Archive for Parenting

Unsettling Times

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. Added to this are the underlying fears for many that the other parent will not be making careful decisions, that they might be taking unnecessary risks or that Coronavirus might become an excuse to withhold a child or children. Many parents are experiencing heightened anxiety during these times.

Advice from Government initially wasn’t clear. Michael Gove first told parents that children ought to stay where they currently were. Although this was quickly corrected, this has led to confusion where only his original and uncorrected advice has been shared. Cafcass Government advice to parents is now here and Cafcass advice to parents is here.

There is a presumption that the existing court order or parenting plan reflects a determination that meaningful personal contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child. So, what happens when parents cannot agree or cannot work out how to implement their court under these new circumstances where:

  • one parent might have an underlying health concern,
  • a family member suspects that they have contracted Covid-19,
  • one parent might be a key worker exposed to the virus, or
  • a parent who might have become temporarily out of work?

As parents, most issues involving the safety and wellbeing of our children can feel like an emergency, and often this would lead to applications to court. However, Covid-19 has placed the court system under immense pressure, too. Judges, lawyers and litigants in person are having to learn to harness remote technologies and online video conferencing platforms such as Skype, Zoom and sometimes phone calls to conduct trials, and this is significantly adding to the delays experienced in the courts.

So, court proceedings in times of a pandemic are unlikely to offer a timely solution to short term adjustments to contact arrangements which are, in truth, matters for joint decision making between parents. Courts will expect to see parents who are in dispute over Covid-19 arrangements to have each made reasonable efforts to come to mutual decisions, which the Head of the Family Division has made clear here, as above.

So, parenting orders are still in effect, term time arrangements still stand even when the children are absent from school and the expectation is that parents will work together to try to implement their court order or parenting plan, in the interest of their children’s wellbeing.

However, if you can’t manage to agree matters, mediation can support you to reach an agreement. Mediators can respond quickly and can work with you online to reach agreements that a court would take weeks if not months to hear and conclude. Mediators are skilled at supporting you to work out what the issue is and how to come up with a joint response that works for each of you. Parents who would not normally need the support of a mediator and parents who ‘parallel parent’ and have little contact with one another could find mediation a useful tool to manage these unusual circumstances. Mediation works for different families at different points along their timeline. If mediation wasn’t right for you when you separated, perhaps it would now work for you in coming up with your family’s response to the global pandemic.

Coronavirus Legal Guidance:

Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders

24 March 2020

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.

This short statement is intended to offer advice but, as the circumstances of each child and family will differ, any advice can only be in the most general form.

  1. Parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order [‘CAO’] made by the Family Court rests with the child’s parents and not with the court.
  2. The country is in the middle of a Public Health crisis on an unprecedented scale. The expectation must be that parents will care for children by acting sensibly and safely when making decisions regarding the arrangements for their child and deciding where and with whom their child spends time.
    Parents must abide by the ‘Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others’ issued by the government on 23 March [‘the Stay at Home Rules’]. In addition to these Rules, advice about staying safe and reducing the spread of infection has been issued and updated by Public Health England and Public Health Wales [‘PHE/PHW’].
  3. The Stay at Home Rules have made the general position clear: it is no longer permitted for a person, and this would include a child, to be outside their home for any purpose other than essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work.
  4. Government guidance issued alongside the Stay at Home Rules on 23rd March deals specifically with child contact arrangements. It says:
    “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
    This establishes an exception to the mandatory ‘stay at home’ requirement; it does not, however, mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make after a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.
  5. More generally, the best way to deal with these difficult times will be for parents to communicate with one another about their worries, and what they think would be a good, practical solution. Many people are very worried about Coronavirus and the health of themselves, their children and their extended family. Even if some parents think it is safe for contact to take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.
  6. Where parents, acting in agreement, exercise their parental responsibility to conclude that the arrangements set out in a CAO should be temporarily varied they are free to do so. It would be sensible for each parent to record such an agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other.
  7. Where parents do not agree to vary the arrangements set out in a CAO, but one parent is sufficiently concerned that complying with the CAO arrangements would be against current PHE/PHW advice, then that parent may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe. If, after the event, the actions of a parent acting on their own in this way are questioned by the other parent in the Family Court, the court is likely to look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules in place at that time, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
  8. Where, either as a result of parental agreement or as a result of one parent on their own varying the arrangements, a child does not get to spend time with the other parent as set down in the CAO, the courts will expect alternative arrangements to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent within the Stay at Home Rules, for example remotely – by Face-Time, WhatsApp Face-Time, Skype, Zoom or other video connection or, if that is not possible, by telephone.

