Welcoming Family Mediation Week: tools that can help families put children first through separation.
It can be very sad for everyone when a family splits, especially where there are children involved, and sorting out the practicalities of a separation can often feel overwhelming. Most parents will want to ensure their children are spared as much stress as possible. Reassuringly there are tools, information and support services available which can help families put children first throughout the separation.
Family mediation can really work. This is where an independent, professionally trained mediator helps a former couple work out an agreement about issues such as arrangements for children, child maintenance payments and finances.
Many people find that mediation is quicker, less stressful and less expensive than going to court. Mediators don’t ‘take sides’, and they can also help to ensure the voices of any children are heard too. For some children, it can help them feel like they have more of an understanding about what is happening in their family.
Mediation is free for people who qualify for legal aid. Legal aid may also be available for people who need to go to court where there are factors, such as domestic violence, that mean mediation may not be appropriate. You can see if you qualify here: https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid
It’s worth adding that even if a couple does want to go to court, a judge will usually ask that they consider mediation first.
Another very helpful tool is the online Parenting Plan. It’s a free, practical step by step process that helps people work out arrangements for the children after separation. It helps them to put the best interests of children first and to remember that they will each continue to be parents to the children, even though they are no longer part of a couple.
The Parenting Plan helps former partners work out the practical decisions about children’s care in areas such as communication, living arrangements, money, religion, education, health care, and emotional well-being. It’s available online.
I hope family mediation and the online Parenting Plan might enable parents to spare themselves and their children as much stress as possible when family breakdown occurs.
Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice.