Removing harmful language from family separation

The Law Society Gazette has reported on the ongoing work of the Family Solutions Group, chaired by our partner Helen Adam, to remove harmful language from family separation.

Helen says ‘It’s shocking that harmful terms like “custody” are still commonplace in our society and the media, despite every effort to remove them. The “fighting talk” so often used in the context of family separation sets parents against each other, escalating family problems and putting children at risk. A “custody battle” suggests a tug of war between parents for the control of their child, with parents pulling against each other. Not only is this 30 years out of date, but it’s harmful to children, unhelpful for parents and ultimately damaging to society.

‘In these days of increasing awareness of the impact of language upon minority groups, it is extraordinary that there is such a blind spot over the impact of language on families who separate. The simple truth is that fuelling aggression and battles between parents increases the risk of harm to their children. Our language should reflect a problem-solving approach rather than stoke the fire of a battle.’

Read the full article here:

Three cheers for Baroness Shackleton

Three cheers for Baroness Shackleton ‘Reform of MCA 1973 is urgently needed’.


I was delighted to hear Baroness Fiona Shackleton, that doyenne of family litigation under the MCA, saying this on Radio 4’s PM Programme on 20 March 2023:

“The reality is that certainty stops litigation in a way that uncertainty encourages it.  The law is too uncertain as it stands today, 50 years down the line.  That’s the problem. It needs urgent action.  Not a Law Commission like the pre-nups, which still sits on the stocks not enshrined in law.  It needs to be enacted, and it’s urgent.”

This crisply encapsulates a problem horribly familiar to family mediators and divorcing couples. The law is uncertain. Lawyers therefore have space to take very different views about the same case.  Too often, couples who are working their way to a reasonably peaceful deal in mediation come to a juddering halt because one solicitor says X and the other solicitor says Y, and the law allows them both to say that their view is a possible outcome, even though X and Y are simply miles apart.

Sure enough, this cropped up for me in a supervision with a mediator this week, where the same familiar story was told.

The case involved a couple in their 30s, a 10 year marriage, and two children under 8.   He earns around £100,000 net; her income since the children arrived is around £10,000.   They own a house with equity of £600,000 and £300,000 mortgage.  Not much in the way of savings or pension.    He has moved out and is living with a new partner.  She remains based in the home.

Notwithstanding the potential for emotional upset, these two are determined to end things well between them.  They see the long future ahead as parents and want the best for their children. They’ve self-referred to mediation.  Both say at the outset ‘We really want to avoid conflict; we just want to sort this out sensibly’.

They work well with the mediator.  Arrangements for the children are agreed, Form Es are exchanged and a constructive discussion about financial disclosure takes place.   The mediation moves into the next stage, to look at housing options for them.    He doesn’t want to disrupt her or the children and is not rushing for his stake in the house; they talk about a Mesher arrangement as a possible option.

Quite properly, the mediator explains that they may wish to get independent legal advice at this point.   We want our clients to engage with confidence, and supportive legal advice in the background should be helpful.

I say ‘should’ be helpful, because in any half decent society it would be helpful.  Sadly, not so under the current law in England and Wales.  The wide-reaching judicial discretion under the MCA means that they inevitably get different legal advice and this sets them apart.

In this case, she is told it’s in her interests to sell the house, that she’d get 80% of the equity.    ‘My solicitor told me categorically that I’d get 80%’.   He is outraged and thinks she’s consulted one of those nightmare solicitors who wants ‘to take him to the cleaners’.  His solicitor (no doubt very sensible, in his mind) has told him that it would be a 50:50 split of the equity.   They also had differing advice on the level and term of spousal maintenance.   Both have paid good money for their legal advice; quite properly both want to trust in their own solicitor.

If you, the reader, are now immediately analysing the two sets of advice to work out ‘which is right’ then STOP!   The point is not which lawyer is right, the point is that this system is a nonsense.  It creates havoc for decent people who want to separate on decent terms, and who want to put their children’s welfare first.    As becomes evident at the next mediation appointment, the stress caused by their different advice is spilling out into bad feelings between them; the easy flow of child arrangements is becoming fractious.

