Christmas may still be over two months away, but mediation charity National Family Mediation (NFM) is recommending that separated parents start thinking now about how child care arrangements may have to be altered over the festive period.

“Reminders that Christmas is fast approaching are all around us, but many separated families are dreading December, and with good reason,” explained Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation. “Living arrangements that work well all year can be exposed as inadequate. And there can be turmoil for pick-ups and drop-offs when children need to visit relatives they haven’t seen for the past year.” 

NFM suggests that separated parents develop a simple parenting plan, which sets out where the children will be throughout the holidays. This will provide clarification in advance for both parents and hopefully reduce the risk of conflict and distress over Christmas and New Year.

The charity highlights that using family mediation can be an effective way of putting such a plan in place. Parenting plans can be helpful, not only at Christmas, but for the rest of the year as well. They provide a flexible agreement that can be adapted to meet changing needs as the children grow older and family relationships change.

“A positive parenting plan, agreed by both parents, is easier to achieve than many people think,” said Jane Robey. “Starting with an open mind, the parents need to accept that whilst their own relationship can’t be saved, the vital bonds between child and each parent can actually go from strength to strength.”

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that is available to separating couples. It involves the two parties discussing their situation and reaching an agreement with the assistance of a third party- the mediator. Mediation isn’t only suitable for helping to sort out issues of child residence and contact, but can be used to help resolve all disputes that arise out of divorce or separation.

Mediation, and other forms of ADR, can offer significant advantages to separating couples over court-based dispute resolution. According to NFM, which provides mediation services in England and Wales, a mediated case is completed in 110 days on average, compared to 435 days for cases resolved through the courts. This amounts to a saving of 325 days, or ten and a half months.

Mediation can also offer significant financial savings. NFM figures suggest that in England the average cost per client is £535, compared to £2,823 for people going to court to resolve their dispute.

In addition, mediation allows separating couples themselves to agree how money and other assets are distributed, and what arrangements will work best for the children, rather than leaving it to the courts to impose a decision on these vital issues.

“But it’s families themselves who are best placed to decide these things, and professional mediators are highly skilled third party negotiators, with experience in helping families create long-term solutions that work well for their particular circumstances,” explained Jane Robey.

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