The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane
President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice

Coping with the summer holidays as a separated parent

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 are so many positive things to be gained from a bit of advance thinking. For example, if you wish to take the children abroad for a holiday you are much more likely to be able to access cheaper fares if you can book well beforehand and take advantage of any ‘earlybird’ deals. Let’s face it, booking flights and trips in the school holidays is expensive enough without having to pay a premium for booking at the last minute! Also, the children will know what to expect and be able to look forward to the holidays without worrying that mum and dad will be tense and stressed because nothing has been agreed ahead of time.

The ideal way to share the holidays is for for each parent to take a turn in spending time with the children over the summer, and / or arranging for extended family to help out. But in reality, the separation often means that mum and dad simply can’t talk about the practicalities without it resulting in an unpleasant argument or endless misunderstandings. So much for that supposedly refreshing break for everyone over the summer!

However, there are some tips that we can suggest to make things easier.  As family mediators, we have been working with separated parents for over 30 years, assisting them to discuss and agree arrangements for their children. Here are some of the ideas that have helped them – we hope that they will help you too!

Talk – Communication is the key to a successful summer plan. If you and your ex are on speaking terms then it is really helpful if you can start to talk about the holidays as early as possible.

Meet – if a face-to-face meeting is possible, then you could arrange to get together at a local café with your diaries. Meeting in a neutral venue in a public place means that you are both more likely to behave in a civilised way. If each of you takes turns to suggest possible dates when you could have the children, you can negotiate a sensible timetable. The dates will often be dictated by your respective work commitments and / or the availability of extended family to help with childcare. If you do make some agreements, make sure you both write them down together at the same time to avoid any misunderstandings later. You could even follow it up with an email between you to confirm the arrangements.

Use phone, email or text – if a face-to-face meeting is not possible, then the next best options may be to communicate indirectly:

  • Phone call – if you are able to speak to your ex without the conversation getting out of hand
  • Email – if speaking on the phone is not possible or productive
  • Text – if it is easier than phone calls or email, but bear in mind that because texts are usually very short, there is scope for them to be misinterpreted by the recipient

Online calendar – it can be really helpful to set up an online calendar to which only you and your ex have access. This can be a useful way to show what arrangements have been made, and to mark important occasions such as birthdays, Christmas arrangements, family parties, school events, parent-teacher consultations etc. You could even agree that each of you uses a different colour when you add in a date so that you can see who has put in each event.

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 in mediation cases we find that a common issue to be discussed between separating couples is the use and abuse of electronic forms of communication by one or both of them.

It is so important when picking one’s way through the emotional minefield of separation and divorce to be aware that once words have been ‘posted’ on a website, shared on Twitter, been exchanged on Facebook, or sent in an email, they are ‘out there’ in the internet ether and it can be well-nigh impossible to take them back. My grandmother always said ‘never write down anything that you wouldn’t want to see published in the Sunday newspaper’.  She was a wise woman!

Words written in anger can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings that may also draw in friends and members of the extended family, culminating in a free-for-all of vitriolic exchanges. So how can family mediation help?

In mediation sessions, we can help clients to talk about the ground-rules for acceptable and effective communication between them. Some common agreements that might emerge could include:

  • Not using social media to refer to anything relating to the separation or divorce
  • Not using social media to share any information about the children in the family
  • Using emails or texts to communicate, and remembering to:
    • Stick to the point
    • Keep it factual
    • Be polite
  • Not using any form of electronic communication to ‘bad mouth’ the other party
  • Not involving friends and family in the issues
  • Considering having a meeting in a neutral public venue, for an agreed amount of time, to discuss issues relating to the children and/ or finances face to face (where this is safe and appropriate)

If you and your ex-partner need help with issues like these, why not get in touch with us at Cambridge Family Mediation Service on 01223 576308.


