It’s 2020 – Are you still carrying your battles into the new decade?

Social media has given so many the platform to reveal their trying times over the past decade, of which are the parental battle over contact with their children and the struggles of maintaining a child. As a family and divorce mediation practice that works with many parents trying to find the middle ground, we know that issues of contact, care and maintenance must be discussed in detail to minimise the follow through when implementing the terms of the agreement or divorce order.

For these discussions to have any effect on the aftermath of the separation or divorce, it must be done with an effort to being reasonable, realistic and with good intentions. It is pointless to engage in discussions with malicious or false intent. Such negative intentions only exacerbate the struggle to reach a settlement at the expense of your time, money and the on-going relationship that will subsist if there are children involved.

From experience, we have clients who come in after a court order has been granted only for them to realise, for example, that the details surrounding drop-off and pick-up times were not specified or that alternate arrangements were not specified if one parent was unable to fulfil their weekend responsibilities. The lack of these details and the arguments and assumptions that follow often snowball into a lack of trust leading into a breakdown of the post-divorce/separation relationship. This then brings about harsh verbal or written exchanges that resurrect the initial breakdown of the relationship thus throwing any prior parental arrangements out of the window, replacing it with chaos.

There are some who feed off this chaos and prolong it for as long as their resources allow them to. There are others who are ill-advised to prolong the chaos until they find themselves out of pocket and with wasted time on their hands. Then there are those who realise that the battle is not worth the time and money that will be wasted if no middle ground is reached. To attain that middle ground, both parents must be willing to meet and discuss openly and with honesty the obstacles they face in fulfilling their terms of the agreement/divorce order.

“The mediator, while not giving advice or recommendations, will provide legal information and the parameters of the law to ensure that the agreement reached is reasonable and in the interests of the children.”

For many clients, their agreement/divorce order did not provide the details of alternate arrangements or an understanding of what their responsibilities entail when their child is in their care. Many clients did not understand the contents of their agreement/divorce order because they did not have any input on what the realistic terms of the agreement/divorce order for their particular circumstances would be because they let a legal representative or family member make their decisions for them.

With open and transparent communication facilitated by an impartial mediator, parents get to meet and discuss in their own language what they believe would be suitable for their family requirements. The mediator, while not giving advice or recommendations, will provide legal information and the parameters of the law to ensure that the agreement reached is reasonable and in the interests of the children.

The mediator will also accommodate both parents at the same time to ensure that time and costs are minimised as opposed to parents seeing separate representatives. With both parents in the same room, the intention of what is hoped to be achieved within the contents of the agreement/divorce order is not lost in translation. Having a mediator facilitate these discussions gives the parents a third-party direction on the aspects of what currently needs to be discussed and any future disagreements that may arise.

The patience of the mediator while using the skills of maintaining balanced inclusive discussions is the new wave of minimising on-going legal battles between parents. The Children’s Act 38 of 2005, since its implementation, made mediation mandatory when discussions involve creating a parenting plan which covers the issues of contact, care and maintenance. It is now up to the public to make use of mediation as an alternative way of reducing conflict that does take a toll on their sanity and cost an arm and a leg. As parents going through any legal battles, use this next decade to break your conflict style and instead focus on reaching an amicable agreement together through mediation one dispute at a time.

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Veerash Srikison is an admitted advocate since 2003 (currently non practicing) and also the founder and director at Fair Practice (PTY) Ltd based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She chose to branch out into mediation. Coupled with raising awareness about the benefits of mediation with her numerous engagements in the media, she also focuses on the rights of children. Veerash is a trustee of Matla A Bana – A Voice Against Child Abuse, and works closely with the SAPS and is often invited as a speaker to events.