A Guide for Separated Parents at Christmas

With 10 sleeps until Santa comes (as I was so excitedly told by my boss when I arrived in the office this morning!) our thoughts turn to friends, family, fizz, gifts, fizz, selection boxes, presents and of course, fizz! Christmas is usually a time for family, especially children. But, for separated families, it can be a time of increased pressure and unhappiness. You may find it incredibly hard to be away from your children for even a few hours on Christmas day but here are some helpful hints and pointers (from the centre for separated families) which may help make the day, and the rest of the holidays, a little easier for everyone. Maybe not for all, but fingers crossed.

If your children will spend time with both of you
Try to agree, as early as possible, how your children will spend time with each of you. It isn’t important that they spend exactly the same amount of time with you both. What’s important is that the time is as relaxed and enjoyable as possible. Think about how it may be possible for your children to spend some quality time with both of you that allows everyone to get something of what they would like.

Make any hand-over as easy as possible
If your children will be spending time in two places, make sure that the transition is as simple as possible. The last thing your children want is to see their mum and dad arguing. Agree when, where and how your children will move between you. Stick to your agreement and contact each other if there needs to be any changes. If seeing each other is too difficult, think about people who may be able to help at hand-over such as grandparents or friends.

When time with both of you isn’t possible
If it is not possible for your children to spend time with both of you on the day, try to think about ways that you can share the celebration with your children at another time and make that as special as possible. A phone call on, or a special letter for the day can help children feel connected and reduce any anxiety. If your children’s other parent doesn’t seem interested, might it be possible to encourage them just to send a card?

Don’t compete over presents
Some separated parents find it possible to share present buying and giving. However, for many, this isn’t realistic. If you are buying presents separately, try to agree who will buy what. It can be very difficult if one parent has more money than the other. So try not to compete over who will buy the biggest or the best present – it just isn’t in your children’s best interests.

Think about extended family
Try to make time for grandparents, aunts and uncles if your children are used to seeing them at Christmas. If it is too difficult to spend time with them, then a phone call will help everyone stay in touch.

Think about new partners and other children
If there is a new partner in your life, think about how that will affect your arrangements. How will your children feel about that? How will your new partner feel about it? How will you children’s other parent feel about it? What about step-siblings and half-siblings? Try to find a way forward that means that as little friction as possible. But be honest about what you want, too.

Don’t require your children to make the decisions
It is important that children, especially younger ones, are not required to make decisions on your behalf. Talk to all the adults involved, talk to your children if they are old enough, decide what is best and then tell your children what has been decided.

When you are unable to see or contact your children
Being prevented from seeing or contacting your children, for whatever reason, is usually a very painful experience. Times of celebration can be especially difficult. Many parents in this position find their own way of marking the occasion. It can be helpful to try and make contact with other parents in a similar position as a way of offering and receiving support. If you are unable to buy your child a present or show them that you are thinking about them, you may wish to consider buying a different kind of gift. For example, you can name a star, adopt an animal, plant a tree or make a donation to a charity on their behalf.

Look after yourself
Christmas for separated families can be an emotionally difficult time. Not only for children, but for parents as well. This may be your first Christmas without your children or without your husband, wife or partner. Take some time to think about how you might feel and then think about ways of coping. If old traditions are too painful, create some new ones. If you won’t have chance to see your children, write a letter and raise a toast to them. If you are going to be on your own, with or without your children, think about whether you might spend some time with friends or relatives.

So hopefully some of this advice will be useful. No matter what, have as nice a day as possible. Get stuck into the big box of Quality Street (it’s Christmas so chocolate is allowed as soon as you open your eyes!), have some fizz (did I mention that?!) followed by a wee snooze before the last ever Downtown Abbey! And from all of us at MTM Family Law, Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2016.

Please note our offices are closed from 12 noon on Thursday 24th December 2015, until 9am on Tuesday 5th January 2016. If you require urgent family law advice during this time then please email us on general@mtmfamilylaw.co.uk.

Don’t Stay Together For The Kids

The following is an extract from the Herald on Monday 23rd November 2015 referring to a survey undertaken by ComRes, commissioned by Resolution and supported by Consensus Collaboration Scotland. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the heading tells you the conclusion so no need to read any further from here really, unless you are particularly interested and want to know a little bit more! But this new research does tell us that unhappily married parents who stay together ‘for the children’ may not be acting for the best, and that children tell unhappily married parents: don’t stay together for the kids.

