Controllers – Do They Come in Pairs?

Often in mediation we see the couple separately for their first meetings. This gives people an opportunity to be very frank and open about their situation. Often one will say “S/he’s a controller, and I’m unsure I can cope with mediation!” Then the other person comes and says the same. What might be happening? Each clearly feels they’re not getting their way enough. They have come to resent and oppose the control or influence involved in being part of a couple. Whether this is reasonable or unreasonable is a matter of opinion.

Contollers - Do They come in pairs? Focus mediation blog May 2019

So for example, if Harry went out alone to the pub every night, their partner might object, then Harry might complain of being controlled, but who would be at fault?

What if John complained Sally spent too much money on shoes and the family had a huge debts and Sally had 1000 pairs of shoes? Sally might say John was controlling, if he tried to stop Sally buying shoes, but would his actions be inappropriate and who would be at fault?

These exchanges are the overt text, the surface conversation. What is really going on is what I call the subtext and it is the subtext that is so interesting. It is a matter of opinion whether there are inappropriate control issues as opposed to an expectation of a reasonable conversation about something important with the person with whom you share your life. A conversation might be initiated by the so called controller in the hope of influencing the other person to change behaviour which they feel is threatening the foundation of the relationship. Whether this attempt to influence or control is reasonable or unreasonable is depends on your point of view. If the relationship is strong these exchanges are productive, useful and keep the relationship on a sound footing. If the relationship is struggling, the exchanges may become aggressive, negative, recriminatory or  accusatory. Things may have gone too far for the couple to put things right, however much talking they do. Perhaps reasonable exchanges about what is fair and right in a relationship needed to be had years before, before the situation became irretrievable. So influencing your partner through rational discussion is vital to a healthy relationship. This is appropriate and to be expected.

However, it is easy to think of situations where one person is seeking to control the other inappropriately. Examples might be trying to prevent them seeing their friends and family, to cut them off from other relationships, force them to eat, drink or dress in a certain way, or control their conversation, thoughts or beliefs. These would be issues where controlling behaviour would be inappropriate and usually wrong. So accusations of control need exploration and not just to be accepted at face value. We need to unpick the behaviour behind the assertions and ask what is really going on.

So people should change their understanding of the word ‘Control’ and dig deeper. They should think about what is really being asked, is it a reasonable or unreasonable request?

At the point where the so called controller says, in answer to a question about a request: “OK, it doesn’t matter, it’s not important.” there are two possibilities:

The first is just that it’s not important

the second is in getting close to terminal – they giving up on both on their partner and the relationship, it doesn’t matter any more. Then they may well find themselves in family mediation, quite possibly with me, saying “My ex is a controller . . . ”

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations; Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Getting the most out of Family Mediation

Here’s our guide to help clients get the most from their family mediation sessions.

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  • Choose a good mediator

How experienced is your mediator? You can ensure they are highly qualified if they are Family Mediation Council Accredited. The accreditation process is lengthy, and mediators must complete an extensive portfolio evidencing their competency and expertise. Can a friend or your solicitor recommend a mediator? Many Focus Mediation clients are recommended to us by our previous clients. Check your mediator’s website and their reviews. Is the website informative and helpful?

  • Write down your concerns, hopes for the future and any questions.

At the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting ‘MIAM’, the mediator will ask you about issues between you and your spouse. They assess whether mediation is suitable and explain how mediation works. Its also your opportunity to consider whether mediation may assist you. Keep an open mind. Most people have a rough idea of what mediation involves, but the MIAM often dispels several mediation myths. Write down your concerns, hopes for the future and any questions. Emotions can run high and this will enable you to ensure you cover what is important.

  • Resolving Finances

Come prepared. The mediator at the MIAM will provide you with a file containing the documentation you need to complete so you can correctly disclose your assets, income, liabilities and pensions. The better prepared you are the more productive the sessions will be. If you haven’t valued the family home or obtained a mortgage redemption figure, then this will halt discussions about how to deal with it. If you struggle to complete paperwork, ask a friend or family member to assist. There are also helpful guides online.

  • Ground Rules

You and your spouse make all the decisions in mediation and not the mediator. However, the mediator manages the sessions and asks you to agree to ground rules that apply to the session and perhaps even outside. An important ground rule is respectful communication. For progress to be made its important to listen and to be heard. Mediation isn’t about convincing the mediator that you are right and your ex is wrong. Mediation focuses on the future and not the past that cannot be changed. This particularly applies to the division of finances. The court rarely considers the conduct of parties and is far more interested in finding fairness and trying to meet the needs of each person, as best it can. Its hard, but do listen to your ex. By listening you may be able to clear up misunderstandings that have arisen from poor communication.

