This is a guest blog post by family mediator Louisa Whitney. She writes about difficult issues in a clear and reassuring way. You will find Louisa's contact details at the end of the post.
Separating from your partner can be a daunting experience. The first stage can feel like being plunged under water and not having a clue which way you need to swim to find the surface. Couple this with the huge amount of information online, stories in the media, and the urban myths that seem to spread about my friend or cousin who had the worst divorce ever; and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The overwhelm can also be coupled with grief, fear, anxiety and panic – especially when you feel the separation has been thrust upon you rather than being a mutual decision. Even when you know the separation is right for you there can still be a great feeling of trepidation about what the future holds for you.
The starting point is to work at a pace that works for you. Initially trying to hold down a job and be a parent whilst going through a grieving process can be enough to manage. Conversations about the next step and money and when the children will be with each parent can simply seem too much. Consider making the bare minimum of arrangements that will last for say 6 months. It’s easier to find a way forward if you know it is time limited. It doesn’t have to last forever but just knowing you have something in place to give you each some breathing space can take some of the pressure off.
Think about what support you need to help you manage this difficult time. It might be practical help in the form of some childcare assistance from a friend or family member. It might be someone to have coffee with regularly to enable you to offload. Consider in this what you don’t need. If there is one person that makes you feel bad then maybe stepping back from them for a while might help you in the healing process. You may also need extra support from your GP, or from a counsellor. Separating from a partner is one of the most stressful life events you can experience and there is no shame in needing some extra help. It can also be useful to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally involved in the situation.
When you feel able to you can start to think about how you and your ex partner can find a solution to the different issues that crop up when a couple decide to go their separate ways. If you are able to talk directly with each other then this will help. If you feel you need a little help then consider using the services of a mediator. Mediators help couples who separate to find a solution that works for them, and any children that they have. They help the couple to talk about what happens next by giving them space to listen to each other and to understand each other’s viewpoint. Although they don’t give advice, they can provide lots of information and helpful suggestions about how you could manage things going forward. In addition to this mediators will explain all the options that exist as part of an initial meeting. This can help you to make an informed choice about the best way for you and your ex partner to arrive at a resolution.
One of the key benefits of mediation is that you and your ex partner make decisions together about what is best for you, and any children that you have. You are in charge of what next steps you take. This is also the case where you try to agree things between yourselves, or with the benefit of lawyers to advise you (who can also correspond with each other to resolve issues). There is also a process called collaborative practice. This is a bit like mediation in the sense that you talk to each other round a table. But instead of having a mediator you each have a specially trained lawyer to support you. The lawyers make it a constructive process and everybody involved (including the lawyers) agrees that it won’t be referred to the court. The needs of your children are put at the top of the agenda.
Where you can’t decide matters together you can then look to use a process where somebody else decides what happens next for you and your children. This includes the court process and arbitration. If using the court process is like having an operation on the NHS then arbitration is like going private. In the arbitration process you can tailor the process and the timescale to your individual needs. In the court process everybody uses the same process regardless of your issues, or your level of wealth.
The key thing is that you both understand the different processes that exist for you to use and that you make an informed choice about which process will be most useful and beneficial to you. It is possible to change processes if you find yourself stuck at any point. For more information about the different processes that exist, or to find a practitioner near you visit www.resolution.org.uk for more information.
Accredited Family Mediator
LKW Family Mediation