Mediation & Relationship Breakdown: Making Your Child’s Rights a Priority

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This week is Mediation Awareness Week 2015 and you may have heard Joan Davis, Director of Family Mediation NI talking about the benefits of mediation this morning on U105 FM.  

To help mark Mediation Awareness Week 2015, Joan has provided Life Law NI with a guest blog looking at the importance of making your child’s rights a priority when dealing with relationship breakdown and how mediation can help assist you in doing this.

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“25 years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the question needs to be asked – why does society still ignore child rights?

We hear a lot about human rights, animal rights, parental rights, minority rights and so on from mainstream media, but what about the rights of children?

Article 9 of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states: –

’Children have the right to live with their parents unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents unless this might hurt the child’.

Let’s look at that statement in the context of 21st Century family life here in Northern Ireland:-

  • In 2014, 8,443 children in NI were the subject of final Court orders in Children Order cases.
  • Of these 8,443 children, 3,383 were under 4 years old, 2,468 between 5-8 years old, 1,683 between 9-12 years old and 90 were between 16-18 years old.
  • In 2013, 42% of the births in NI were to unmarried parents.
  • A total of 4,100 children were affected by 2,403 divorces in 2013, yet divorce statistics do not reflect current relationship and family patterns in NI family life.

It is important to consider that behind every statistic, there is a child potentially being denied a healthy relationship with one parent.

You may ask; ‘Where are a child’s rights and voice in all of these adult-constructed life-changing experiences?’   Ok , after separation, some children of a certain appropriate age will be spoken to within the legal system by a Court Children’s Officer and their views and wishes will be sought.  But is this the way we should be approaching our future private family life choices, living as separated parents?

You could also ask; ‘Why do parents default to the law when a romantic relationship ends?   What can we do as a society to begin changing a deeply ingrained mind-set that essentially disables otherwise capable people and renders them incapable of making a sensible decision about their own children’s future?

Independent legal and financial advice is always useful to enable informed decision-making upon separation.  However, for better long-term relationships and for the overall well-being of the child and safeguarding of the child’s rights for the future, Family Mediation NI offers a 21st Century approach to modern family disputes.  We believe mediation should be the natural and first choice for most separating parents.

Entering the process of family mediation empowers parents.  It enables parents to be the natural decision makers and encourages the child’s voice to be equal, to be heard and to be respected.

Child-focused mediation and, in appropriate cases, direct child consultation moves a family from an acrimonious, adversarial, ‘blame game’ system of behaviours to a responsible, future-focused, co-parenting state of mind.

Mediation provides the thinking, talking and listening space, the negotiating space and the neutral space.  It facilitates option generation, assists agreement on a bespoke parenting plan and ultimately a mediated agreement that informs the way forward and introduces the learning of a new form of communication as separate but loving parents, with the child at the heart of the process.

Joan Davis

FMNIJoan Davis is the Director of Family Mediation NI.  Mediation Awareness Week takes place in Northern Ireland from 19th October – 23rd October 2015. Contact Family Mediation NI for more information and details or check out www.mediationawarenessweek.ie

Family Mediation NI

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JoanDavisFMNIJoan Davis is the Director of Family Mediation NI, an organisation aimed at assisting couples upon their relationship breakdown to reach amicable, child-focussed arrangements between themselves. She has provided some information on the organisation and the services they provide:-

What is Family Mediation NI?

Upon the breakdown of a relationship, there are many issues that need to be discussed and decisions that need to be made by both parents in order to move forward not only as individuals but also as co-parents.

Issues which a separating couple may need to discuss can include the following:-

  • Working out best arrangements for your children upon separation – where they are to live, how often they are to see either parent, what school they are to go to, etc
  • Financial matters such as the division of the marital home and other property
  • Child support and maintenance matters
  • Any other problem particular to your circumstances

Separating from a marriage or relationship can be an emotionally charged time for all parties involved and this can sometimes make discussing the above issues in a reasonable and amicable manner very difficult.

Family Mediation NI offers the opportunity for parents, or (former) couples, to discuss any or all of these matters together with the assistance of a mediator to reach a jointly negotiated agreement.

Do I have to use Family Mediation?

No, Family Mediation NI is voluntary and nobody can be compelled to take part against his or her will.   It is often very helpful in assisting people in reaching their own negotiated settlements. The first appointment is always an introductory one so you can consider whether mediation is a way forward for you at this time.

Is Family Mediation confidential?

Yes, all discussions in Family Mediation are confidential.  This confidentiality can only be breached if a crime is alleged against a child, the mediator considers someone to be at serious risk of harm or allegations are made of criminal or fraudulent activity.

Will I need a Solicitor?

At Family Mediation NI, your mediator can record your decisions and summarise them in a written document known as a ‘Mediated Agreement’.  This is not legally binding, but can form the basis of a legal agreement, if your circumstances require this approach.