  • Where’s the compromise?

People go to court to win but the court doesn’t look for a winner and a loser – it tries to meet both your needs from the available resources. Mediation only works when there is some ‘wriggle room’. It won’t work if each person tries to impose their will on the other. So where can compromise be found? Think about what matters most to you. Where can you afford to make concessions? It’s a scary time but try to put yourself in the other persons shoes. Where will they live? How will they pay their bills? Ask your solicitor what advice theyd give your spouse. If they advise you that you should receive 85% of the assets, would they have told your spouse (if their client) they should receive only 15%? It’s important to receive realistic advice.

  • Stay Open Minded

Explore all options. If you are asked to explore your mortgage capacity, but don’t feel you can afford the repayments, bring information about this to the sessions. You might find it is a viable option. If it’s not, then without this evidence it can’t be ruled out. Meditation allows you to reach creative and tailor-made arrangements. What works well for your family, might not work for another. When we are fearful, we can become positional. However, when we are willing to explore all options, it can lead to proposals that work well.

  • Can’t communicate – don’t worry.

Clients often worry that their poor communication will rule mediation out. However, that’s exactly when mediation can assist. A negotiated settlement requires parties to work together to find solutions to problems they believe can’t be resolved. The mediator is skilled at facilitating positive communication and enabling couples to move forward. Yes, the sessions are difficult; but client’s efforts are very well rewarded. We often find that the sessions improve communication and that this can in some cases provide a form of closure and peace.

  • Be patient and don’t give up.

Mediation is voluntary but needs your commitment. If each threaten to leave if they don’t like what’s said, then mediation will fail. Be patient, trust that whilst the issues you face are new to you and often very painful, that similar issues have been resolved many times before in mediation. You are treading a well-worn path. Your mediator can get you both to the finish line; but you must commit to the process and not allow yourself to dwell too much on the past that can’t be changed. You don’t need to agree on the past; you just need to draw a line on it and focus on resolving the issues standing between you and a happier future.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

The Length of a Relationship – Dividing Finances on Divorce

We know that the law treats unmarried couples very differently from married couples. Recently, whilst reading comments in a public divorce forum, I saw several members giving someone inaccurate legal information about the length of a relationship upon divorce. The issue had cropped up before and had each time caused confusion. The poster said she had lived with her husband for 20 years before marriage and they had 3 children under 14. She had been a full-time mother since the children were born. The marriage had lasted a year as her husband had decided it wasn’t working. He told her that as they had only been married for a year and the assets were all in his name, that she would only receive a share of any assets accrued in that year and no spousal maintenance. Several people agreed and said it was a very short marriage and she had no rights to assets her husband had built up prior to the marriage, as unmarried spouses are treated badly by the law. The legal information the non-legally qualified members provided was wrong. If she acted upon it, she could go on to agree a settlement that didn’t meet her future needs. Her legal position was much stronger than she appreciated, or the forum members realised. Sometimes a short marriage isn’t quite what it appears. Also, even if a marriage is short but there are children, it can significantly impact the division of assets.

The Length of a Relationship – Dividing Finances on Divorce

When is a short marriage not a short relationship?

The starting point for sharing assets is that they are shared equally (50:50) as spouses are equal parties in a marriage and should share “the fruits of the matrimonial partnership” equally. When deciding what (if any) financial orders to make, the courts must have regard under section 25 of The Matrimonial Cause Act ‘MCA’ 1973 to “all the circumstances of the case” (the “section 25 factors”). The first consideration is given to the welfare whilst a minor of any child of the family who has not attained the age of eighteen. When assessing “needs” the court will have regard, in particular, to the matters set out in section 25(2).

Amongst the matters to be considered when assessing the needs of each party, are the age of the parties and the length of their marriage. Since 2003 the courts have taken the stance that when a relationship moves seamlessly from cohabitation to marriage, without any major alteration in the way the couple live, that the cohabitation should be taken into consideration. The cohabitation and marriage are usually added together to determine the length of the ‘relationship’. The date for the end of the marriage for this purpose, is the date of separation and not the date of Decree Absolute. Assets accrued during the ‘relationship’ – cohab + marriage (don’t confuse periods where a couple date but don’t live together), will usually be subject to the sharing principle. When the court considers all the S25 factors and all the circumstances of the case, it may conclude that one parties’ capital or income needs are greater. Perhaps their earning capacity is significantly less, and they would not be able to obtain a mortgage, or they have a disability or are caring for a disabled child. Each case will turn on its facts.