“A poll of young people aged 14-22 who had been through a parental separation or divorce, found a large majority (82 per cent) said that even if they had been upset at the time they felt it was ultimately better that their parents split rather than staying together unhappily.

The research also found that children and young people want greater involvement in decision-making during the divorce process.

However half of young people (50 per cent) indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live (49 per cent) following their parents’ separation or divorce. While this needs to be carefully handled – 88 per cent of young people said it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents – but nearly half (47 per cent) of children and young people polled said they had not understood what was happening during a parental separation or divorce and would have liked to know more. Nearly two thirds (62 per cent) felt they had played no part in any of the decision making process about the separation.

However many common concerns about the impact of family break up on children, were not borne out by the findings 50 per cent of young people agreed that their parents had put their needs first during a separation or divorce and only two in ten (19 per cent) had felt – or been made to feel – that they were in some way to blame for the domestic breakdown. Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms”; while another said children “will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.”

While most young people preserved good relations with their mother and wider family members following a break up, their relationship with their father worsened for nearly half of all children. Some 45 per cent said their relationship with their mother had improved, but only 19 per cent said their relationship with their father had improved – against 46 per cent who said it deteriorated.

Parenting expert and author Sue Atkins says: “Children want to feel involved and empowered with relevant information about their parents’ divorce and what it means for them. They also want to see their parents behaving responsibly, such as to not argue in front of them.

“As the long distance parent, dads must work hard to maintain their relationship with their child. They may feel angry that this task falls on their shoulders since they may not have initiated the divorce in the first place and it’s easy to feel like a victim and spend their time and energy blaming their ex. But being a long distance parent doesn’t mean that a dad has to automatically disappear from their child’s life.”

Parenting Apart

Parenting Apart

 

A new free service that helps parents put kids first and cope with problems after separation is now available around Scotland from August 2015.

 

More than one in three children are now likely to experience their parents getting divorced or separating before they turn 16. The charity Relationships Scotland has launched “Parenting Apart” support sessions for couples that are splitting up, already living apart or those getting divorced. So now, for the first time ever in Scotland, parents can go along to free support sessions, wherever they live and whether they are going through the legal system or not. Most of the problems that couples go through when they separate are emotional or about their children. Relationships Scotland says parents can move forward without kids getting stuck in the middle.

 

The charity is working with the Scottish Government to provide Scottish families with the same opportunities as parents have in England and Wales. In Scotland the support for separated parents is on a voluntary basis rather than as part of the legal system.

 

Parenting Apart was piloted in South Lanarkshire for the last 6 years. The project has already helped over 40 couples tackle problems head on like dealing with conflict, finances, making joint decisions and how to communicate with kids after separation. Thanks to new funding of £200,000 from the Scottish Government this service is now being rolled out across Scotland.

 

Bernadette Lynass, Development Worker at Relationships Scotland said, “It can be hard when you are emotionally tied up in the situation. How do you talk to the kids about your partner? If people are feeling frustrated with each other that often spills over. Parenting Apart is a strong foundation for getting through these problems.”

 

Sessions are for groups of mums and dads and can also be available on a one to one basis in some areas. The facilitators who lead the sessions are experienced family support professionals. Sessions last for 3 hours. To find out more go to http://www.relationships-scotland.org.uk/family-support/parenting-apart-groups

 

Also, if you want to talk about your parenting relationship either when living together or post separation, or you need family counselling, you can try talking to The Spark, the relationship experts. To find out more go to http://www.thespark.org.uk.

Pensions Keeping Healthy

 

Pensions – Keeping Healthy Through Active Service

 

As many of you who have been through the process of separation and/or divorce will know, pensions get taken into account when quantifying the net matrimonial property to be divided. The law provides that there should be a “fair share” of the net matrimonial property, and this is presumed to be an equal share, unless there are any specific legal reasons why it should not be.  So when we are advising clients as to what constitutes a fair share of the net matrimonial property, we require to firstly ascertain what the net matrimonial property actually consists of.

 

Pensions can be particularly valuable in the context of a separation and/or divorce, and it is the “Cash Equivalent Transfer Value” (CETV) which is looked at to determine a capital value for the purposes of a separation.

