Jennifer Gallagher: Vengeful splits not the way

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IS it ever possible to have too much money? The rather unsavoury child custody arrangements agreed between the impresario and X Factor host, Simon Cowell, his new partner and her former husband may suggest so.

Had the trio not been in the super-rich category, and money no object, it is highly likely that the outcome would have been a lot less messy.

Love triangles spring up in all walks of life and, especially when children are the innocent bystanders, the outcome is usually associated with much grief and rage. However, people of limited financial means who find themselves in this situation will largely avoid such an outcome by going to mediation instead, even if reluctantly at first.

The Cowell case can be summed up thus. The impresario’s new lover, Laura Silverman, has an eight-year-old son, Adam, by her former husband and care of the child is divided between the parents. As Silverman’s ex-husband was Cowell’s friend, the divorce has been very acrimonious, the agreement between former husband and wife, it is said, stipulating that Cowell plays no part in Adam’s life. This clause, if breached, allegedly carries a hefty financial penalty. Additional terms prevent the former Mrs Silverman making any derogatory remarks about her ex-husband in front of their child.

It seems reasonable to infer, given the background of those involved, that large sums of money have been thrown at their lawyers by both parties to secure demands that may not be the right one for the child. When “ordinary” people find themselves in such circumstances, it is common for one party to try and “go for the jugular” of the estranged spouse. While such feelings may – in some instances – be understandable, revenge is not really the best outcome and, gradually, people are drawn to mediation. Initially, they choose mediation because the potential cost deters them from going to court but, gradually, most come to see mediation as the best outcome, whether they are, or are not, able to afford the legal fees that come with court action.

The Cowell case is complicated further by the fact that Silverman has recently given birth to a son with Cowell. In order to avoid breaching her agreement with her ex-husband, Cowell can only see the baby when Adam is not around.

This may all seem like manna from heaven for the tabloid press but among us ordinary mortals the question of how new partners are introduced to children as well as the more mundane day-to-day child care plans, can all be sources of real worry and stress for many families.

It is important when making child care arrangements on separation to focus purely on the child and his or her needs. When a relationship breaks down feelings of pain, anger and grief are understandable but parents do need to think about how their behaviour will affect how the children cope.

When parents in Scotland cannot agree, a court will make an order based on the best interests of the children but it is far better if the parents reach a mutually-agreeable solution. A more constructive way of dealing with these issues would be to attend mediation because a mediator lets each party see the issues from the other’s perspective. Acting as an independent buffer, the mediator will make sure both parties are heard and ensure that communication is done openly, constructively and respectfully.

All too often “victory” for one party can turn into a pyrrhic one, both emotionally and financially.

• Jennifer Gallagher is a partner with Blackadders solicitors