In mediation, the process belongs to you, you do your own negotiating, removing the need for lengthy solicitor negotiations and legal action and the associated costs, both emotional and financial.  You each may consult a solicitor, pre-mediation to advise you and to make any agreement reached legally binding, if you so wish.  Mediators are neither counsellors nor advisers and do not at any time give legal advice but can help you generate options relevant to your family circumstances.

If you have children, Family Mediation can help you discuss how to talk to your children to ascertain their views and to help them to understand what is happening and in certain cases direct child consultation may be assessed as appropriate.  You may also obtain help in how to tell your children about the breakup and reassure them that both of you are finding a way to support the family move forward.

At Family Mediation NI, we offer a 21st Century approach to modern family disputes. We believe that mediation should be the natural and first choice for most separating parents. Family Mediation NI is available throughout NI.

Joan Davis, FMNI Director

For more information on the services Family Mediation NI offer and the support they can provide you with, please contact them on Enquiry@familymediationni.org.uk or telephone 028 9024 3265
Mediation Awareness Week takes place in Northern Ireland from 19th October – 23rd October 2015. Contact Family Mediation NI for more information and details or check out www.mediationawarenessweek.ie

Belfast Area Domestic Violence Partnership: Legal Remedies at a Glance

CEdgarI am a proud member of the Belfast Area Domestic Violence Partnership.

This is a dynamic group of agencies and individuals who want to improve services for all victims of domestic violence.

Agencies involved include Women’s Aid, PSNI, Social Services, Court Services and solicitors.

We have recently developed a document setting out legal remedies in domestic violence which has been set out in the Infographic below. This Infographic is easy to follow and sets out plainly the remedies available to you if you are the victim of domestic abuse.

This is what we are all about at Life Law NI – straightforward, easy to understand information.

I would urge anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse in their relationship to have a look at the Infographic – it will help point you in the right direction to getting the help you need.

Claire

LEGAL REMEDIES AT A GLANCE

Women’s Aid: Helping Healing

A woman walks into my office. She is quiet… she seems nervous and fidgety.  She shakes my hand weakly and shuffles into the chair. 

I introduce myself, take some basic details – name, address…that sort of thing. She appears reluctant to give me much information… there’s no eye contact, one line answers – she’s almost looking over her shoulder. She looks uncomfortable.

I start to ask how I can help her. She’s having problems with her partner.

“He’s not a bad man” she tells me. “He just sometimes gets angry”. He can call her the most awful of names when he’s angry she tells me. Sometimes the kids are there and can hear him shout at her. She tries her best not to annoy him but her best is never good enough.

He’s hit her once before. More than once, in fact. “Lost count” she admits.

She feels isolated and alone. She needs to get away from this, to stop feeling afraid, but doesn’t know how or even where to start.

Fast forward a few months…

The same lady walks into my office. Head held higher, more confidence in her voice. More open to talk and communicate.

I comment on the positive change I can clearly see in her. She tells me she’s been going to a Women’s Aid group. That she can see things more clearly now – the violence, the abuse, the fear…. all used as a means of controlling her. She feels stronger for seeing this.

She’s met other women at her group who have lived through similar experiences. Everyone tells their stories. She has realised that she is not the only one, that she is not alone. And what a weight has been lifted to know that.

This could be the story of any woman who has engaged the support of Women’s Aid. Certainly any woman I have met who has sought help from Women’s Aid have only had positive things to say about the organisation.

In my own dealings as a lawyer working with various support workers throughout the Women’s Aid organisation, I have seen the positive changes that their involvement brings to women.

So, what is Women’s Aid??

Women’s Aid is a leading voluntary organisation addressing domestic abuse and violence and providing services for women and children.

There are local Women’s Aid groups throughout Northern Ireland who deliver services to women within their local area. We have signposted these local groups here for you.

How can Women’s Aid help me?

If you are or have been the victim of domestic abuse or violence, Women’s Aid provides many services which may be of support to you including the following:-

  • Refuge accommodation for you and your children if you are suffering domestic abuse within your home and need a safe place to stay.
  • Emotional and practical support on legal, welfare, housing and money issues and making safer arrangements for you and your children
  • Support groups and programmes to allow you to talk about and explore your experiences with other women in similar situations.
  • A 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence helpline providing you with free and confidential support and advice.

It can be hard to pick up the phone for the first time. In fact it is only the first step in a long and difficult journey. However, it is good to know that with organisations like Women’s Aid, this is a journey that you do not have to take alone.

You can contact Women’s Aid via their website www.womensaidni.org

At Life Law NI, we want to hear about your experiences of support organisations who have helped you during your time of need. Contact Claire or me through Life Law NI to let us hear your stories.

Karen

Having Contact with Your Children

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Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.

Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.

Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings are dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court,  the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that (if safe and appropriate) a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.

How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.

Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-

  • Indirect Contact – for example,  the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct Contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight Contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills; your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting mothers and fathers through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.

If you require any further information, please contact us below or email us at info@fhanna.co.uk