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Is there a ‘best’ way to separate or divorce?

There is a whole spectrum of emotions that will be stirred in the separation and divorce process – from the caring, respectful and dignified ‘goodbye’ to the most difficult and painful, even vengeful situation.  What we mediators deal with is often far from easy.  We wonder to ourselves how this couple who created their children in great love can be reduced to such degrading name-calling and fighting over who has them for that extra two hours at Christmas.

I met a wife in mediation a couple of weeks ago who was clutching the list of chattels that she ‘must have’ from the formal matrimonial home.  She admitted that it was not really about the chattels but more that ‘if I get them then the bastard won’t have them’.  How much had they spent thus far on their divorce? £85,000 each in legal fees. 

How about the acrimonious couple whose middle child is seeing her third child-psychologist?  This couple refuse to sit in the same room together and manage the handover of their children via a nanny at a local MacDonald’s. Neither parent considered their child’s psychological ills were in any way connected to their behaviour. Did their marriage start off like this? Didn’t they set out to love, nurture and protect their children from birth?

Luckily, mediators are considerably more central in the separation and divorce frame than they were five years ago. Mediators work with parties to divorce collaboratively.  Often six sessions with a good mediator, agreeing a healthy, flexible child arrangements plan and clarifying financial issues, (with solicitors advice in the background) can be enough to resolve matters.  If there are sticking points, a mediated round table meeting with clients, their solicitors and the mediator often resolves matters.  This is now being called a ‘hybrid’ model of mediation. Many issues that might drag on for months and go to a final hearing in court can be settled in such a half-day round-table mediated meeting. 

Here are 9 top tips for couples for a lower-octane divorce:

  1. Don’t knee-jerk; take some time to look at the bigger picture; decide your options, have a phone conversation with a mediator.
  2. Avoid taking advice from embittered separated or divorced friends.  Be extra wary of conversations that start: ‘you should take your husband/wife to the cleaners…’
  3. Get a recommendation to a solicitor who knows how to keep the divorce temperature low.
  4. Look after yourself in divorce; get some counselling; look at
  5. Don’t leave it too late to talk to your children that you will be separating or divorcing.  Do this in a calm atmosphere over a family meal.  Avoid blame; tell your children that mum and dad will be better friends if they are living apart.  Stress that it is nothing they have done that has led you to this decision.
  6. Be aware of your children’s psychological wellbeing.  There are excellent resources for children of divorcing parents.  Look at
  7. Consider the children seeing the mediator in a Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM) meeting.  This is confidential to the children and allows them to express their wishes and feelings about arrangements being made for them on their parents’ separation. 
  8. Keep communication channels open with your ex-partner; be aware of your children playing one of you off against the other. 
  9. Finally, remember; you will have to parent your children together for ever!

Jacky Lewis and associates at Mediation Matters London provide skilled, sensitive Alternative Dispute Resolution across the board and mediate all manner of conflict from separation and divorce to corporate matters and including workplace, employment and partner disputes.


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