The Toys Don’t Always Fit in the Box
I have studied family law, I have volunteered at contact centres, I have professionally mediated cases and I have been in a family my whole life. There is no perfect family,or rather the toys don’t always fit in the box.
In mediation we try to separate the person from the problem;this is easier said than done in family disputes. However, it can be a useful learning tool for prospective solicitors and indeed their clients. What is actually important here: the kids, the dog, the house, the money or all of the above? When things are so personal it is difficult to navigate the emotional storm. In many cases the relationship that is ending has been the individual’s whole life. It is all they know and it is all they have known and now it all seems to be falling apart.
We have all experienced loss but this is a particular kind of loss. One that may lead you to cast up actions long forgotten: “He/she lost Megan in the supermarket; he/she can’t possibly be trusted to raise my children”. The language used by disputing couples often creates a discourse of blame and helps support the ever growing anger. Children and property are no longer shared: what is wanted is “mine”, what is to be is discarded is “theirs”.
As family lawyers we need to support people through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Client care is of paramount importance in these complex circumstances and different clients will need different support and we must try to be that support mechanism. This can only be achieved through real engagement and effective communication. We need to find the concern, not the position. You might find your client declaring, “My Megan can’t be with him/her, because it’s not safe”. To some this means their job is to ensure Megan no longer sees the other parent. A more nuanced perspective is that there is concern for the safety of the child. In some circumstances this may open up a new dialogue. Why is the child not safe with that parent? Is there an approach that can alleviate the concern without being so rigid? By having the additional dialogue we create a fuller understanding of the picture.
Every family is different and this necessitates a flexible approach; for some clients court is the best and only option for example, if there is an allegation of abuse of the child by the other party, and there are child protection issues, or if the financial offers from the other side fall far short of your client’s legal entitlement. However, for many clients there are alternative approaches that can give them their control back. By opening conversation and presenting other options to the client and often by asking them difficult questions, we may be able to help them weather the storm sooner.
Together we can fit the toys in the box.
This blog was written by John Stringer, MA (Hons), LLB, LLM, Dip LP.
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