We saw that Lucy and Joe are having a tough time,but what can they do to improve their situation and make sure their children, Oliver 15 and Daisy 12 are all right whatever happens?
Lucy and Joe would have to consider their financial history, to find out what a fair settlement might look like, if they split up. Lucy is self employed, running her own marketing agency. She took maternity leave when the children were born, and has worked part time for the last 15 years, so she can care for the children. In the last 5 years, she has had a number of short term contracts, working on a self employed basis. Her average gross earnings are about £40,000.
Joe has worked full time throughout the marriage. He is a partner in an accountancy firm, and his income is based on his share in the profits of the firm. He has had a dip in earnings, but even so, his average gross income is still about £200,000.
The family home is worth about £5 million, with a £800,000 mortgage outstanding. The holiday home in Tuscany is worth about €400,000, owned outright, and let out for part of the year.
Lucy and Joe each have reasonably mixed portfolios of savings and investments, with some assets more liquid than others.
Lucy pays in to a number of private pension schemes, as does Joe.
Lucy and Joe both made wills before they married, but have not reviewed them since, even though they have always meant to. They did not ever think about pre or post nuptial agreements.
Both children attend private schools. The school fees (with additional spending on trips, etc) come to about £20,000 a year. Oliver is due to take GCSE exams this year. He wants to go on to take A levels, then go to university to read chemistry, and her parents want to help with the fees. They also want to help Daisy when she is older, with university fees, or by supporting her through other post 18 education and training.
What can Lucy and Joe do ?
Saving the marriage
Lucy and Joe need to work out if they want to stay together. There is a wide range of help available, including individual and couples counselling, therapy (including family therapy), and dispute resolution (including family mediation). These processes are open ended, and dispute resolution is about practical problem solving, rather than tackling the emotional aspects of relations. The outcome remains up to the couple and what they decide to do.
Whatever the outcome, it is almost always better to have help before deciding whether to end a marriage. Even if a relationship has completely broken down, it is still worth finding ways to communicate better, especially for parents, who will not stop being parents even if their own relationship is ending. Children need to know what to expect, and be reassured that their parents still love them, whatever the difficulties between the adults.
In this case, Lucy and Joe would almost certainly be helped by working on communication, and their work/life balance. Counselling can help – http://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/relationship-common-problems/my-partner-and-i-dont-talk-any-more-it-feels-if-weve-drifted-apart
Oliver and Daisy may blame themselves for the tensions between their parents, a very common response. As a result, they may try to be especially ‘good’ – not natural behaviour from adolescents. Alternatively, one or other of them may misbehave uncharacteristically, seeking attention. Oliver already seems to be affected by the atmosphere at home, and Lucy and Joe will need to work out how to support their children, whatever they decide to do about the marriage. There is help available with this, too-
Whatever Lucy and Joe decide to do, they should review their wills, and think about appointing testamentary guardians for Oliver and Daisy. A testamentary guardian is someone who would take responsibility for a child, if both parents have died while the child is still under 18. It is usually best to have two testamentary guardians, and it is vital first to discuss this with potential testamentary guardians, to make sure they are willing to take on this responsibility.
Lucy and Joe will certainly need to review their wills if they decide to divorce, as divorce affects the validity of a will.
Lucy and Joe have not ever had pre or post nuptial agreements, but they might each want to think about financial planning now, for instance to make sure that their pension rights are at least adequate, and think about how they would cope financially if they did split up.
Lucy and Joe already both have “parental responsibility” for their children, because they are the parents and they are married to each other. That would not change, even if Lucy and Joe separated, and even if they divorced. That means that they both have legal status as parents, and are responsible for making the major decisions in their children’s lives.
Whatever happens in adult relationships, most parents can readily agree that their children’s well being has to come first. The law recognises this, and children’s welfare is treated as paramount in any legal dispute about children, whether it is about where the children should live, or whom they should see, or decisions about schools, trips abroad, or medical treatment.
For Joe and Lucy, they already have long term plans for their children’s education. If they decide to separate, that could be a basis on which to agree about arrangements for Oliver and Daisy. Achieving as much stability for the children as possible will be crucial, so – for instance – staying in their current schools may be important. Planning for the next stages in their education (including how that is to be funded) could also help Joe and Lucy focus on their children’s well being, and reassure their children about the future.
If Lucy and Joe separate, they will need to think about practicalities, such as who would look after the children day to day, housing needs, and how the children would travel to school. Some children manage well spending their time fairly equally between each parent. Others would struggle with that, and do much better with a main home with one parent, and visiting their other parent.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) parenting plan can be a useful tool for agreeing on how to parent after separation - https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parenting-plan.aspx
If Lucy and Joe could not agree on arrangements for their children, then the law now requires parents first to attend a “mediation information and assessment meeting” (“MIAM”), before applying for any court orders. The aim is to ensure that most parents resolve any dispute about children through mediation, not the courts. The reasoning is that parents are usually the best people to make decisions about their children. They may need professional help, such as mediation, to achieve that. If the only dispute is about children, it can usually be resolved with 1 – 2 mediation sessions.
If mediation does not resolve matters, then parents can apply to the Family Court for an order. A child arrangements order deals with where a child should live, and/or whom the child should see. Specific issues orders and prohibited steps orders deal with how parents are to exercise parental responsibility (for instance, whether a child should attend a particular school, or whether a parent should be prohibited from taking a child abroad).
The Family Court will still consider how to help parents agree, rather than impose a court order. That may mean a (re)referral to mediation; or attendance at a “separated parents information programme” (SPIP), run over one long group session or two shorter ones, with the parents attending separate groups.
For Oliver and Daisy, they will need to know that both their parents love them, and will work out how to do their best for them. If Lucy and Joe can both keep in mind what will be best for Oliver and Daisy, they will have every chance of doing a good job raising their children, whether they do that together or apart.