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

Separated Parents Information Programme

The mediator will also give you information about the FREE (for a limited time only) Separated Parents Information Programme, a 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


Waggott v Waggott: in support of the clean break

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.

Shared care arrangements in relocation cases

The linked article by barrister Richard Jones analyses a difficult area of family law – where there is shared care and one parent wants permission to permanently relocate with the child to a different country:

Shared care arrangements in relocation cases.

When is a loan not a loan?

No, this is not just a riddle – it can be a really serious problem for couples who are breaking up. This week, I was asked to give some advice on our local radio station about the difficulties that can arise when a friend asks to borrow money from you and then never repays it, and the damage that can do to your friendship Whilst preparing for the programme I started thinking about all the parallel situations that crop up in the family mediation cases that we work with every day.

In these times of economic austerity it is increasingly common for parents – ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ – to ‘lend’ or ‘give’ their children money as a deposit for the purchase of a home. Whilst those children are unmarried, the arrangement may be quite straightforward.  But if that child has got married, entered into a civil partnership, or bought a house jointly with their long-term partner and that relationship breaks down, the situation can be much more complicated.

A scenario we frequently come across in mediation is this:

Sophie (29) is married to Pete (30). Five years ago, her parents ‘lent’ her and Pete £50,000 to put down as a deposit on the purchase of their first home. Around the same time, Pete’s parents ‘lent’ them £25,000 to do up the kitchen and bathroom. Sadly, the relationship broke down after the birth of their baby, Tom (2), and Sophie and Pete came to mediation with Cambridge Family Mediation Service to try to reach an agreement about the arrangements for sharing time with Tom, and to achieve a financial settlement so that they could proceed with a divorce.

During the mediation it became clear to both of them that the house would have to be sold, at which point Sophie said that her parents expected them to repay the ‘loan’ of £50,000 from the sale proceeds. Pete said that he was shocked to hear this because he had always been under the impression that this money was a ‘gift’ from Sophie’s parents, and that in reality they never expected it to be repaid. Sophie argued that her parents only intended them to keep the money on the basis that they were married – and now that the marriage has ended they definitely want it back.

The mediator asked whether anything had been put into writing at the time of the ‘loan’? Sophie said ‘No’, but her parents’ intention had always been very clear. At this point Pete disagreed loudly, and pulled out a piece of paper, which he waved at Sophie; he said it was a written agreement signed by him and his parents, saying that the £25,000 that they ‘lent’ for the kitchen and bathroom was a formal loan, with the expectation that Sophie and Pete would repay it whenever the house was sold. It was apparently dated around 5 years ago. Sophie took one look at the document, and said she’d never seen it before and that it was quite clear to her that Pete and his parents had only just written it to protect him in the divorce, and accused them of forging the date.

At this point, as you can imagine, the session became very stressful for both of them. The mediator intervened to calm things down and recommended that they each take legal advice about the status of the ‘loans’ so that they could share the advice at the next mediation session. The question for their lawyers was: ‘what would a court decide if it had to adjudicate on this issue? ‘

Of course, the answer in such cases is rarely black and white, and usually depends on all the circumstances of the case, together with any available evidence about what was intended by everyone involved.

The moral of the story is:  that if you want to avoid becoming entangled in complicated legal arguments about whether or not a ‘loan’ was really a loan, or in reality was intended as a ‘gift’, it is always best to:

  • Put down everything clearly in writing at the time, signed, dated and perhaps witnessed by someone independent, for example, your solicitor.
  • For significant sums of money, it is always wise to take legal advice before entering into any sort of substantial loan or gift of money.

A little bit of time and thought at the outset can save you a huge amount of stress and expense later!

What is a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)?

What is a MIAM?

This is a meeting between you and a mediator to look at the various ways you may be able to find solutions to the issues facing you and your ex-partner. The meeting can last up to an hour.


