In order to utilize the mediation methodology to assist with financial arrangements, division of assets and living expenses, it is highly recommended that communication is aligned first - either by using a third party mediator to help with this - or by ensuring that key issues, frustrations, misunderstandings or emotional responses to the separation have been discussed. Financial division of joint assets is a highly emotive topic in these circumstances and it is far better for the parties to approach this having a clear approach to fairness and collaborative working.
Legal costs dealing with financial issues can run to tens of thousands of pounds and invariably end with one or both if the parties feeling that the outcome is unfair. It is not unusual for parties to have to return to court in the years after a decision is made. It is therefore strongly advisable to work out early a fair, workable and practical division of assets and agreement as to future support for children and dependent spouses early on. Court should be an absolute last resort and limited to particularly complex financial issues such as joint stock holdings/corporate assets.
To facilitate a collaborative, fair and efficient approach parties are encouraged to be transparent about disclosing all finances and realistic about their future needs and the changing needs of the children as they grow older.
A sensible approach to take is to outline in advance - based on your own familial circumstances what immediate needs of each family member should to be met for example:
1. School - proximity to school - purchase of school uniforms, who will receive key communications from school?
2. Work - working arrangements/ location/travel requirements
3. Living need - ensuring children have facility to live comfortably with each parent including appropriate place to sleep, keep belongings, have school uniform available and areas for homework, friends to visit etc
4. Proximity to each other to facilitate joint parenting - what will be agreed if one parent needs to move away?
5. Future schooling (eg secondary education)
6. Agreement regarding holidays /birthdays/ religious festivals
7. Agreement regarding shared living expenses of children - taking into account earning capacity of each parent.
8. Agreement regarding purchase of big ticket items for children (phones, laptops , school trips etc)
9. Agreement regarding administration of matters such as passport renewal.
10. Agreement regarding future relationships - when will children be introduced to new partners, what happens to finances if one party remarries.
11. Agreement regarding higher education for children( maintenance agreements are usually in place until the child completes higher education).
Each parent should look at this exercise in terms of what they can contribute to a joint parenting family unit rather than what they can take or withhold. Parties should consider all forms of collaboration and contribution, not just financial provision.
The approach recommended above identifies the specific need first and then allows a fair discussion to take place about what is affordable and how each parent can contribute and facilitate the needs of the children in conjunction with the needs of the other parent.
The above structure also identifies the nature of family change and changing circumstances. Not all topics need to be discussed at once as this can feel overwhelming. It is best to take decisions on a “need to take” basis! There is no point arguing about secondary school If your child is 5 years old. Being conscious that life changes and has many variables is important when making decisions and thinking in terms of making “transitional”‘arrangements is easier than planning a permanent change.
As can be seen from the above it is very difficult to determine financial arrangements without examining how shared parenting will work. These factors are not mutually exclusive, they need to be examined together and systematically considered. It should also be recognized and appreciated that there will be emotional responses to many of the items on the list.
There should be room for these emotional responses to be verbalised, explored and any underlying need to be identified and discussed with a view to ensuring that each party has their opportunity to explain any concerns they may have. A third party mediator can facilitate this element of discussions. Parties can also remind themselves of where they will need to go if agreement is not reached (court) and weigh in the balance the cost benefit of legal action in relation to reaching workable compromises.
It can help parties to bring evidence to discussions such as details of accommodation, schools, payslips, policy documents etc. the more information that is readily available the easier it will be to determine a financial snapshot of what will be workable.
Keeping lines of communication open (preferably face to face rather then via email or WhatsApp) is vital.
Recognizing. acknowledging and being appreciative when agreement is reached on a certain area is extremely important.
Finally keep a written record of agreement reached and ensure that each party understands it and has a copy. However be prepared to review arrangements that seemed a good idea theoretically (or at the time) but have not worked or produced different issues in practice.
Maintain the joint brainstorm approach - using this method;
1. Identify the need first.
2. Explore practical solutions to address the need (and verbalise any emotional responses).
3. Identify (by reference to evidence) the practical/financial contributions by each parent to facilitate the proposed solution.
