a month when she had not seen Jane at all. She was worried that Freya was with a new partner and that they no longer wanted her to be involved. Joyce met a mediator later that week and FMNE wrote to Freya. Freya understood that there was an opportunity for her to talk to a mediator on her own about her own worries in particular about Jane’s behaviour which had deteriorated.
After one mediation session with Joyce a week later, both Joyce and Freya were able to share information about Jane in a calm environment and together they made a successful plan.
Joyce said - “We wouldn’t have been able to sort things out on our own. Freya was eligible for Legal aid and so most of my costs were paid for as well.”
Wednesday - Practical decisions
When a marriage breaks down there are lots of practical decisions to make such as where are the children going to live, what to do with the house and joint bank account. Some separated couples don’t know where to go for initial information about their options. Many separated couples find it really difficult to communicate with each other to make any decisions. Family mediation can be a quick, cheap and effective way of sorting out these practical issues and reaching decisions.
George and Julie
George and Julie had been married for fifteen years. George had recently left and was living with his new partner in a rented flat. All trust between George and Julie had done, so communication between them was difficult. They owned a house, both had pensions and some debts. In four mediation sessions with FMNE, they resolved how to proceed with divorce, decided arrangements for their children and made proposals for sorting out their financial settlement. Because Julie was eligible for Legal Aid she was helped by her solicitor using Legal Aid to make the proposals legally binding. George’s mediation costs were heavily subsidised by Legal Aid and their joint legal costs were minimal in comparison with the costs of resolving these issues through solicitors and the courts.
George said – “Our solicitors supported and advised throughout the process when needed. FMNE were enormously helpful and ensured we were calm, organised and made swift progress.”
Thursday - Children’s Voice
Children’s voices can often be missed in the chaos of a separation or divorce. Research by Voices in the Middle says parents agree that 67% children say children should have a voice but 19% of children said they do. Family Mediation North East offers Direct Child Consultation. This is where a child’s voice can be heard in the mediation process if both parents and the child all agree.
Mark and Claire
Ella was fourteen years old and had lived with her Mum Claire since her parents separated when she was five. Claire had recently remarried. Ella’s Dad Mark had worked away but was now based in the North East. Mark thought Ella should live with him and a huge dispute erupted. Ella had gone to Mark’s one weekend and not returned home. Claire was distraught. Mark and Claire tried mediation. The mediator explained that Ella could be consulted so that her views could be passed safely to her parents. Ella also agreed. Ella told the mediator she was cross with her mother because she seemed to have new priorities in her life and Dad seemed happy to catch up on lost time with her.
Ella said she felt like she had got lost in the fight her parents were having. Hearing this, Mark and Claire were able to prioritise Ella’s needs and made a plan giving Ella time with each parent but allowing her flexibility for her own arrangements. The conflict resolved.
Claire said – “The mediators understanding helped me get through.”
Mark said – “It was very positive and we both felt that we have been heard by the other for the first time since separation. Ella is very much happier.”
Friday - Legal Aid
Separation and divorce can be really expensive especially where there are complicated financial and children issues involved. Legal Aid is available for family mediation and it is completely free for people who are eligible. If couples are able to resolve their disputes in mediation, their legal costs are limited to making their arrangements legally binding.
Cameron and Lizzie
Cameron and Lizzie had been married for 20 years. Cameron had suspected that Lizzie was seeing another man but the situation in the house was now affecting their two teenage sons. Cameron moved to rented accommodation and asked Lizzie to sell the house so that he could secure at least a deposit to enable him to buy another house. All trust between them had gone, so communication between them was difficult. Apart from the house, both had pensions and some debts. In 3 mediation sessions with FMNE, they resolved how to proceed with divorce, made arrangements for the boys and made proposals for sorting out the financial settlement. Because Lizzie was eligible for legal aid she was partially helped by her solicitor using legal aid to make the proposals legally binding. Cameron’s mediation costs were also heavily subsidised by legal aid and their joint legal costs were minimal in comparison with the costs of resolving these issues through solicitors and the courts.
Cameron said “We were never able to have the conversations we needed to have to sort out a fair settlement. It always ended in a blazing row. Our solicitors understood the process and supported us throughout and made everything legally binding. FMNE offered a calm safe place to get things sorted. We were so relieved when the proposals were finalised and the whole process including the divorce was concluded without delays.”