Where does this leave the solicitors?  They’ve done their duty to their clients, advising in their best interests.  They owe no duty to the two clients together as parents, nor to the children in the family.    If they’ve been bold in their advice, the unpredictability of any judicial outcome means they’d be safe from any successful negligence claim.   In practice, this leaves them unaccountable.  They will promote ‘Dispute Resolution’ options, without perhaps seeing the irony of attributing a ‘dispute’ to a couple who had none before they were consulted.

Where does this leave the clients?  Confused.  Stressed.  Annoyed with the other’s solicitor and with each other. Unsure.   Their initial goal of sorting this out sensibly is disappearing into the distance.  This is all going to be more difficult, more costly and more acrimonious than they’d wanted.

And the children? Nobody could fail to see the likely ripple effect out to them.  Hopefully their parents will get the help they need and come to a resolution before things unravel any further.

So we come back to the mediator.   The mediator has seen this scenario more times than they’ve had cooked breakfasts.  It is a continual and unwelcome dynamic in any finance work with couples who divorce.   The mediator is similarly annoyed and disheartened.  Not with the clients, nor (necessarily) with their solicitors.    For the umpteenth time, an antiquated law which is not fit for purpose and the unpredictability of judicial outcomes has scuppered another family’s good intents to be civilised and decent.    The mediator will work hard at reframing, reality-testing and other good mediator skills, to  restore the child-focussed goal the clients both expressed at the outset.  The mediator may still get them over the line to a settlement, and it will be marked in the data sets as a tick, a financial order made by consent.  But the wretched law will have taken its toll, impacting the family narrative for years into the future.

The mediator will try to help the clients see that the people at fault here are not the solicitors; it is the successive governments who don’t listen and don’t care about the harm done to many millions of families over the years by the MCA judicial discretion.

So three cheers to Baroness Fiona Shackleton and to any other Parliamentarians who are taking up this cause.

National Mediation Awards 2022

We are so proud to announce that Helen Adam was the deserving winner of Family Mediator of the Year and Child Inclusive Mediator of the Year at the National Mediation Awards 2022. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of The Family Courts and Head of Family Justice in England and Wales said:
“Helen’s clear and unshakeable professional goal is to represent the voice of the child alongside the parents with whom she works. Her aim is always to support parents, where safe to do so, to handle their separation in a way which leaves them able to cooperate as parents for years into the future, to the lasting benefit of their children.”

What happens when your ex won’t come to mediation?

A common theme that arises when talking about the process of mediation is what if one person won’t go, or if that person doesn’t stick to what has been agreed?

The hope in mediation is that people are given the chance to explain their concerns and needs to each other in the presence of a professional mediator.  Whilst mediators cannot insist upon both people attending they do however have the opportunity of meeting with each person separately at the outset for a private meeting where the situation and any concerns can be discussed.  It is common that clients can have a change of heart about the option of a joint session of mediation once they have met with a mediator in a neutral safe space and voiced their concerns as well as hearing about the benefits of the process.

It is important to remember that mediators are neither judges nor legal advisors; instead they are neutral, independent, specialist professionals who help clients to have a difficult conversation and find their own way forward.  An important part of mediation is the involvement of other support around a couple where needed.  In mediation a safe and informed process is offered, giving clients the opportunity to be heard and understood, and to reach their own agreement(s).  It is a future-focused process, offering a fresh opportunity to draw a line in the sand and find a new way forward.

In relation to issues regarding children, clients are supported in agreeing a set of arrangements which can be set out in a parenting agreement, offering clarity and structure with regards the future and what has been agreed.  At Wells Family Mediation we also actively encourage Child Inclusive Mediation, which gives children the opportunity to have their voice heard as a part of the process.

We also encourage clients to return if issues arise and the door to mediation remains open in the months and years ahead.  In our experience, parents who have engaged in a full mediation process in relation to their children, will move ahead with sticking these arrangements.

Mediation also deals with legal issues around the finances and at Wells Family Mediation we encourage our clients to seek legal advice at an appropriate stage in the mediation to ensure they are fully informed about their position and they can use mediation as the place to discuss the issues and reach agreements. We have close links with excellent family solicitors who can also assist with the proposals being straightforwardly turned into legally binding documents.

