Sally and Joe have two children – George, aged six and Lucy, aged nine. They separated a year ago. Sally and the children live in the family home and Joe has recently moved 15 miles away to live with his partner, Julie, and her 13-year-old daughter, Alice. Financial arrangements and child support are agreed.
They came to mediation during lockdown to speak about the arrangements for their two children. Family Matters set up the online individual appointments and offered shuttle mediation, but Sally and Joe agree they would like to come to the same online meeting with the mediator and we were able to arrange the meeting at a time that suited them both.
Joe and Sally started by outlining their worries.
Sally was concerned about the children spending some time with Joe on his own and having some support with homeschooling. Joe was concerned about the choice of Lucy’s secondary school and recent difficulties over the children spending time with him.
At their first meeting, they both acknowledged that tension between them has increased since Joe moved to live with Julie and since lockdown. Sally felt that Joe should spend more time with the children on his own; Joe felt that the children had “clammed up” and don’t open up to him like they used to.
By using mediation to speak about their feelings, and why they have them, for example, Sally was arranging care for her mother who has developed dementia and Joe’s partner is a nurse at the local hospital, they were able to understand each other’s concerns and acknowledge that they are both under stress at the moment.
Recognising Joe’s move to live with Julie as a big change for all of them, they considered how their children might be feeling and how to change the arrangements to work better for all of them. They agreed to trial the revised arrangements and return to mediation in four weeks to talk about the other matters.
At their next meeting, they both said that the children had opened up to them more. They have been enjoying going cycling with Joe and Lucy and Alice had become closer. Alice has been helping Lucy with some of her school projects – this in turn has helped Sally with Lucy’s homeschooling. Joe has worked with George on his reading because George likes the silly voices that Joe uses. George uses some of the silly voices when he reads at home with Sally.
They moved on to talk about Lucy’s choice of senior school.
Sally hopes that Lucy will move to the local academy, which most children do from her primary school – it has a great reputation and Lucy will have a ready group of friends, making the transition easier.
Joe hopes Lucy will move to the school that 13-year-old Alice attends – it also has a great reputation and has an excellent creative arts department – Lucy loves acting and is very musical. Lucy is on the transport route for the school and Joe would be willing to help.
Both parents set out positive reasons why their daughter should attend each school. They understood that the mediator cannot make the decision for them. As a way forward, they agree to speak together to Lucy about her options and listen to what she says, to speak to Lucy’s teacher, and to each look at the details of both schools (and visit once able to do so). If they cannot decide themselves with Lucy, they agreed to use the Family Law Arbitration Children Scheme to make a decision, as neither of them wishes to go to court. They understand that the arbitrator would make a decision about Lucy’s school.
This is a good example of mediation and arbitration being used together to help parents avoid court proceedings about their daughter.