Accept legal advice with caution

Online forums can be useful. People can see that they aren’t alone. However, applying legal information to the facts of a case can be complex and require years of legal training. I often see poor legal advice continually repeated online. An appointment with a solicitor could save someone many thousands of pounds if they have received inaccurate legal advice from friends or acquaintances. They can advise you about what may be in your best interests. There’s also plenty of free good quality legal information available online and we have listed some resources below. Attending mediation is a good way to avoid any hidden pitfalls and to ensure you receive accurate legal information. The mediator is impartial but does provide legal information throughout the process. They also alert you to any hidden pitfalls such as a tax liability or an issue with a course of action you intend to adopt. They signpost you to experts that can deal with these issues and often save you considerable sums of money in the long-term.

A List of Free and Accurate Legal Information Resources

Citizens Advice Bureau.

The Government Website: Money and property when a relationship ends

Resolution: Splitting up – Money and home

Money Advice Service – Divorce and separation

Sorting Out Separation – Helping you deal with relationship break-down

Gingerbread: Single Parents – Money after separation

Family Mediation Council – why choose mediation?/

ITV This Morning – Divorce/ separation helplines and links

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

A Safe Place to Talk? – 2019

Has talking to each other become impossible? Are the things you’ve got to sort out too difficult? Does it feel as if there’s a brick wall between you that you can’t bring down?

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live. The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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Focus mediators are trained and practised in addressing any power imbalances. They are completely neutral: they don’t take sides. Most importantly, they are non-judgemental. Nothing shocks them. The mediator keeps you focussed on the plans you need to make for your future, rather than dwelling on the past. She uses her wealth of experience to help you both knock down that wall and build a future.

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’. Mediation can only help those who want it to work and are willing to set aside their old habits, under the mediator’s guidance. The mediator has a right to end the mediation if she feels the process is being abused.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Children and Court Orders Both Age!

Parents attending mediation may already have a Child Arrangements Order. This doesn’t surprise mediators. One or both may believe the existing court order is out of date. That’s a problem with child arrangements orders; they can become less relevant as the child grows older and their needs change. For example, if an order provides a toddler will spend 9am – 4pm with a parent every Wednesday, that’s fine until the child begins school. If the child starts school at 9am and finishes at 3.15pm, and the parents can’t amend and update the arrangement by agreement, then there’s a problem. Litigation is expensive and time consuming – plus it’s impractical to return to court every time an arrangement needs to be altered.

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Parental Conflict

When parents are in conflict, one may feel the only option is to apply to court for an order. Sometimes this is a necessary step – it depends on the individual circumstances of each case. However, a court order alone won’t improve parental communication. Court proceedings also often increase conflict as they are adversarial in nature. Some parents tell me they don’t need to communicate and it’s best they don’t. Sometimes parallel parenting, (parallel parenting is when separated parents co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited direct contact, in situations where they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner), is best for a short amount of time. However, research tells us that it’s not parental separation that causes children the greatest emotional distress; it’s prolonged parental conflict. This doesn’t just include shouting or negative conversations; children also find it very upsetting when parents ignore each other and don’t communicate at all. It can make them insecure, different from their friends and most children dislike passing messages between parents.

Our involvement with our children doesn’t end when they reach 18. Separate birthday parties might work at 7 or 8 years of age, but an 18-year-old will probably want one party with both parents present. They may also go on to graduate, possibly marry and have children… How will the events be managed? Will the adult child be forced to choose which parent can attend?