At Wells Family Mediation we are here for our clients and their children; to listen, to signpost, and to support them to find their own solutions for the future.  We provide a safe and neutral space to work together with your ex in moving on from the difficulties of the past.

Jane Kerr

FMC accredited Family Mediator & Child Consultant

Quoted in the BBC News: One Fifth of Divorces Wrongly End Up in Court

The ‘Family Solutions Group Report’, a report written by Helen Adam that looks into ways we can reframe support for families following parental separation, has been quoted in a recent BBC News article by the President of the Family Courts. The article recognises that too many divorce cases are going to court, which in turn puts a strain on resources, drags out already lengthy processes, and ultimately runs the risk of harming children during the divorce process.

You can read the full article here

Family courts: One fifth of divorces wrongly ending up in court - top judge


No-Fault Divorce: The Vital Catalyst For Lawyer-Mediator Collaboration?

As of April 6th, 2022, no-fault divorce law was passed in England and Wales. Juliette Shaw, one of our expert Divorce Consultants, recently wrote an article for Lawyer Monthly that evaluates whether this change is the catalyst needed to encourage mediators and lawyers to work more collaboratively in future divorce cases. Juliette identifies that: “We need to move away from the adversarial approach inherent in our legal system toward holistic support for the whole family” and instead offer a new, collaborative approach to divorce. Encouragingly, Juliette explains that: “Collaborative law and mediation are more popular than ever, offering the opportunity for clients to work together rather than against each other in an adversarial legal system with little control over the cost.”

You can read the full article below:

No-Fault Divorce: The Vital Catalyst For Lawyer-Mediator Collaboration?

At The Wells Group, our aim is to take stress and uncertainty out of the divorce process by offering clients a fixed fee package of support from legal, financial, mediation, therapeutic and parenting experts. We want to provide families with a calm and orderly environment where all elements of the divorce process are offered under one umbrella. To book a free consultation, contact us today.

We’ve Been Featured in Local Lifestyle!

We are delighted to be featured in Local Lifestyle – Tunbridge Well’s local lifestyle and community magazine. In June’s edition, the magazine discusses our recent launch at the Tunbridge Wells Hotel. Take a look below:

To read the full article, click here.

Here at The Wells Group, our unique, groundbreaking service has been designed to change the way divorce is done. For a process that is calm and compassionate, get in touch with a friendly member of our team today.

Mental Health Awareness Week: Why Using A Mediator Can Reduce The Stress Of A Divorce

With ‘no fault divorce’ having come into force last month, more couples than ever are opting for mediation as a preferable route to reaching an agreement during the divorce process. Absolving the need to go to court, mediation is growing in popularity due to its increased speed, reduced cost, and diminished conflict and stress.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (Monday 9 May to Sunday 15 May 2022), our very own Jane Kerr collaborated with Index Digital to discuss 10 reasons why, in light of the recent law change, using a mediator instead of a solicitor can reduce the stress of a divorce.

Read the full feature here:

10 Lessons On Why Using A Mediator Can Reduce The Stress Of A Divorce

Our current adversarial legal system can be stressful, lengthy, and expensive for the separating family at a vulnerable time in their lives. That’s why we have created a tailored package of support from a range of experts including trained lawyers, child consultants, and fully accredited mediators to guide you smoothly throughout the entire divorce process, without acrimony and rising expense. For more information, get in contact today. 

Are Emotions Genderless? Discussing Divorce, Emotions and Gender with iNews

We all experience pain, but why is the idea that women are more emotional than men so persistent?

Our founding partner, @HelenAdam3, was invited to discuss this notion with iNews by considering her experiences with clients during the divorce process. She commented that it would be “impossible” to predict who will or will not become emotional during mediation based on gender and that it is a person’s upbringing and personality that has a far greater influence on their emotional response to divorce.

You can read the full interview below:

We all experience pain – Kenny Shiels’ claim that women are more ’emotional’ than men is a myth

Here at The Wells Group, we understand the importance of offering emotional support during separation and divorce. That’s why our unique divorce package includes a ‘Wellbeing’ session with an accredited therapist to talk about how you are coping, what is going well and what is challenging, and whether any specific support may be needed to see you through this difficult time. For more information, please contact us today. 

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