In these unsettling times, many parents are feeling a strong sense of fear – fear of the unknown, fears surrounding family finances, fear of getting sick or of loved ones getting sick.
During the current Coronavirus Crisis some parents whose children are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders made by the Family Court have been understandably concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of these court orders safely in the wholly unforeseen circumstances that now apply.
For separated parents the summer holidays can be a logistical nightmare – how do you plan for that long summer break when the children are not at school? In many separated families, both parents are working part-time or full-time and the cost of childcare and/or before-school and after-school clubs can be exorbitant – sometimes even cancelling out entirely the income a parent is earning. There
Over-sharing information through social media can become toxic – when does communication become ‘too much of a good thing’?
In this day and age, electronic communication is instant and almost universal. We’re told that communication is the key to successful relationships, but when can it be ‘too much of good thing’? The earliest use of that phrase in print comes from Shakespeare’s play ‘As you like it’ in about 1600. It means that sometimes excess may do you harm…and all too often these days
The case of Waggott v Waggott is being hailed by some as the end to the ‘meal ticket’, but the decision in respect of periodical payments is perhaps not surprising, there are few cases these days where a ‘joint lives’ order is the eventual outcome. Click here for the rest of the article by barrister Marisa Allman.
Did you assume that when unmarried couples have lived together for two years or more they are automatically entitled to financial and property rights as a ‘common law wife’ or a ‘common law husband’ if they separate? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are not alone. Many people believe this, but it is not true in England and Wales (NB the rules are rather different in Scotland).
Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can lead to a good deal of conflict when cohabitees split up. For example, did you know that on separation:
- Cohabitees have no right to ask for maintenance for themselves from their ex-partner
- Cohabitees have no automatic right to make a legal claim against a property owned by their ex-partner, unless they can show that they have acquired an interest in it by making a financial or other contribution
- Cohabitees have no automatic right to claim a share in the money, savings or investments owned by their ex-partner in their sole name
- Cohabitees have no right to ask for a share of their ex-partner’s pension
- Cohabitees may be left in a very difficult position if their ex-partner dies first without having made a will.
However, cohabitees can:
- Ask for child maintenance to be paid by their ex-partner, and if this is not agreed an application can be made to the Child Maintenance Service and a formula will apply.
It is becoming much more usual for couples to live together without getting married, and so it is more important than ever that they think in advance about what would happen if they were to split up. One possibility is to think about making a ‘Living Together Agreement’ that spells out what you would both like to happen in the event of a separation. This might not cover all the eventualities, but it would be a starting point.
However, the reality is that many cohabitees who have lived together for many years, and may have had children with their partner, are completely taken by surprise when the worst happens and the relationship ends and they discover to their dismay that they may have very few ‘rights’, but a lot of ‘responsibilities’!
Here at CFMS, our mediators are very experienced in helping separating cohabitees to put in place their own sensible agreements about the arrangements for their children, and about what should happen to their homes, bank accounts, personal possessions and other assets.
We encourage each client to take independent legal advice about their separation agreements so that they have a proper understanding of their rights and responsibilities. In this way, it is to be hoped that expensive, time-consuming and stressful litigation can be avoided, as the law relating to cohabitees rights is notoriously complex.
If you are unmarried and separating from your ex-partner, contact us for further information about how mediation could help you both to work out a practical way forward for the whole family.
In addition, we can give you lots of information about the FREE Separated Parents Information Programme, which can be extremely helpful for all parents who are separating, regardless of whether they are married or not.
For couples who are separating, Valentine’s Day can be just another unwelcome reminder that things aren’t working any more. It can bring to the surface feelings of loss and disappointment – loss of a once-loving relationship, and disappointment that those romantic hopes with which you started life together have not ended ‘happily ever after’. The shops are full of Valentine’s cards almost as soon as Christmas is over, you’re bombarded by reminders wherever you look on the high street, and even the TV offers no escape from the constant barrage of advertisements concerning the dreaded V-Day celebrations.
If you’re wondering how to get through it – could you organise to do something you enjoy with a friend who is single, indulge yourself with a treat you wouldn’t normally consider, or think about doing something nice for someone else who may be lonely – for example, an elderly neighbour?
At Cambridge Family Mediation Service, we understand that important dates such as birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, New Year and Valentine’s Day can trigger unhappy thoughts and feelings for families who are in the midst of separation and / or divorce. You may find it helpful to attend one of our FREE 4-hour workshops, the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).
The course provides:
- Tips to help you to understand the different stages of the Loss Cycle that adults and children experience as a result of family breakdown
- Suggestions to help you and your children to move forward
- Ways to focus on what parents can do to help children manage family change
- Strategies to help you to improve communication with your ex.
The courses take place both in Cambridge and in Peterborough, and run from 10 am – 2.30 pm.
