Divorced and separated couples who cannot agree on arrangements for children over Christmas should consider mediation to work things out, rather than an application to the court, according to family law experts.
Christmas is presented as a time of universal happiness and enjoyment; expectations run high and it can be hard for reality to match up. As a result, the aftermath of Christmas is always a busy time for family law solicitors.
But everyone agrees that it’s a time when the children should come first, and hostilities between parents are being urged to put aside their differences and adopt some simple tips:
• Try to make arrangements for where the children are to stay well in advance. Children do not like uncertainty so the ideal is to have an arrangement that will be repeated over the years, for example one year the kids spend Christmas Day with Mum and Boxing Day with Dad, and the next year this is reversed.
• Parents must not compete over presents for the children.
• Presents should be agreed to prevent duplication or other practical problems.
• It is stressful, confusing and upsetting for children if their parents argue or show ill will towards each other, so parents should be polite, cheerful and positive towards each other when picking up or handing over the children.
Said Rhianna Townsend, family lawyer with Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP: “There’s an increasing emphasis on mediation which should be good news for the whole family. It’s likely to become a requirement in due course that separating couples should have an interview to look at their suitability for mediation, as an alternative to the traditional divorce process. It’s a much more cost effective way of doing things and it’s important that couples find somehow to help them resolve issues, rather than seeking an aggressive divorce.”
Rhianna added: “The courts are not an ideal place to sort out marital problems as they are adversarial rather than aimed at solution finding. Whether you have problems agreeing arrangements for children or with agreeing the division of assets, mediation can offer an effective way of coming to a solution that both sides can sign up to.”
In a court case the parties each present their case and then a judge decides what is to be done. This can leave a party, possibly both parties, feeling bitterly resentful.
By contrast, in mediation, it’s about finding mutually acceptable outcomes. The mediator talks to each side separately, finds out what is really important to them and tries to enable them to reach an agreement that they are both able to live with. The important thing is that the parties are in control because they can say yes or no to any proposal.
Some useful advice for parents can also be found on the website of the charity Resolution, at http://www.resolution.org.uk/
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