And another thing: the “signposting” euphemism

As an addendum to my last post, I should perhaps explain why I used scare quotes around signposting.

As mediators, we can’t tell people what to do. We can tell people where to find information for themselves (which it’s now commonplace to call “signposting”), but not what information they should believe or disbelieve. But is this really a signpost?

Sometimes it’s a simple issue. If someone’s got a pension and they want to know how to get to it, it’s easy to point — so, signpost — them to the Pension Tracing Service. But where different opinions prevail about how to value a pension, or who should get a pension, or how to share a pension, or even whether to share a pension, as soon as a mediator points clients to an information source, s/he can be accused of bias.

So is it realistic to ask us to be signposts at all? Perhaps we need a better word — one that doesn’t raise expectations of mediators as paragons of impartiality in a world where information is seen as less impartial than ever before.

Advice Now — the best of a bad bunch, but the same problem persists

I’ve been spending a little time looking at the advice sites available for separating or divorcing couples. In the limited sessions that mediation provides, mediators never have time to give all the relevant information, and so we rely on redirecting clients to “signposting” services.

Some of these aren’t actually too bad. Take Advice Now; it has free downloadable guides and links to a whole load of resources which might come in handy, for all sorts of different people. It’s also not too difficult to navigate — compared to some others, which I won’t name here — and so strikes the right balance between being user-friendly and comprehensive.

However, even though Advice Now has some benefits, and I would recommend it to other mediators, the issue around “signposting” isn’t being resolved. There isn’t anywhere that you can get specific advice without sitting down and talking to someone about your case. Many clients, armed with that most dangerous of things — a little information — can be given the wrong impression about their rights or obligations from these services.

In the end, the answer to this may well be that these signposting sites are forced to develop more tailored models of online advice, where the risk of over-simplifying or misunderstanding clients’ cases is minimised. While we’re waiting for that to happen, sites like Advice Now shouldn’t be underestimated — both in terms of their potential benefits for the discerning user, and the pitfalls for those who use them unwisely.

Grandparents

Grandparents often provide a lot of family support, and many contribute to their grandchildren’s everyday care. Some grandparents become the legal carers for their grandchildren, under kinship care arrangements – for example, if the birth parents aren’t able to look after their children themselves.

Two charities which represent grandparents have recently issued a merger statement, which sets out their plan to create a new organisation. The charities, Grandparents Plus and The Grandparents’ Association, will join forces in October 2015.

However, some grandchildren don’t see their grandparents at all, because of family separation. This might be because of work,  distance, or some other reason, but sometimes it’s because of family conflict, or relationship breakdown.

Because grandparents don’t have an automatic right to see their grandchildren, they must first apply to the Court for leave before they can make a formal application. Mediation can be used to avoid proceedings.

For a government briefing about grandparents, please click here.

“Crying out for mediation”

A rehearing has just been ordered in divorce financial remedy proceedings. This is what’s known as a “small money” case; the matrimonial assets are just under £300,000, even though the parties’ collective costs are already £127,538. Ordering the rehearing on capital and periodical payments, the judge also said, “…this is a case that cries out for mediation. I would strongly recommend to both parties that they either arbitrate on their differences, or mediate”.

CAFCASS releases video about applying to the Family Court

If you’ve applied to the Family Court about your children, or if the other parent has made an application, a CAFCASS Family Court Adviser (FCA) will become involved in your case. CAFCASS have released a video explaining how FCAs work, and what you and your children can expect to happen. The video features actual service users and FCAs, rather than actors, and you can watch it free online here

The ‘welfare principle’

Clive Anderson’s ‘Unreliable Evidence’, on Radio 4, recently discussed ‘The Law and Parenthood’.

What was really interesting was the discussion around how the courts apply the ‘welfare principle’ (a term that comes from the Children Act, 1989) when making decisions about children. The panel pointed out that the court’s interpretation of the welfare principle focuses on children’s long-term outcomes, and not automatically on what the parent(s) might think is best. One of the main things that came across was how the welfare principle is held in principle, but interpreted flexibly to take account of individual circumstances.

Representing yourself in Family Court: a survival guide

The Family Justice Council recently launched another free online video. This one gives general guidance about what to expect if you’re representing yourself in Family Court in England and Wales. The video is just for guidance, and isn’t a substitute for specific legal advice, which you should always take if you can.