As parents, the last thing we want to do is cause our kids unnecessary trauma and stress. But all too often, separating couples find themselves battling out parenting arrangements in the courts – often to the detriment of the kids.
Think of mediation as more than a formality
When it comes to parenting arrangements, couples are usually required to enter into a process known as Family Dispute Resolution (a fancy name for mediation) before they can file to have the matter heard by the family court.
For many couples the idea of reaching agreement on parenting matters can seem like an impossible task. So, many end up viewing the mediation process as a formality rather than an opportunity. Some go in to it expecting it to fail and as a result it does. But those who go in to it with an open mind, often come out of it with a resolution that they’re happy with and all parties are better for it – especially the kids.
Those that embrace the mediation process often find they:
- Finalise parenting arrangements faster – letting everybody move on sooner.
- Reach a better arrangement – mediation provides much more scope for flexibility and innovation than the courts.
- Are happier with the outcome – because they got a say in it and their voice was heard.
- Save money – as they avoid going to court and the lawyer’s fees that come along with that.
CASE STUDY: ‘Jim’ and ‘Mary’
Mary contacted us not long after she separated from her husband Jim as they were struggling to reach agreement on parenting arrangements.
Mary and their three young children had moved an hour away from Jim, so that Mary could be closer to her parents and get the support she needed. Jim wanted her to live closer to him, so that he could be more involved in the children’s day to day lives and they could share care. Mary felt pressured and that Jim was making unreasonable demands. While Jim felt Mary was dictating his time with the children and making decisions that were not in their best interests.
The mediation process:
To start the process, I began by interviewing Mary to understand the background behind their marriage and separation and identify each of the items she wanted mediation to help them resolve.
I then contacted Jim and invited him to attend mediation and take part in the process. Jim agreed and I interviewed Jim – the same way I did Mary – identifying the items he wanted to work through in the mediation process.
Despite their differences, I could see that there was some common ground and both seemed genuine in their desire to reach agreement. As there were no family violence issues, I began by organising a joint meeting, where we all met together and then broke into private rooms for further negotiations.
Because they were both committed to the process, we were able to work through each of the issues, find resolution and agree to a parenting plan that involved:
- Sharing the travel between each other’s homes, so that the burden didn’t fall solely on Jim.
- Increasing the time Jim spent with the children, which in turn provided Mary the space to renter the workforce.
- Jim looking for accommodation closer to where Mary was living, so he could spend time with them during the week and be more involved in their daily lives and activities.
We agreed that the plan would be reviewed after 6 months, once Jim had moved, to reflect on how it was working and see if any changes were needed.
Both walked away with a signed parenting plan that gave them clarity and certainty moving forward. But best of all, they avoided dragging the family through the courts and were able to move on sooner.
How to approach mediation
Jim and Mary are just one example of where sitting down with a neutral third party can help separating couples find an amicable solution, that saves them and their kids a whole lot of unnecessary heartache.
If you’re recently separated and need to reach agreement on parenting arrangements, mediation is the best place start. The key to success is to go in to it with an open mind – even if you don’t think you’ll ever see eye to eye. An experienced mediator could be just what the two of you need to find your common ground and work through your differences of opinion.
More about mediation and Family Dispute Resolution
Family Dispute Resolution is generally required before parenting matters can be heard by the courts.
Generally speaking, to commence court proceedings you will require a S.60i certificate to be issued by an accredited family dispute mediator (like Lakey Family Law and Mediation). This certificate is issued if the parties are unable to resolve their dispute, if one party refuses to attend or if the mediation determines that mediation is not appropriate (for example if one party’s whereabouts are unknown, where there is significant family violence, or other practical difficulties).
If you’d like to know more about Family Dispute Resolution and mediation get in touch – we’re here to help.