 

Only the proportion of rights referable to the period of the marriage will fall into the matrimonial pot and there is a specific apportionment which can be carried out to ensure that not the entire value of the pension is taken into account, only the marital portion.

 

Until August 2015, to work out what the CETV would be, solicitors were directed to look at what the current Cash Equivalent Transfer Value was, then work out the days between the date of marriage and date of separation, and apportion that by the number in days of membership of the pension scheme. It was the words “period of the membership” of a party in the pension arrangement before the “relevant date” which has been the subject of recent case law.  From many years this has caused some difference of opinion as solicitors have argued over whether this “period of membership” has meant active membership or any other type of membership for example deferred or pensioner membership.  A majority decision handed down from a Court of Session appeal on 11th August 2015 has now upheld that the “period of membership” in the pension scheme should only be the period of active membership, and not any other type of membership; the period that somebody is a deferred member or a pensioner member is now disregarded when working out the capital value of a pension for divorce purposes.

 

This will have far reaching consequences for some members who have been a member of a pension scheme for some time, but only a short period of that time was during active service.  Thomas McDonald whose favourable decision was appealed against by his wife Anne is no doubt delighted. In his particular case, he joined the pension scheme in December 1978.  He married Mrs McDonald in March 1985, and left active service and ceased contributing towards that particular pension only five months later.  A CETV using an active period of membership i.e. five months, resulted in a capital pension value of £10,002 having to be taken into account.  Mrs McDonald submitted the entire membership of the pension should be taken into account which would have meant a figure of £138,734 going into the matrimonial pot to be divided. As you can see, this is quite a difference!

 

If you have a pension which you think needs to be taken into account in quantifying matrimonial property, get in touch with us. We know the appropriate calculations to be carried out and notwithstanding this particular Court of Session case,  you may find that there are some “special circumstances” which could justify a departure from a fifty/fifty split in any event keeping your pension as healthy as possible for your retirement.

 

CO-PARENTING RULES FOR SEPARATED OR DIVORCED PARENTS

Whilst people may become ex-spouses or ex-partners when they separate, they do not become ex-parents. They need to try to become co-parents and get along better than when they were married or when they  lived together.
As parents you share responsibility for your child. You have a duty to talk to each other and make every effort to agree about how you will bring your child up. Even when you separate, this duty continues. You need each other to parent effectively. Co-operation, however difficult, is essential.

Here are some rules to remember:-

1.    Never say negative things about the other parent to the children or in front of the children.

2.    Never let your family, friends or others say negative things about the other parent to the children, or in front of the children. Be alert to the fact that children are sometimes listening to you on the phone and you may not be aware of that.

3.    Do not speak to each other in inflammatory ways either in person, by telephone or by text, and do not “wind” each other up deliberately. Provoking the other parent isn’t helpful. Again, children can be listening even if you’re not aware of this.  It can be useful to imagine your children in the room when you require to communicate with your ex. Some people have said that they have found it helpful to visualise their child’s face in front of them or visualise the child in the room.

4.    Exchange pleasantries in front of the children, no matter how difficult this may be for you, particularly at contact pick up and return times. It can help assure children that it is OK to spend time with both parents and to chat to either parent without upsetting the other.

5.    Never discuss disagreements or conflicts in front of the children.

6.    Agree a strategy or process for constructively discussing any issues which arise.

7.    Improve communication It is in the best interests of the children that you, as parents, can communicate effectively together.  Some suggestions are to set agreed times for communicating with each other, by telephone or in person, and avoid telephoning, texting, emailing etc at other times (unless there is an emergency or a real and genuine issue which requires to be dealt with immediately).  If you are going to meet up to discuss matters, try choosing a neutral venue, without the children being present. Or if that’s not possible, perhaps the parent who has the children during the agreed communication time could initiate the call. If you agree a time, stick to it – although please be mindful that events outwith your former partners control CAN happen! Answering machines, mobile phones, texting and voicemail may be helpful in communicating essential information.  Don’t message constantly though strike a balance.

8.    Share important information (such as medical information and school events) and agree common rules for bedtime, TV, discipline etc for your children. Online calendars to which both parents have access and can enter date and event information can help coordinate the arrangements for the children, and ensure there is less scope for confusion about who should be where and at what time. This can cut down on stress and ensure each party knows when they are shouldering the responsibility of the football run, swimming, gymnastics, parties etc.