We also offer a Mediation Service for people who have decided to separate, and who wish to make agreements about their children and / or their finance and property issues. If you would like to know more about this, you can book an appointment for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with one of our highly experienced mediators. There is a fee for the MIAM meeting, but if you are on a low income we can assess you for legal aid – if you are eligible then the mediation process would be free for you (although your ex may have to pay if they do not qualify for legal aid in their own right).
Call us on 01223 576308 to:
- Book a place on the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) course
- Arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM).
New Year generally sees a peak in the number of couples deciding to separate and / or divorce. Often people try to ‘stick it out’ in their current relationship until the end of the year, maybe to see whether the magic of Christmas might fix the problems they are experiencing, or to keep things together for the sake of the children until the festive season is over, or for a multitude of other reasons.
If you are in this situation, either because you have decided to end your relationship, or you are on the receiving end of your partner’s decision to do so, we can help.
Come along for a mediation information meeting with one of our highly experienced mediators to find out how we can assist you.
Mediation is a process in which you and your ex meet with an impartial third party who will guide you through the decisions that you need to make. The mediator will:
- Not take sides, or make judgements about you and your situation
- Provide you with lots of information to help you decide what arrangements are best for your family situation
- Help you to discuss the arrangements for your children
- Help you to exchange details of your financial information
- Help you to consider the options for how to separate your property and finances
- Encourage each of you to seek independent legal advice about the arrangements that you make, so that you only reach agreements that are in your best interests
FREE workshop – the Separated Parents Information Programme
The mediator will also give you information about the Separated Parents Information Programme, a FREE 4-hour workshop that you can attend (without your ex) to receive lots of helpful tips for:
- supporting your children through the difficulties of separation
- communicating with a difficult ex
- looking at the emotional impact of separation on you and your children
- working out the next steps for moving forward with your life
- Plan ahead
- Don’t put pressure on children to choose between their parents
- Listen to the children
- Be positive about children spending time with both parents
- Communicate in advance with your ex
- Involve the extended family where appropriate
- Share the cost of big presents
- Look after yourself!
- Time with children is more important than money spent on them
- Create new traditions
If you’re interested in these ideas, and would like some more information, read on…
1 Plan ahead
Children welcome a sense of order and predictability – so plan ahead in good time!
- Sound out any extended family and friends who may want to put in their ‘bid’ for spending some time with the children over the Xmas period.
- Keep all extended family, grandparents, etc. involved during the holidays (even if it can only be through email, cards, phone calls). They are still an integral part of your children’s lives and provide them with continuity and security in the face of your changed family structure.
2 Don’t put pressure on children to choose between you
Children should always be able to love both parents and to share their time between them without feeling guilty.
- Think about how you are going to get the children’s input without putting them under pressure to choose between their parents, or between other members of the family.
- Present the children with your decisions as a ‘united front’ with the other parent, if you can.
3 Listen to the children
Listen to your kids; they may have ideas about how to make Christmas work for everybody.
If your kids are old enough to ask them directly how they want to celebrate the holidays, then this can lead to a natural discussion of what they’re thinking and feeling.
5 Talk it through with the other parent
Talk this through with your ex-partner when the children are not present, as heated discussions in front of them can only be upsetting for everyone.
- If you think you can, then sit down together with your diaries to record what’s agreed, avoiding future disputes.
- However, in our experience this is one of the most difficult things to talk about with the other parent, particularly for the first Xmas.
- Try to listen to one another’s ideas and opinions before responding.
- If something is said by the other parent that stirs up strong feelings try not to act on your immediate reaction.
- If necessary, ask for a break in the discussion and give yourself time to think things over.
- Instead of springing an issue or discussion on the other parent, it may be more helpful to let them know beforehand that you would like to do so – eg short phone message, text or email.
- If contact is made by phone or in person, before launching into a discussion, ask if now is a good time to talk. If not, arrange a mutually convenient time.
- Try to find a way to meet at least some of everyone’s needs.
Example – Susan and Peter agreed that would meet in middle of November to talk about the children, and would do their best to leave other issues out and concentrate solely on the decisions that needed to be made over the holiday period. They decided to meet in the Poppy Cafe on Friday afternoon when the grandparents were able to look after the children. They agreed to meet at 5pm and finish at 6pm. Before the day they emailed each other with the points they wanted to talk about, and they went to the meeting with their diaries.
More tips on how to communicate about difficult issues:
- If you are going to have a conversation by phone, consider the best time to arrange a conversation with the other parent to ensure that the children will not be able to listen in.
- If the telephone is too difficult (and it is for lots of people) many parents find email useful – it gives you time to think about what you want to say calmly – and you can print out the email afterwards.
- Keep your issues separate from your children’s feelings – you may feel very upset, but try to remain upbeat in front of the children and rely on close family or friends to let off steam in private.
6 Involve the extended family and friends
Family and friends can provide your children with compassion and coping strategies – this will help them not only through this holiday time but also long after the holidays pass.
- Present the extended family and friends with your decisions because they may need to be brought on board so that they understand what is going on and what you need from them.
- Insist that no-one tries to undermine the arrangements that you have decided to put in place, but be open to talking to people after the event as to what has worked and what has not, in order to be able to make things easier next time.
- Try not to communicate negative feelings about the other parent through your words or behaviour. Your kids will be taking their cues from both of you.
- Everyone needs to understand that this first holiday season after your divorce will be different.
7 Share the cost of big presents
- Money is often tight when you separate.
- Some parents make a joint effort to plan their children’s gifts rather than each getting separate ones so your children won’t be overindulged or let down.
8 Look after yourself
- Plan some ‘away dates’ at friends and family to get yourself out of the house (and the routine). These might become new traditions themselves, like visiting your best friend on Christmas Eve when you used to spend it at home.
- Perhaps you know another single parent may be alone at that particular time during Xmas with whom you could do something?
- When the children go to stay with the other parent – don’t make them feel guilty that you’ll be on your own. If you can’t spend the time with family or friends (maybe you live too far to travel to them), take a positive approach and tell the children how much you are looking forward to a few days to relax, emphasising that you want them to be happy.
- That doesn’t stop you from crying your eyes out once the door is closed – then picking yourself up and actually taking advantage of a little peace and quiet!
9 Time with children is more important than money spent on them
Christmas for kids isn’t about buying them lots of stuff!
- Don’t try to make up for your feelings of sadness by overwhelming children with expensive gifts.
- Some people encourage their children to make a special gift or card for the other parent – not only can it help the children feel happy and secure doing this but you’re demonstrating goodwill and a generous spirit as a role model for them.
- Find inexpensive ways to enjoy the holidays. Enjoy simple pleasures, such as hot chocolate after a snowball fight or watching classic Christmas movies together.
10 Create new traditions
- Maybe you could ask the children what Christmas traditions they want to keep. They may be attached to old family rituals – or the traditions may be too painful for your kids.
- Consider creating new Christmas family traditions.
- Traditions are terribly important to give a sense of ‘family’. These can disappear with a break-up.
- Create some new holiday traditions that your kids can look forward to doing with you
- Encourage the other parent to create his / her own different traditions as well.
- A different way is not always a worse way!
Examples of new patterns for Xmas
Tim and Sally decided that the children would spend alternate Xmas Days with each parent – alternating with Boxing Day each year. For the first Xmas, they decided that the children would spend Xmas day with Tim because since their separation the children had spent more time with Sally and had not spent much time with Tim’s parents. Tim collected the children from Sally’s house at 10 am on Xmas morning after they had opened their stockings with Sally and he brought them back to her house at 11am on Boxing Day. Sally had arranged a special lunch with her parents for 1pm that day so that the children could have a fun time with their gran and grandpa.
Rob and Melanie live in Cambridge. They agreed that Melanie would take the children to see her parents and siblings in Newcastle for the week leading up to Xmas. She brought them back to Rob’s house on Boxing Day afternoon. Rob then took the children to Kent for a few days to see his family. They agreed that the following year they would do this in reverse.
Dave and Jenny decided, having consulted with their children Vicky (9) and Charlie (11), that the children needed to see each of them on Xmas day. So Vicky and Charlie spent Xmas Eve through to Xmas lunchtime with Dave, and then Jenny collected them at 3pm on Xmas afternoon and they stayed with her until Boxing day afternoon.
GREAT NEWS! From the Autumn of 2014, the Legal Aid Agency will fund significantly more mediation. If one party is entitled to legal aid, then BOTH PARTIES will receive a FREE Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) plus a FREE Mediation Session. To find out whether you might be entitled to free mediation call us on 01223 576308.
SEPARATED PARENTS INFORMATION PROGRAMME is now available to all for free,
The Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) is a course designed to help separated parents, grandparents and other family members become clear about what their children need most from them and learn the fundamental principles of how to manage conflict and difficulties.
SPIP has been running very successfully since 2008, but until recently, it has only been available for clients who are involved in court proceedings. Now it is available to anyone for free! Book soon to take advantage of a free place.
Most parents attending the course find it extremely helpful – here’s what some parents have said:-
“The right thing for my children, and myself – in that order”
“I know this is how I need to be for my children”
“I’d recommend the course to anyone who has separated from their partner, with children – even where conflict is minimal”
“The trainers have displayed in depth understanding of the emotional effects of stress involving parent children relationship.”
“Great clear, concise information and opportunity to hear other people’s experience and ask questions to improve my children’s emotional environment in the separation process”
“I found this course very informative and it certainly changed my outlook and views. (Brilliant).”
“A very useful course, helped understand both parties situation and how we can make the separated process better for the children”
“Excellent presentation. Very well prepared and made the day relaxed. A lot better than expected”
CALL 01223 576308 TO BOOK YOUR FREE PLACE!
National Family Mediation have produced a number of videos, including a guide to MIAMS and mediation.