22nd Jan 2019

Taking control of your separation

Sarah Smith is a mediator and family lawyer with over 22 years’ experience. Marking Family Mediation Week 2019, she is exploring what the mediation process involves and what it means for separating couples and their families.    

Ok, so we’re further into the journey.  You’ve both had an initial appointment (known as a MIAM – Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting). You’ve asked questions and and both signed up with me as your mediator of choice. You’re still on speaking terms with your (soon to be) ex (just!), but…

  • You haven’t told the children yet.  You don’t even know when the best time is to tell them, let alone what to say
  • Your parents don’t think you should get divorced, possibly influenced by the £20,000 they provided when you bought your home…
  • Your friends think you are being way too soft and you should ‘take that *$!?** low life to the cleaners’
  • You still need to sort your tax return which is due at the end of this month and your partner has always done for you?
  • You don’t yet know how you are going to pay the bills if you move out?

Put like that, it’s easy to see why fear and confusion are common – and entirely understandable - emotions.  Especially in the early stages.  This is where mediation really comes into its own; we routinely deal with all of these issues, because it’s totally normal to have these sorts of questions and anxieties. The beauty of the mediation process is that you can talk about all of the things that are on your mind and make sure that, whatever happens, we keep focus on the things that are important to you.  There are no stupid questions.  “What about the dog?”, “How do we sort Christmas presents?” “Can we both still go to parents’ evenings?” – all are important.

The alternatives

As an alternative, you could to go to court.  Where you might wait a month before the court even acknowledges and issues your application, followed by several more weeks or even months to your first hearing.  One of the most damaging aspects of this is that often nothing is resolved is on those key initial issues in the meantime, and so the stress and pressure ramping up on a daily basis.  What is more, when you finally get to court, a judge unwilling to deal with the issues around the dog, presents or school. That of course means that you may be unable to formally address, let alone resolve what are highly emotive topics.

The difference with mediation is that, with the guidance and experience of an accredited mediator, you are making progress yourselves.  And that difference is enormous: as well as the time and cost saving, that means the agreements you come to are much more likely to work out in practice in the future – because you came up with them, not had them imposed on you by a court etc. It is very much the grown up solution.

So, don’t be afraid.  Take note of your fear and let mediation help you tackle it.  And if you still think you can’t sort this, then take encouragement from this family I was recently working with:

“I just wanted to write to thank you for your skill and patience and getting us to a sensible mediated settlement. I am particularly conscious that over a years’ worth of sending expensive and adversarial letters between solicitors actually took us very little further forward - whereas three face to face mediation sessions found a solution.”

Sarah Smith is Yorkshire’s only Eminent Practitioner in Family Law. She is both a qualified mediator and a collaboratively trained family lawyer.

Contact Berwins on 01423 543 108 or via family@berwin.co.uk to learn more about your family law options and to discuss whether mediation could be the right course for you and your family.

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