Steve and Mary start to get it together in their finances

By Andrew Baines, Solicitor and Family Mediator

In Andrew Baines’ latest family mediation blog, we look at the story of Mary and Steve, a separating couple trying to settle their disagreements through mediation. This time, Steve and Mary* are starting to sort out their finances.

“But if all we have to talk about is £95,000 equity in the house, what have we got to talk about? My solicitor has told me that the court will split it 50/50, so why don’t we just get on and do it?”

And with these words, Steve sat back in his chair, crossed his arms and stared at Mary.

Mary leaned forward and, meeting Steve’s stare, added an arched eyebrow to the mix.

“And my solicitor has told me that you won’t get a penny of it until Billy has finished his education, and that’s nineteen years away.”

“Okay, just a moment”, I said, my rose-tinted glasses falling to the floor. “Let’s see if this is being a helpful conversation for you.”

Mary and Steve were taking a rational approach to their problem. Each was putting forward a solution that provided them with the maximum benefit and was justifying their solution by reference to the kind of orders they believed the court would make. This approach was rational, fair, just, equitable and rather unsuited to finding a way forward that met with their own personal circumstances.

“May I suggest we leave alone what a court might do for the moment and look at matters in a different way?”

Shall we start by looking at how each of you are going to get your basic needs met, and then move on from there?”

I explained that whilst having the most expensive TV deal would probably need some justification, neither of them needed to justify to the other having their basic needs met.

I proposed that each of them needed to have a roof over their head – accommodation for themselves and their children, food in their mouths, clothes on their back, utility bills paid and travel to work costs met. Steve and Mary agreed that it wouldn’t make sense for one to have a share of the family assets that deprived the other of these basic necessities.

By removing the need to justify their choices, it was easier for Steve and Mary to discuss their finances. They could now take a wider view, working together to explore how their finances might best be used to meet their basic needs.

Once Steve and Mary had done their figures, they could see what surplus was now available to them.

In case you missed the earlier instalments of our mediation blog, click here.

*All names are fictitious and are used for illustrative purposes only.