You Never Have To See Your Ex Again

If we split with an ex and don’t have children, we never have to see them again; or at least we can cross the street if we do! Co-parents share an unbreakable bond. To their child, a mum and dad will both always be family. Family mediation can enable parents to move forward and focus on the future and not the past that can’t be changed. I’m often told that it won’t work as he/she won’t listen and won’t change. I reply that if they are right, they can later tell me that they told me so. However, mediation has a proven track record and what is there to lose apart from the conflict? There’s no magic involved. The mediator is trained to improve parental communication. The parents work hard between sessions and return to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Arrangements are made that are child focused, clear and practical. Some parents later return to amend arrangements if they struggle and that’s fine. However, they often leave equipped to deal with differences of opinions, without the need for third party or court intervention.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Divorce – It’s Your Fault, Accept The Blame

Im a Family Mediator and work with separating and divorcing clients. Before that I practised as a Family Solicitor. I have worked closely with many divorcing couples and based on that experience, I welcome Divorce Reform and the removal of blame. However, I am aware that some people fear that it will undermine the institution of marriage and make divorce too easy.

the blame game focus mediation blog

Few take the decision to divorce lightly; especially parents. Children thrive when parents together provide a loving and happy home. However, its well documented that children suffer more emotional harm from prolonged parental conflict, than from parental separation itself. A high conflict marriage is just as damaging as separated parents in conflict. If parents decide to divorce, (and of course it’s sometimes one person’s decision that the other has no choice but to learn to accept), then a divorce that removes blame, is far more child friendly. When separated parents can communicate well, children feel safe. When parents are in conflict or disconnected, children suffer. When fault is removed from divorce it will create a better foundation for separating spouses to transition to co-parenting.

A Case Study involving blame

Parents currently separated whilst under the same roof, attended mediation. They’d privately reached agreement about child arrangements and attended mediation to discuss how to share their assets. I asked if anyone had commenced divorce proceedings. The husband had applied for a divorce based on his wife’s unreasonable behaviour. He explained it was his decision to end the marriage and she didn’t want to apply for the divorce. As they had only recently separated, the only fact he could rely on was her unreasonable behaviour. The husband explained he didn’t feel comfortable about this, as they had each contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. However, he had no choice unless he waited 2 years. She said she wanted to divorce but didn’t want to divorce him or accept the blame. I gave legal information about her options but said she should see a solicitor who could advise her. She felt the most straight forward and cost efficient way to proceed, would be to agree to the divorce, but make it clear in the Acknowledgement of Service that she didn’t accept the particulars of unreasonable behaviour and reserved the right to defend them if they were raised in respect of finances or child arrangements. She felt that was a pragmatic approach, but far from perfect. I confirmed that many respondents struggle with this issue as marriage is complicated and to entirely blame one spouse is hard for that spouse to deal with. However, when we returned for the next session to discuss finances. I could tell something wasn’t right. Clients often feel tense when discussing finances as it’s so important to their future that their housing and income needs are met. However, this felt like something more. I asked the wife if she was ok and she wasn’t. She said she kept reading the divorce application and it made her angrier each time. she said her husband had unilaterally ended the relationship and stopped trying and yet she was being blamed. She felt he had cited petty things that weren’t even true. She said she had a long list of genuine unreasonable behaviour about him and she began to list it. The husband explained that they had argued continuously since she received the application. The wife demanded to know if he had shown anyone the divorce application.

I asked how their children were coping and they said they were struggling. Neither spouse could afford to leave the family home until finances were resolved. Blaming the wife in the divorce application had added to the strained atmosphere in the home. They both agreed it was intolerable to live like this. Of course, they would have suffered if no fault divorce had been available. However, blaming one spouse had added fuel to the fire and had clearly impacted the children. This isnt an isolated example. I could provide many more and I know my colleagues could too.

Let’s trust separating parents and help make a traumatic decision less strained. It’s not about undermining marriage; It’s about supporting their evolving co-parenting relationship and not damaging it.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Kids Easter Activities in Hertfordshire 2019

  • Ware Spy Mission Treasure Trail – ‘Your super spies in training can flex their skills on the Ware Spy Mission Treasure Trail. They’ll have to prove their mettle by cracking codes and working as a team, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for a picnic!’ The Ware Treasure Trail starts at High Street, Ware, and Hertfordshire, SG12 9DJ, England. Full details HERE. Pricing: £6.99 per Trail (not per person).

