Catherine & Tom

Catherine and Tom were a high conflict married couple who had already been separated for over a year when they instructed their lawyers. Tom was a high-earning lawyer working in the city and Catherine had stopped training as a teacher to care for their three children (one aged 13 and twins aged 11).  She had recently started studying again with a view to resurrecting her career as a primary school teacher. Tom had moved into a rented three bedroomed flat  and Catherine had remained living in the family home with the children. Catherine described  their relationship as  volatile and she felt she had been subjected to emotional abuse over a number of years and that since their separation Tom was being very difficult about money.  Tom agreed that their relationship had been volatile  and felt that since they had separated Catherine had been very controlling over the time the children spent with him.  They both felt an element of ‘power imbalance’ but for different reasons.

Catherine and Tom were very keen to  agree the arrangements for the children. They both agreed  that their children were suffering due to the lack of routine and set schedule of arrangements. However, they both had very different ideas as to what was right for their children and as such they  were becoming more and more rooted to those positions and they were  unable to acknowledge each other’s genuine worries  and concerns.

Catherine had initially been reluctant to engage in mediation with Tom as she was worried she wouldn’t be able to speak  in the mediation sessions due to Tom being a dominant and overpowering character.   She did not want to be in the same room as Tom and thought that he would just dismiss any of her suggestions.

Their respective lawyers, who were both committed resolution-focussed lawyers, discussed with Catherine and Tom, the options available to them.  Catherine and Tom were very clear that they wanted to avoid court proceedings and recognised that this would not be in the children’s best interests. Given Catherine’s particular concerns about mediation it was agreed that Catherine, Tom and their  lawyers would proceed with the Hybrid Mediation model.  They were particularly attracted to the process because they would have the support of their lawyers during the sessions and as such would be able to get immediate advice as and when it was needed but could also be in separate rooms if necessary. 

Catherine and Tom also wanted to resolve their financial issues which had been ongoing for a little while. It was hoped that if they could resolve their differences in respect of the children it would clear the way for constructive negotiations regarding money.

Session 1 – children

At the first session Catherine and Tom initially remained in separate rooms (with their lawyers) and the mediator moved between the two rooms. It became clear that it was easier for Catherine and Tom to voice  their concerns to the mediator, through their lawyers where necessary, than if their lawyers had been negotiating by sending letters and emails to each other or if there had been court proceedings.   Being in separate rooms initially  also helped as they both felt safe and uninhibited. The mediator was able to listen and convey their wishes, concerns and suggestions to the other and was able to narrow the issues between them to the point that Catherine and Tom felt able to come together in one room (again with the lawyers and the mediator) to further their discussions.

During the discussions it was apparent  that Catherine and Tom needed to regain trust and respect for each other as parents.  It was important to Tom that the children spent as much time with him as they did with Catherine  and that Catherine provided  information to him about the children such as health and education issues. Catherine felt Tom’s suggestions were too inflexible and unrealistic because of Tom’s demanding job and that an equal division of time would end up with Tom letting the children down. She felt strongly that she had always looked after the children and didn’t see why that needed to change.  As the session progressed, they were both able to provide reassurances and commitments to the other which ensured the children were prioritised at all times.

A schedule of the arrangements for the children was agreed taking into account Tom’s working pattern and Catherine’s need to study as well as the children’s schooling, routines and needs. They were able to agree a regular and reliable plan but which could be flexible where necessary.  Tom recognised that his suggested  50/50 schedule was unrealistic  and Catherine recognised that it was important that Tom played a greater role in the children’s lives and wasn’t just seen as a ‘weekend dad’.  There were clear agreements about keeping each other informed of any difficulties with timings and where either might need to change the arrangements for any reason.  Catherine and Tom agreed that it was important that the arrangements were reviewed regularly to check that the routine was working well and that the  children were coping with it.  

The mediator and lawyers were able to share their legal knowledge and suggest solutions and options that have worked for other parents in similar circumstances.  The mediator skilfully and sympathetically worked with them so that they were able to prioritise the children’s needs and see things from each other’s perspectives.

Following the session Catherine and Tom were able to communicate directly with each other and went on to agree arrangements for the school holidays, Christmas/birthdays and how they would support each other and the children with regard to schooling and any health issues.

Catherine and Tom commented how empowered they felt by the process and as such felt able to arrange another mediation session to start discussing how they would deal with their financial arrangements.

Written by Lisa Burton-Durham, Specialist Family Law Solicitor, Family Law Partners.