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Pressures of lockdown ‘could see more families separate’

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THE pressure of lockdown on personal relationships may lead to an increase in family separations, local non-profit organisation Family Mediation Jersey has warned.

FMJ new mediators Claire Davies, David Le Quesne, Sue Harvey, Paul Berks (FMJ manager), Lynsey Mallinson, Mike Cutland (former FMJ chairman), Richard Adams. (28971747)

Normally the organisation sees a rise in demand for its services after periods such as Christmas and the summer holidays when pressure increases on families. But now it is warning that the conditions of lockdown may exert a similar influence.

‘It’s sometimes that period of being together that makes people re-evaluate their relationships,’ professional practice consultant Sue Harvey said.

‘We’re thinking that Covid will be like a very extensive Christmas but without the fun, and that eventually it will increase numbers of separations. For some it might pull them together but, being a realist, I’m thinking that it’s more likely to have the other effect in many cases,’ Ms Harvey said.

Family Mediation Jersey aims to help couples who are separating to sort out their differences and prevent further disputes, and is often used as a stepping stone to concluding a formal legal agreement with lawyers.

But in addition to Covid-19’s impact on those whose relationships may be under strain, the consequences of lockdown can also extend to couples who are trying to manage existing agreements with former partners, as Lynsey Mallinson, another of the organisation’s consultants, explained.

‘There is the added factor of people having to home-school or work without elderly family members being able to support, perhaps parents being separated, and with a child contact agreement which was difficult to manage during lockdown or difficult to reinstate afterwards.

‘The general pressure has impacted families massively,’ Ms Mallinson said.

Although FMJ offered online mediation during lockdown, demand fell during the period with numbers approaching them declining by around a half. In the first six months of 2020, 27 individuals came compared with 53 in the same period last year, a trend mirrored in the number of mediations which fell from 76 to 39, 12 of these being carried out online.

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They are figures which have to be understood in the context of increased demand last year for the service, up 5% on 2018.

‘Some people delayed coming to us because, although we could offer Zoom, you have to be able to do it in an environment which is confidential and safe, and you don’t want to be doing it where there is the potential for children, or perhaps a new partner, to be listening in. So there were people for whom it wasn’t appropriate or who perhaps didn’t feel comfortable using the technology.

‘For others, it worked well because we did it later in the evening, after children had gone to bed for example, and we were flexible. We will continue to offer online mediation,’ Ms Harvey said.

There are several routes to JFM. Last year the majority of clients came on their own initiative, having discovered the charity themselves or through friends, but a significant number were referred by a lawyer, while others came at the suggestion of the Family Court or the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

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Typically clients will try to resolve differences over access to children, finances or property, the mediation process offering the opportunity to explore those issues and to leave with a non-binding agreement which may then be formalised legally.

As Ms Mallinson explains, it is a flexible approach to dealing with issues which can often be entangled with strong emotions.

‘We talk about whether something could work. What is the problem? What do you want? How can we move forward with it? It’s about generating options. It’s about thinking outside the box and thinking about the problems in a different way.

‘We do the groundwork of discussing and exploring and information gathering, and often the emotions behind those things. There will be a reason behind it and, if we can understand a bit more about that, there may be another way of getting x,’ she said.

JFM offers an initial free meeting to establish whether mediation is appropriate and thereafter there is a sliding scale of charges based on means.

Details and more information are available at fmj.je.

Rod McLoughlin

By Rod McLoughlin
Reporter

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