When a relationship ends, the number of things to be dealt with can sometimes seem overwhelming. There may be finances and legal matters that need to be considered and, if there are children, then you will need to think about how to talk to them about the end of the relationship, where they are going to live and how much time they will spend with each parent. You will also want to know where you will be living, how much it will cost and whether the changes will impact on your income.

With so many things to think about, and a good chance that you have never done anything like this before, it is hard to know where to start. Legal advice is an important part of any divorce or separation and will help you to know what is, and isn’t, possible. A solicitor can set out the legal context of what you are doing, advise you and accompany you as you make your decisions. Ultimately, though, it is you and your family who will need to live with what you decide and it is so much better if you can therefore make those decisions together. This is one of the key aims and benefits of mediation – to support you in your role as decision-makers on your future and the future of your children.

So often in the media we see a model of divorce and separation that shows it as a battle and, to be fair, it can be like that. A battle will, of course, be expensive and immensely stressful for everyone involved – especially your children. Most parents try hard to protect their children from any conflict and believe that they do a good job but the evidence is that they fail. Children, even very young babies, pick up on conflict between their parents. They are hard-wired to be alert to it and will pick up on tone of voice, subtle changes in words used and on changes in your body language – even if you are trying to hide it. You may not realise that they are aware; the truth is that they are better at hiding their feelings than we are. Don’t panic though. Research indicates that outcomes for children when parents separate can be just as good as for those together, as long as parents can find constructive ways of managing their conflict at the time of separation and as the children grow up. At the heart of achieving this is keeping in mind that any real and lasting arrangements, on all matters, need work for everybody involved.

The idea of a ‘win-win’ is a much used and abused term, but any family arrangement where one person wins and another loses means that everyone has lost. This is because it damages the relationships in the family and, ultimately, that is all you have. Even where your ex is concerned, you will need to keep some degree of relationship in place, however distant, if you are to bring up your children. So, if you lose, or your ex loses, then your children will lose too. What can be done to help keep sight of a deal that is a genuine ‘win-win’? Well, here are some top tips:

  • Remember that your children may well feel differently about your ex to you. You may be angry with your ex, hate them or be fed up with them, but your children will love them – they are their mum or dad. If your instinct is to try to undermine your children’s relationship with the other parent – think who really wants it: is it something that is really in the children’s best interests?
  • Remember that if you feel you are ‘winning’, then at whose cost? If you are gaining an upper hand then there will be an impact on someone else. If this is your children’s mum or dad, it may well have an impact on your children too. If you don’t have children, then remember that your dispute may result in an extended battle. The costs this brings are often personal as well as financial.
  • Think about the long term. This is difficult in the heat of the moment but decisions made now will influence your family for the rest of their lives.
  • Think firstly in terms of what your aims are. Where you want to live. How much you honestly need to live on. What your children need – family, friends, school etc. Meet these first.
  • Try to agree decisions between you and, if possible, try to avoid other people making the decisions for you (they will never care for your family as deeply as you do)

Above all, look after yourself. If you feel stressed, angry or depressed then there is a good chance it will show to your children. Get support if you need it. If you find yourself giving a lot of energy to trying to ‘win’ or are feeling exhausted by being angry then try to take some time away from it, for your sake and for your children.