Kids in Herts one

  • Geocaching – have you tried it? It’s an outdoor treasure hunt game using GPS-enabled devices like mobile phones. Download the app and explore countrywide. It’s fun, free & great exercise.
  • Hertford Museum – Easter Holiday Activities for Children. The show must go on! Tuesday 9th April to Thursday 11th April 10.30 am – 3.30 pm (last entry 3.00 pm). Dive in to the world of show business and explore the current exhibition. Make your own mini theatre stage and actors. Super Heroes! Tuesday 16th – Thursday 18th April 10.30 am – 3.30pm) last entry 3.00 pm. Become a superhero for the day and design your own mask. FREE places available for families on lower incomes. Contact the museum for information.
  • Hertford Yarn Bombers & Hertford Town Council’s annual FREE Easter egg hunt in Hertford town centre is back this Easter. Two separate Easter trails aimed at families and friends. Both trails run from Saturday 30th March until Saturday 27th April. Knitted bunnies will be hiding in shops and other locations around the Town Centre in one of the trails, and in the other will be Easter animals, chicks, characters and eggs – these will be in different shops. To take part, visit Hertford Town and Tourist Information Centre in the Wash opposite Hertford centre, to pick up trail maps. Children can participate in both trails on the same day or separate days, and there is no need to complete the hunts until 27th April. Once they have completed each hunt, collect a free sweet treat from the Town and Tourist Centre.

Kids in Herts two

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations; Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

 

Divorce – What Price Peace?

In a supermarket I noticed someone familiar smiling at me. I couldn’t immediately place him, and he laughed and said, “Don’t tell me you don’t remember me, I find it hard to believe our mediation sessions weren’t memorable!” He was a client from a few years ago and he and his ex-wife were involved in a high conflict divorce. They came to mediation to resolve finances. He was right the sessions had been memorable. They had tried to resolve finances for years before coming to mediation and they had little faith that they could be settled outside court.

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Attack or be Attacked

He and his wife had developed a toxic pattern of communication. They verbally attacked one another whenever they met. It was painstaking work to move them away from this dysfunctional pattern of communication. I felt like a strict school teacher at times. At one point I had said, “stop arguing or do it outside where it will be a lot cheaper. It was their mediation and they made all the decisions. However, it was my process and if they couldn’t respect it and let me manage it, then I wasn’t prepared to continue. Mediation is voluntary for each participant, including the mediator. Gradually they saw that rehashing the past and trying to apportion blame, was not a constructive use of mediation time. They couldn’t change the past and were unlikely to ever agree on it. I encouraged them to focus on their individual futures. What were their housing and income needs? How could they best be met? They reached an agreement at their 5th session. They were amazed. I wasn’t. I knew they were slowly but surely making progress and that if they wanted a resolution strongly enough, that mediation was the best place to achieve it.

What Price Peace?

So back to my supermarket encounter. I politely asked him how he was. He told me that he had thought about contacting me and thanking me, but he had never got around to it. He said that he wasn’t particularly happy after the mediation. He had wanted more of the marital assets. However, over time he realised that it wasn’t such a bad deal and that the deal had bought him peace and he was no longer stuck in a rut. He said his ex-wife felt the same way about her share of the settlement. The reality is that a negotiated settlement doesn’t produce a winner and a loser – it means each must make compromises. Walking away with an agreement they can each live with is far more realistic than expecting a big win. Winning is why people go to court – they need to win to justify the big legal fees. However, the court is looking for fairness and meeting each side’s needs; not winners.

I asked him if he would recommend mediation. He said he wished they had been able to sort things out themselves. However, he knew that wasn’t realistic and he said he would recommend mediation to a friend. He said that there was an advantage that he couldn’t see at the time – things had really improved with his ex-wife. He didn’t think it would matter to him; but it did. They weren’t exactly friends, but they were friendly and if they bumped into each other when seeing their adult children, then they would happily chat. He said that mediation had provided closure. He realised he didn’t like his ex-wife disliking him, and he said their children were happier.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Anger – A Mediator Point of View

The other day, a man arrived at mediation so angry he could hardly speak. He certainly wasn’t making eye contact. He slammed his papers onto the desk and shifted impatiently in his chair. I asked him what was up. He was angry at having to be here, furious about the money he was spending and spitting nails at what seemed to him to be a completely pointless exercise: working through the financial disclosure “when we both know what we’ve got and that it isn’t going to be enough”.

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My first reaction was the wrong one. I got defensive. Pointed out that he voluntarily agreed to come, and that the hourly rate was reasonable and less than that charged by most solicitors. “That doesn’t stop this whole thing being a complete waste of time”; “But we haven’t even started yet, how do you know that?” I was stupidly letting my professional ego get in the way of a much better approach.

I continued in an unhelpful, rather smug vein by showing them both the flow-chart they had seen in their introductory meeting: it explains why disclosure has to be done, whether you are using mediation or solicitors: without it, no-one can help you negotiate a settlement.

