The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will shortly be launching a new £14m Innovation Fund across Great Britain. It will support separated families and help them to collaborate in the best interests of their children.
In plain English, what I see happening here is partly the Government needing to make the CSA unnecessary (because they are scrapping it) and also something else - something quite amazing - an ambition for our population to communicate and collaborate when it comes to caring for children, even when they feel anger, pain and even hatred towards each other.
The two key objectives of this new Innovation Fund are to:
• Increase the number of children benefiting from child maintenance arrangements by reducing conflict and improving collaboration between separated and separating parents. This will be achieved by developing effective interventions that help parents work together to make their own arrangements and avoid using the Courts or the Child Support Agency.
• Test a wide range of interventions to understand what is effective in encouraging collaboration and reducing conflict amongst separating and separated parents.
The kind of people who claim that "mediation doesn't really work' will see this as unrealistic and impossible, and merely a cover for funding cuts. People like me, however, don't see it that way at all.
So often over the last few years I have see angry, upset parents manage to move from courtroom battles to coffee shop discussions and resolve previously unresolvable conflicts. Sometimes they achieve this on their own or through mediation. The truth is, that when the adversarial influences of the legal system, emotional pain, fear of loss and well meaning but disastrous advice from family members and mates down the pub are sidelined, couples often do just work out a solution, simply because they love their kids and they get fed up with being angry with each other and want to move on.
But how do we encourage still angry and financially vulnerable parents to 'collaborate' instead of seeking financial Rottweilers from the CSA to do their bidding?
Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said recently: "The Government wants to encourage and support parents to make their own family-based arrangements whenever possible because they are better for families." She is right. And I believe that educating parents and giving them access to free or affordable resources - like parent coaching, communication training, debt solutions - will empower parents to be able to make their own arrangements. But how can we resolve the fundamental problem of sharing the costs associated with parenting when breakup decreases the money available? Two homes are always more expensive to run on the same income as one.
Initiatives like Divorce in a Box (www.sosdivorceinabox.com) are focused on a holistic approach to supporting parents through family breakup and collaborative parenting, and the London version of the Boxes currently contain 27 experts and services - but no divorce lawyers. This in itself illustrates how many choices are available to separating couples which will empower and inspire them, before they need to sit down with a lawyer or mediator to deal with the nitty gritty of divorce. Debt solutions, money coaching, stopping the ex from pushing your buttons, communication skills - as well as parenting experts, life drawing party planners (celebrating what is good in life) and a Hatton Garden jeweller who transforms your old diamond ring into a beautiful pendant to hand down to the children.
Families Need Fathers are on the coal face of family breakup and fully aware of the level of anger, mistrust and pain that couples put each other through during a divorce. Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, "Initiatives like this are a great way to promote a holistic approach to coping with separation, and helping ensure that couples can quickly access the right type of support when they need it most. Divorce in a Box provides early, effective assistance that can help parents to set aside their differences and focus on planning for their and their children's futures, which is crucial if more families are to avoid being dragged into the legal system."
I asked my 13-year-old son his views on how parents should 'break up right - please don't fight' - a catch phrase he came up with a couple of years back which I now use as part of my promotion of Divorce in a Box . I didn't tell him that years ago I myself had called upon the CSA to chase his dad for funds. Nor did I mention that by the time they got his dad pinned down, he was in a better frame of mind and was happy to contribute financially towards the care of his children - but I still requested they act as go-betweens, as I did not want to have to chase the father of my kids for money if he stopped paying in the future. I wanted the CSA to do it, so that I didn't need to talk about money and sully an already delicate co-parenting relationship.
My son thought for a few moments and then suggested: "Everyone should pay some of their tax towards a fund for their children, like a pension. If they breakup or stay together or don't have kids, they can use the money but it's already there so you don't have to fight over getting it."
Is this such a radical idea? That parents should prepare a financial base for their kids - as they do for their old age - that is not dependent upon whether they remain in a relationship with each other or not?
What I love about this idea is that the money becomes something separate from the individuals involved. De-personalised. I think that my 13 year old son may be on to something.
Suzy is the inventor of Divorce in a Box - a Travel Guide for stay out of court Divorce, which includes over £500 of complementary access to skilled professional advice, with a focus on collaborative parenting. Available for £45 including vat and UK postage at www.sosdivorceinabox.com. Ribbon is optional.
200 of the London Boxes will be available from mid-July at no charge to people lucky enough to get hold of a Box Coupon.
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