9.    Attend events for your children together when possible. You do not have to be best friends, but your child will benefit from seeing his/her parents together behaving civilly to one another.

10.    Respect the other parent’s parenting style, even if this differs from you own.  Accept that if the other parent does things differently from you, this may not be exactly how you would like it done but it may just be “good enough”. Although one parent’s parenting style may be different, both parents should still agree common rules for bedtime, discipline etc as above.

11.    Make your children’s needs more important than your needs (for example, be flexible so as not to interfere with children’s school and social activities) and be willing to give up some of “your” time to make these things happen.

12.    Help your child understand Your child needs to understand what is happening to their family. It is your job as mum or dad to explain. Your child should not be made to blame himself or herself for the breakup. Don’t help your child turn against the other parent because they think that is what you want. You can help your child think about how he or she feels about the breakup. Listen to what your child has to say about how he or she is feeling, and about what he or she thinks of any arrangements that have to be made. Involve your child if they are old enough, but don’t place the burden of decision making on them – that is your job to decide with the other parent.

13.    Respect the other parent’s time with your children. Part of this is to always be on time and five minutes early if possible.  Never leave children on the doorstep.

14.    Any changes in the schedule must be discussed with the other parent first before informing the children.

15.    Do not place children in loyalty conflicts.

16.    Do not quote what children may have said to or about another parent.

17.    Do not accept what children say about the other parent as accurate without checking with the other parent.

18.    Do not let solicitors and courts make decisions about your children that you should make as parents.

19.    Take responsibility for following these rules even if the other parent does not.

20.    Move Forward. Leave the past behind.

CHANGES IN CHARGES FOR CHILDREN

As from 30th June 2014, anyone who makes an application for child support maintenance to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has to pay a £20 fee to the Secretary of State, to enable child support calculations to be commenced.  The application fee will be waived if the applicant is under 19 or is a victim of domestic violence or abuse.  For a person to be considered “a victim of domestic violence or abuse” for these purposes, the abuse must have been reported to “an appropriate person” such as a Court, the police, a medical professional, social or educational services, a lawyer or a specialist support organisation including refuge.

Under the Child Support Fees (Regulations) 2014, in addition to the initial £20 application fee, a further “collection charge” will apply to both the paying parent and the receiving payment if the “Collect and Pay” option is used.  In this case, the paying parent will have to pay the assessed maintenance plus an additional 20% collection fee. The receiving parent will also pay a 4% collection fee which is to be deducted from the maintenance amount. So if the assessed maintenance amount is £100 per week, then the paying parent will have to pay £120, but the receiving parent will only get £96 of this. The DWP is effectively charging parents a total of 24%  of assessed child maintenance to use its Child Maintenance Service. According to some figures, the estimated revenue from collection fees may be as high as £1.2 billion over the next ten years.  Initially, the proposed charges were higher but even these charges as introduced will have an impact on low income families with money going to the DWP rather than the children for whom financial assistance is actually intended.

Not everyone will need to pay collection charges: collection fees will not need to be paid if the parties agree and are able to use the “Direct Pay” option (for Child Maintenance Service cases) (or the “Maintenance Direct” option for certain pre-existing claims through the Child Support Agency). This is where the amount of maintenance is calculated, but is not collected. The paying parent makes payment direct to the receiving parent and neither have to pay any collections fees.

If payments are not maintained then the receiving parent can ask the CMS (or CSA) to take action to enforce payment.  With older Child Support Agency cases both parents must agree to use “Maintenance Direct” before it can be set up and there will be no collection fees or enforcement charges if the case moves to the collection service. However, with new applications which must now proceed through the Child Maintenance Service, enforcing payment will mean changing a case to “Collect & Pay” in which case both parents will have to pay collection fees and the paying parent will have to pay enforcement charges as well.

Parents who have existing Child Support cases will shortly receive letters from the Child Maintenance Service advising them their cases will close in six months unless they convert to the new child support system.  Whilst the ethos behind the introduction of the new changes and the new charges is to encourage estranged partners to communicate with each other better (and deal with finances for their children themselves rather than through the Government) it is often exceedingly difficult for separated parents to communicate about even the most routine of matters, such as dates and times for contact, never mind the touchy subject of finances, particularly in the aftermath of what could have been acrimonious relationship breakdown.