He was still smouldering. We had a few more tetchy exchanges. Finally, finally!, I remembered that this wasn’t how to deal with anger.

I said to him that he still seemed cross. I asked him what about. “Everything”.

And who are you angry with: me? – (politely)No.

Her? – (reluctantly) No.

Who, then? – (ruefully) Myself.

Ah!. Now we could go somewhere with it. I sympathised with him with them bothsaying I could see what a difficult situation they were in, how upsetting it was and how understandable his anger was. I listed all the unfortunate aspects of their case, and told them I could see exactly why they might be feeling hopeless about it.

I also told them that they were amazingly brave to opt for mediation; to choose to work this thing out together, face to face; and that I really hoped I could help. I told them we would be dealing with facts and figures rather than messy emotions; that we would focus on the wayforward rather than on the path that had led them here. I said I would do everything I could to help them reach a solution so that they could draw a line and move on.

I am pleased to say, we worked hard all morning and reached a set of proposals that were eventually converted into a consent order. It had turned out to be simpler than they thought – and they wrote to thank me at the end.

Moral? Anger usually stems from a feeling that you have been misread or wrong-footed, and it is often expressed about something other than the root cause. It seeks to win power over a person or situation, so a defensive, self-righteous response only fuels it. Accepting, analysing and understanding it is a better way forward, whether you are in the mediator’s chair or at home. Good luck!

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Squirrels Can’t Undo Safety pins – and they get the nuts whatever you do! – 2019

Ok it’s my turn to write the blog and all I can think about is the wretched squirrels! They have now penetrated two squirrel-proof bird-feeders in the garden. They can undo wire bags ties holding the lid down, they can chew through the string tying it down. When they failed to undo the safety pin holding the lid down, (my genius solution) they simply jiggled the whole thing until they broke the bottom and got the nuts that way. Squirrels one, Mary zero.

Squirrels Focus Mediation Blog

So I bought another squirrel proof birdfeeder. This one was really clever and I watched smugly as they attacked it in every way imaginable. The top screwed into the bottom – they could not undo that screw and separate the top and bottom, it had a very long thread, they could not get the nuts. The birds came, the tits (blue, great and coal), gold finches, the robin, sparrows, even a lesser spotted woodpecker. The crows gave up. The squirrels didn’t. I watched them come back again and again until one morning the top of the squirrel proof bird feeder was hanging there and the bottom and all the nuts in it, was on the ground. At least the bottom was, the nuts had gone. Squirrels two, Mary zero.

So how did they do it? The only answer must be they worked out they had to unscrew the top from the bottom and like acrobats in a circus they made that top spin around so unscrewing the top. I have this picture of them, tails behind in the wind, spinning around with the feeder lid until – Success! The feeder top is unscrewed and it splits in two and the prize of nuts is revealed on the ground, along with the bottom of the bird-feeder.

So what conceivable lesson is there for mediators or conflict resolution in this story of my squirrels (who are by the way enormous – fat, like overfed cats). Several actually, and anyway it’s a good story. So here are my conclusions – learned from my squirrels:

  • Never give up. However unlikely something is to work, it just may – and even really intractable disputes can be resolved if you get the right squirrel with enough persistence (did I say squirrel? – I meant mediator)
  • Just because it’s described itself as squirrel-proof it doesn’t mean it is. Just because something is described as impossible for mediation, because the parties are too far apart, or too conflicted or the dispute is intractable – doesn’t mean it is. Indeed the more emotional and irrational the dispute the more mediation has to offer, as it deals with emotions and wades into the non-legal area of feelings and beliefs the law cannot solve
  • Check the assumptions. I thought that I had squirrel-proof bird-feeders – how wrong was that? There are so many possibilities we cannot see. It took the squirrels to find them out. I expect a mediator could have done it – if they were small and light and liked nuts enough. That rules me out, too fat!
  • Someone, somewhere once said that a prisoner thinks more on his release than his jailor does on keeping him captive. That is also the case with people in conflict, which is a type of prison. The answers to our mediations are often there right under everyone’s noses. Mediators as facilitators are well placed to spot these possibilities; it is what we are trained to do – to be open, alert and tuned in – a bit like squirrels. Just as everyone else is ready to give up, there is the mediator, bright eyed and bushy tailed . . . whizzing about resolving the dispute.

By the way, all advice regarding squirrels gratefully received.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations; Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

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