4. Explore the realities of the solution in terms of current circumstances of the family unit. Identify pros and cons.
5. When agreement is reached write it down and share it by email.
6. Agree to keep under review. Always allow space and time for reflection and be patient with a party that needs time to process information or prefers to reflect over a reasonable time period before committing. Avoid this being a delaying tactic by building in a 24 hour “cooling off period” into all discussions.
Key questions when considering an outcome/ solution:
Is it affordable ?
Is it sustainable? - if not, is it practical for a limited time frame? Does it cause any satellite issues ?
Avoid blame allocation, retaliation, or other punitive behaviours.
Avoid agreeing begrudgingly or without a clear understanding of what is intended.
Avoid giving deadlines or ultimatums or saying things like “this is my last offer”
Keep the focus on being collaborative minimising further issues arising out of a decision.
Avoid rushing things or putting time pressure on eachother. Time is essential to coming to workable and practical collaborative agreements. There must be time given to verbalising, considering, consulting, agreeing, reflection and review.
Avoid trying to persuade them of your arguments or defend your position. You need to be able to gain a full understanding of each other's needs and concerns and this will be achieved by listening and acknowledging not by forceful, persuasive argument.
Avoid trying to maintain a semblance of control over the other party’s life or parenting choices. Trying to control a spouses behaviour or parenting style is never a healthy dynamic even in a marriage.
Once the marriage is over it is extremely detrimental to try to assert control or dictate how the other parent should behave. Provided the fundamental needs of the children are being met and no safeguarding issues arise (which will require professional support) each parent should be allowed to build their own dynamic as a “single parent” to the children.
Approach the joint problem solving from a place of “what can I bring to the table to make this idea work?”
Actively seek to contribute, not to withhold.
Encourage exploration of misgivings and negatives - seek to understand a misgiving or reservation so that you can provide reassurances. Don’t see a “no” as a “I won’t”’- see it as a “ I don’t feel right about this” and explore the “why” behind the No.
Look for how you can give the other party reassurance. If you need reassurance, verbalise that need and explain why.
Be realistic and flexible about the changeable nature of everyday life. Nothing is set in stone and life throws all sorts of variables our way on a daily basis. Learning to realistically and flexibly navigate these variables is an essential skill for any family unit!
Where appropriate, include the children and introduce them to the concept of collaborative problem solving in a family dynamic. Their needs and thoughts are also important. The more they see their parents working together collaboratively and cooperatively in their best interests the more stable and safe they will feel.
Agree key parenting beliefs and fundamentals early on. The more these can be agreed and respected the easier you will make your own time with the children (rules re: bedtimes, screen times, extra curricular activities, sleepovers, school trips, and later as a teenager - curfews, social behaviours.) These are conversations they will be ongoing as joint parents - creating a positive collaborative dynamic early on will be easier and healthier in the long run and especially during the teen years.
BE KIND. Channel kindness and respect and these behaviours will be mirrored by the other party.
Creating an open communication dynamic within the revised family unit is very important. Children watch, observe and make assumptions based on their own friends, television and their own worries and fears. The more open and honest you can be with them about changes to the family dynamic (without blame or creating “sides”) the easier the process will be and the safer they will feel.
Reassuring them that:
● they are loved by both parents equally,
● that they will continue to be provided for,
● that key elements of their life (school, seeing friends, seeing grandparents, etc) will not change (and following that through!)
will make them trust you both and help them come to terms with any changes (such as living arrangements) that are made.
Let them ask questions, let them contribute ideas and include them in age appropriate decision making. Be patient while they work through their emotions and be joint “adults” in response to heightened emotions.
Ensure that other family members such as grandparents or close friends are aware of your collaborative approach and instruct them firmly not to engage in blame or “team building against the other parent ” when interacting with your children. Considerable damage to a collaborative parenting process can be caused by a well meaning adult who brings their own grievances or baggage into the conversation!