I WAS recently fortunate enough to attend a mock Separated Parents Information Programme organised by Oxfordshire Family Mediation, who are contracted by Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support) in this area to run these.

For the small group of solicitors and mediators who attended, OFM condensed their four-hour SPIP programme into just over one hour, so it was only a taste of what parents attending such a programme experience, but nonetheless it was a fascinating insight into what occurs at these courses.

Separated Parents Information Programmes were introduced as a contact activity in 2006 by Section 11A – introduced into the Children Act 1989 by the Children and Adoption Act 2006 and can be ordered by the court within Children Act proceedings, where the parents are finding it difficult either to agree arrangements for their children, or where arrangements have been decided by the court, and the parents are struggling to implement them.

Where parents have been ordered to attend, they are required to attend a four-hour course. They will be placed in different groups to the other parent, but the idea is that the groups will be mixed with people from different backgrounds, and some will be parents with primary care and others will not.

If a parent fails to attend, Cafcass will be notified, and the matter will return to court for further directions, where the court can order attendance at a further SPIP, which will also delay the resolution of your case.

Cafcass nationally are responsible for organising these courses. Where parents have been ordered to attend, the cost of attending is met by the Ministry of Justice, so there is no cost other than the time involved, to the parent.

It is possible to voluntarily attend a Dispute Resolution Separated Parents Information Programme which OFM also organise locally, but there is a cost to those of £150 per parent.

The SPIP is designed to help parents learn more about the challenges of post-separation parenting and focuses on the effects on children of ongoing parental conflict.

The course aims to provide advice and support to parents on how best to help their children through this and to try to find ways of finding their own solutions, rather than referring back to court over any disputes.

The feedback nationally is that most parents who go on a SPIP find it very helpful.

The group meets in two two-hour sessions or one four-hour session. OFM run them in Oxford, Didcot and Banbury, in the daytime, evenings and weekends.

The aim is to help parents reflect on their own and their children’s needs at a difficult time, find better, more effective ways of communicating with the other parent in a businesslike rather than emotional way, and prepare parents to move on to mediation.

They aim to do this using a variety of ways, including watching a DVD, group discussion and role play.

They ask parents to reflect on a scenario from the viewpoint of the mother, father and child, in order to try to encourage more empathy in particular with the child at the centre of the dispute.

Both parents are ordered to attend, but you won’t be in the same group as your ex.

If you are going through court proceedings and are ordered to attend a SPIP, Cafcass has a helpful handout and they and OFM have information on their websites.

Another helpful website is parentconnection.org.uk