The options available to you on how to try and come to an agreement are
- reaching an agreement between yourselves, or
- using a family mediation service, or
- using solicitors to negotiate on your behalf, or
- applying to the court if you can’t reach an agreement.
You might find that you can agree some things between yourselves but that mediation or a solicitor could help sort out some trickier issues.
Going to court should usually be the last resort. It can often cause relationships to be permanently damaged, and leave the adults involved hurt, stressed, and poorer. The money, time, and energy you would spend on going to court would usually be better spent making your children’s lives and your own more comfortable. And if you can’t afford legal advice the whole process is likely to be daunting and difficult. Children can often be upset too, even if you are careful not to involve them directly.
Whichever method you use, it is important to remember that you will both need to compromise.
Option 1 - Agreeing it yourselves
Agreeing arrangements between yourselves can be the best option for many people. But if you feel that your ex is better at arguing his or her corner than you are and you are worried about trying to reach agreement alone then you should see if you can afford mediation or the help of a solicitor. A solicitor will advise you on what the court would consider a reasonable arrangement and help you think about things you may not have thought of yourself.
If you have experienced any kind of domestic abuse during or after the relationship with your ex it would be very sensible to find out if you can get free legal help from a family law solicitor so that you don’t have to deal with your ex.
If you can agree things between you it won’t cost you much or even anything in terms of money. Often arrangements that you can both agree to will work better than those that are forced on you (for example by the court.) If you have young children you will need to parent them together for years to come. So if you can get off to a good start at the beginning by talking about the issues, this is likely to help everyone now and in the future.
If you have recently split up or if you have a lot of history together, you will need to find ways to discuss this without all your emotions getting in the way. This might be to meet to discuss just this, perhaps in neutral territory. Some people manage to do it over email.
- Agree in advance with the other parent how and when you will try to come to agreements. For example, will you find a date to meet on neutral territory, do it over email, or will you use a family mediation service. Nobody likes to feel ambushed and you have a much better chance of agreeing something if you both arrive at it feeling that you have chosen this approach and you want it to succeed.
- If you have a lot to discuss try and agree what is urgent and deal with that first. You may have different priorities, but dealing first with the things that are most worrying for each of you can make things go much more smoothly. If you have to discuss arrangements for the children and finances consider dealing with them separately – maybe at separate meetings. Do not feel that everything needs to be resolved immediately.
- Before you discuss it, think about what you want to agree. What is best for the children? And then work out what you would like and where you can be flexible. If you know what their other parent might feel about that, think if there’s anything you can do to make it more appealing for them.
- Try to stick to the point as much as you can. If you are meeting in person, having the main points written down on a piece of paper can be helpful and can give you something to focus on if you feel yourself starting to get upset or angry, or if your ex-partner strays from the point. If you try to do it over email, do bear in mind that it is even easier to take offence when you can’t see expressions or hear tone of voice, so keeping yourself calm and sticking to the point is even more important.
Option 2 - Using Family Mediation
This is where you meet together with the other parent and a mediator, who has been properly trained to help you put your feelings aside and focus on the issues that need to be sorted out. The mediator won’t take sides or decide what is fair for you - they are simply there to help your discussions.
Mediation is not a terribly cheap option but if it works well it can be money well spent. It can give you a calm setting where you are encouraged to listen to each other, and help get you a written agreement to move forward.
Many people say that a positive side-effect of mediation is that it helps them to communicate again, which - given that you are going to continue to be your children’s parents forever - can only be a good thing.
Most people have to pay for family mediation. Prices start at around £80 each for each session and most people come to the agreements they need for their children in 1-3 sessions. (If you are splitting up, you could use family mediation to sort out all your issues, in which case expect it to take 3-4 sessions). When you are looking for a mediator, don’t be afraid to phone around and compare prices. (Whilst the fees are usually charged per person, it is open to you and the other parent to decide who will actually pay or how the cost will be shared – for example where one of you has a higher income.)
If you are entitled to legal aid (that is help from the government to pay for legal advice) you can get mediation for free. You can check if you are by using the legal aid calculator here: Check if you can get legal aid.
For more information about Family Mediation and how to find a good mediator, see A survival guide to using family mediation after a break up.
If you have experienced any kind of domestic abuse during or after your relationship with your ex then mediation usually will not be right for you. A trained mediator can talk to you about this. Mediation must be voluntary. You should not be bullied into going or bullied by your ex when you are there.
Option 3 - Using Solicitors to negotiate for you
If there has been domestic abuse in your relationship having a solicitor on your side to advise you should help a lot. Make sure you look into whether or not you can get legal aid.
If you cannot get legal aid, using a solicitor can be quite a bit more expensive than mediation. But it can still be relatively quick and can avoid all the expense and stress of going to court. If you have to sort out issues around money or property, it can feel a lot safer to have an expert on your side, making your case for you.
You can find a good family solicitor who believes in a constructive, non-confrontational approach on Resolution’s website. Don’t be afraid to phone around and compare prices. A solicitor will be able to advise you on your rights and how the court would look at your situation. A solicitor will also help you think through important things you may not have thought about.
If you are entitled to legal aid (that is help from the government to pay for legal advice) it will be much cheaper, or even free. If you can’t get legal aid, some solicitors will do one off bits of work that they charge a set amount of money for. You might find that one meeting with a solicitor to give you some initial advice and guidance will be money well spent. Make sure you call around and compare prices for similar services offered by different firms.