I attended a wedding a while ago where the atmosphere was tense rather than joyful because the bride’s parents had divorced ten years previously and animosity between them still reigned.
Although the divorce rate has stabilised at around 100 in 7,000 couples and despite the increase in cohabitation, the bad feeling that lingers after an adversarial divorce continues to spoil the atmosphere of family gatherings.
In this case, even ten years after the bride’s parents had divorced, the wedding was a source of tension.
So what can a divorcing couple do to make sure they attend their children’s weddings without ruining the happy day?
Mediation is the obvious dispute resolution option. It is a civilised way of resolving separation and relationship issues, such as the timing of divorce, grounds for a divorce, parenting arrangements and finance. It has nothing to do with reconciliation or counselling. A trained mediator meets with a couple and helps them identify the areas of disagreement and to explore the areas for settlement. The process is confidential and both parties are encouraged to take independent legal advice. Ultimately, they take control of their own divorce.
A good example is a mediation I conducted recently with Susanna and Alan. They had accepted that their marriage was over but were still living in the same house and wanted to reach an agreement about their children.
Alan had a new relationship and this had upset Susanna. She was also worried about how it would affect the children.
In mediation, it was possible to agree a pattern of contact so that Alan was spending frequent time with the children. He agreed that the children should not be brought into contact with his girlfriend until after he had separated from Susanna. The couple then went on to agree that the family home should be sold but Susanna would receive a greater proportion of the proceeds to reflect the fact that Alan had more pension provision. Both Alan and Susanna had independent legal advice but their legal fees were kept in check as most of the hard work was done in the mediation process. An agreement was reached without them having to go through expensive and emotionally traumatic legal proceedings.
Mediation isn’t just for people who are going through divorce. It is equally valuable for cohabiting couples and those ending civil partnerships.