Having heard from you about your particular circumstances, the mediator will help you look at the range of options available for resolving family disputes, including:


  1. Mediation – where both of you meet with a mediator to discuss and resolve issues
  2. Collaborative law – where you and both your solicitors all meet to resolve issues
  3. Negotiation through solicitors
  4. Litigation through court
  5. Arbitration


The mediator will help you look at the pros and cons of each of these options. It may be that one option is more suitable to resolve issues about the children and another to come to a financial settlement.


The mediator can also give you information about other services that provide help and support to families going through separation or divorce.


Do I have to attend a MIAM?

You do not have to come to this meeting, unless you are thinking of starting court proceedings because you cannot agree arrangements for your children (other than child protection issues) or your finances following your separation. In either of these situations, you will, usually, need to show the court that you have been to a MIAM and the mediator will give you the appropriate form, confirming this. The other person will also, usually, need to show that they have also been to a MIAM.


There are some exceptions to people having to attend a MIAM.


How much does a MIAM cost?

You will be charged £109 (inclusive of VAT) for a MIAM, unless you are eligible for Legal Aid.  The mediator can assess your eligibility for Legal Aid if you wish.

New Year…New Start …New You? Now that the hurly-burly of Christmas is over, have you reached the point at which you are considering separation or divorce?

As the New Year begins, unfortunately it can be a time when the stresses and strains within families have reached breaking point, leading to separation and / or divorce. If this is happening to you, Cambridge Family Mediation Service is here to help.

As from Monday 8 January 2018 there are new court forms that must be used if you wish to make an application to the court in relation to issues concerning:

  • Arrangements for children on separation / divorce
  • Finance and property matters on separation / divorce

The new forms can be found and downloaded through the HMCTS form finder service at as from Monday 8 January 2018.


It is important to note that the law has changed, and you are now legally required to consider mediation before applying to the family court to resolve a dispute about your children or finances. This means that before submitting your application, you must attend a Mediation and Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to find out about mediation and see if mediators can help you sort out arrangements for the future.

In special circumstances – such as where domestic violence is involved – you may not need to attend a MIAM. However, you will be asked to provide the judge with evidence (such as a police report to prove domestic violence has taken place) and should bring it to the first hearing.

Who are mediators and what do they do?

Mediators are trained professionals who can help you and the other person involved work out an agreement without having to go to court about issues such as arrangements for children, financial arrangements and dividing up property. Here at Cambridge Family Mediation Service, all of our mediators are highly experienced in children and financial matters and are fully accredited by the Family Mediation Council.

How can mediation help?

Mediation gives you more control over what happens, and is usually less stressful and cheaper than going to court. It can also be quicker and less upsetting for you and your children. In the MIAM, you will be told about other options to resolve your dispute and about services that can provide you with help and support.


Where can I find a mediator or more information?

At Cambridge Family Mediation Service, we are able to provide mediation at our offices at Essex House, 71 Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AB. Please telephone us on 01223 576308, or fill in our contact form to arrange an appointment for a MIAM.

You can also search for a mediator and find more information about mediation (and other sources of help) using this website:


Do I have to pay for the MIAM?

The MIAM is free of charge if you or the other person involved (the other party) qualifies for legal aid. To find out if you qualify visit:

If you do not qualify for legal aid, Cambridge Family Mediation Service charges £109 (inclusive of VAT) for the MIAM, which will last up to one hour. We can also offer you a discounted rate for attendance at a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP), see below.


Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP)

If you attend a MIAM at Cambridge Family Mediation Service, we can also offer you a discount on attendance at our highly-acclaimed Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) – a one-off 4-hour workshop that you attend, along with 6 to 10 other parents in a similar situation. NB You ex would attend a separate course. The full price for this is £75 per person, but for those clients who attend a MIAM with us, we can offer the course at a discounted price of £50 per person (so the total price to pay would be £109 for the MIAM plus £50 for the SPIP = £159 per person).

The course gives you lots of useful information about how best to support your children as you go through separation and divorce. The presenters help you to look at ways to improve communication between you and the other parent, and help you to understand aspects of the emotional roller-coaster that you and your children may be experiencing at this difficult time.

We look forward to hearing from you if you feel that you would benefit from any of our services:-

Telephone:        01223 576308


Address: Cambridge Family Mediation Service, Essex House, 71 Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AB

Valentine’s Day… Love it or Hate it?

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).