 

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Putting “The Spark” Into Your Relationship

Relationships. They’re great. Well, most of the time! Ok, most of the time when the going is good. But they can also be really hard work sometimes! Having just come back from the launch of “The Spark” it made me realise that no one actually tells you how difficult a relationship can be. Not just a relationship with a partner or spouse, but all sorts of relationships can have their ups and downs – relationships with parents, siblings, colleagues, and employers to name just a few. (Luckily I have lovely colleagues and bosses and as they check the content of my blog before it goes online I feel I better be clear about that!) And its not just me who thinks that you need to work at a relationship: a huge number of people are calling the Relationship Helpline (tel 0808 802 2088) for different sorts of advice in all sorts of relationships.

When “The Spark” first started out as Scottish Marriage Care in 1965 they provided marriage guidance only. But times have changed. Now, “The Spark” offers telephone support and online counselling so that regardless of geography, people all over Scotland can access counselling services. Services cover every stage in relationships from the first flush of romance through to support for new parents, coping with teenagers, all the way through to relationships in later years. Help is available for those in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. You can get additional information online at www.thespark.org.uk. They are the relationship experts.

Should you consider seeking relationship support before deciding to separate or divorce? It won’t be appropriate in all cases, but it could help. Some people I’m sure will find the word “counselling” off-putting. Maybe if you know someone who would simply benefit from a chat about what’s going on in their life, it might be more appealing for them to think of it in that way. I’m not on commission from BT but “it’s good to talk”! Actually, whilst it is good to talk, you don’t even need to speak to anyone face to face – you can just pick up the phone or simply go online in your lunchbreak or when the kids are in bed.

Hopefully “The Spark” might help. Its worth a shot if it’s appropriate in your case. But if not, and you need specialist family law advice for a separation or divorce, or contact issues with children, or aliment or maintenance or any other family law matter, get in touch with us at MTM Family Law instead. We’re not the relationship experts but we are experts in family law.

A Christmas Crisis?

I love Christmas! The smell of newly fallen snow. Sparkly fairy lights everywhere. Carol singing on my doorstep. Children playing and laughing. Friends and family over for drinks and helping themselves to the plentiful, most delicious homemade fayre laid out beautifully on my table which has been lovingly decorated by angels sprinkling angel dust as they go……..

Ok, ok, that is how I often imagine Christmas! But in reality I don’t think I’ve ever had a Christmas like that – ever! Newly fallen snow means I can’t get the car out the drive, I’m late for wherever I have to be, I’m cranky and the kids are moaning as snow has got in their boots and made their tights wet. Children are usually squabbling over the remote control or which game to play next or who has eaten the last chocolate decoration from the tree without asking. My delicious homemade spread is quite possibly a selection of party offers from Iceland (or the local petrol station) and the angel dust is really just dust as I’ve not had time to clean the house as I’ve been too busy shopping, buying presents, writing Christmas cards and ferrying kids to social event after social event whilst at the same time trying to keep on top of homework, housework and an ironing mountain rivalling the size of Ben Nevis!

So is it any wonder that Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year for couples where even the strongest of relationships can experience difficulties? If you add in overspending on Christmas presents, general financial strain, unrealistic expectations of the perfect Christmas and bad weather, not to mention over indulgence in food and alcohol then Christmas may not be so merry for some couples after all. That doesn’t even include the slaving in the kitchen whilst others chillax with a sherry or two (or 3,4,5,6,7…..), the lack of time for each other as you’re too busy or just exhausted – and probably best not to mention the arrival of the in-laws!

But, if after all the excitement (or stress) of the day is over, you still feel that there is more substance to the arguments than just Christmas, you may decide to turn your attention to legal advice in the New Year. Statistically, more couples separate in January than any other time of the year. Its really important to get good quality advice from specialist family lawyers if you are thinking of separating, or even if you just want to find out what your options are in the event that your marriage or cohabitation ultimately does go down the separation route. That’s where we come in. Get clear and concise advice before you rush into anything. You might want to consider relationship advice or counselling first. You might think mediation or collaborative law would be the best option for you, and then there’s arbitration to consider too. More information on the possible methods to resolve your family issues can be found on theRIGHTKINDOFDIVORCE.com.

Hopefully you won’t need our services, but if you do, we’re back after the holidays from Friday 3rd January 2014 at 10am. Despite the above, Christmas for many is a wonderful time of the year and from all the staff at MTM Family Law Specialists Glasgow, Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2014.