It’s Hard to Hate up Close

I read an interesting article about a black man who was responsible for over a 100 Ku Klux Klan members leaving the organisation. What was his secret? He said, “It’s hard to hate up close.” He didn’t try and convince them that the KKK was wrong. He just asked them to spend some time getting to know him. Many had never had a proper conversation with a black man. Each of the departing KKK members found that they no longer had it in them to hate a black man that they now knew. Clearly that’s an extreme example of bridging an empathy gap. However, I’m sure we can all recall a time when we fell out with someone or drifted apart. Communication will have deteriorated and it’s natural to then fill in the gaps and made assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling. When communication is good, empathy flows and allowances are made for friends and partners; “I know she wouldn’t have intentionally forgot, she is very busy and has a lot on her plate.”  When an empathy gap forms, goodwill is less forthcoming.  People stop understanding one another and frustration and resentment can build.

It_s Hard to Hate up Close Focus mediation Blog

Bridging The Empathy Gap

Mediation involves bridging the empathy gap between separating couples. If there’s no empathy, there’s often no compromise. “He’s the one who had a one night stand and ruined our marriage. He can spend Christmas alone, why should I spend any time away from my children? ” Or “Why should I pay her any spousal maintenance? She had an affair and left me; let her feel what it’s like to live without my hard earned salary.” It’s so difficult for angry spouses to place themselves in the other’s shoes when their own pain feels so overwhelming. Their anger often masks underlying pain. Whilst anger is a normal part of grieving for a relationship; it can be self destructive if it doesn’t dissipate over time. As Nelson Mandela wisely said, “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

A mediator’s role isn’t to convince couples to fall in love again or to even like each other. The past can’t be changed but a mediator can encourage clients to focus on the future. Clients might be  frightened about where will they live, how will they pay the bills and whether they will be able to spend enough time with their children. This fear can lead to each becoming positional; “Give me the house and I won’t touch your pension. If you don’t agree I’ll take you to court. I’ll claim the house, high maintenance for life and most of your pension.” When resolving finances in mediation we take a very practical approach. The clients work together to identify and then quantify their assets. Only then can they explore options. The mediator will ask them to check mortgage capacity and suitable housing options, amongst other things.  During the process communication improves and each begins to better understand the other’s concerns and worries. Sometimes I can pinpoint when the tide changes. Recently, a wife turned to her husband and said after several sessions, “Deep down I do know you want me to be ok, and I want you to know that despite everything, I want you to be ok too.” I sat back and observed as they nodded knowingly at one another. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations to resolve issues arising from separation.

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 Orange and getting more of what you want – 2018

Does it ever feel that Christmas is one long negotiation in your house? It is in ours – what to eat, what to drink, what to watch on TV, what game to play… Thinking about the next couple of weeks with the family has put me in mind of a negotiation parable. You may have heard it before, but I hope you won’t mind if I retell it.

The OrangePicture the scene. It’s Christmas Eve, and Janet and John are arguing over an orange. They both desperately want this orange and won’t give up the orange at all, for anything else – they scream, they shout, they throw things. So what can we do?

The obvious solution is to come along with a nice sharp knife and cut the orange into two, giving Janet and John half each. If we were feeling more creative, we could even allow one to cut and the other to choose – this makes it fairer, perhaps, and gives Janet and John a hand in the solution. But there’s a problem with this solution: that neither Janet nor John actually comes away with what they want. Instead, they both come away with only 50% of what they want. As a solution, it’s a crude one that leaves them both dissatisfied.

The less obvious solution is to ask questions. Why does Janet want the orange? What plans does John have for the orange? By talking and listening to each other, it is possible that a better solution will present itself than simply cutting the orange in half. For example, in this case it turns out that Janet wants the whole orange’s peel as she is following a recipe that makes her mince pies extra-zingy, while John is planning Christmas morning Bucks Fizz cocktails and needs all the juice of the orange for these. So in fact, they can both get what they want out of the single orange: Janet can take all the peel and John can take all the juice. They just need to work together.

Real life problems are usually more complex of course, but the Christmas lesson here for all of us is that by asking questions and listening to the answers, there may be a chance that we can all have a more peaceful Christmas. Whether you’re arguing about an orange or something else, if you approach the problem with a question, some creativity, and a spirit of co-operation, you’re more likely to come away with more of what you really want.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

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

 

What makes a Good Divorce?

Resolution is an organisation for solicitors and other professionals in England and Wales who commit to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family law matters. This week it’s Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ campaign. They are focusing on how separating or divorcing parents can limit the impact of conflict on their children. They also campaign for divorce reform and the removal of ‘blame’ within the current divorce process.  Parents need to focus on the future and not a past that can’t be changed. However, sometimes the current law requires one to dredge up the past and blame the other. It’s a poor start for parents transitioning from ex-spouses to co-parents. So is there such a thing as a ‘good divorce’? Perhaps the word ‘good’ is too ambitious. When parents separate or divorce they suffer a huge trauma. If they can divorce in a manner that doesn’t inflict further damage on each other or their children, then that is a positive outcome.

What Makes a good divorce Focus Mediation Blog Nov 18

Family Law Professionals

As family law professionals we have a duty to focus on the best interests of children and to enable couples to finalise their divorce, child arrangements and finances, as peacefully as possible. We should constantly review whether our current practices correspond with that ethos. In my experience, most solicitors encourage clients to peacefully reach agreement, (if possible), and avoid litigation. In mediated financial cases, once full disclosure has been completed, clients are more likely to reach a negotiated settlement if they first receive good legal advice from their solicitors. They trust their solicitors and therefore feel safe to enter into negotiations. What’s good advice? Good advice involves a solicitor also considering what they would advise the other party if they were their client. This grounds the advice and makes it more realistic. However, problems arise if each solicitor takes an extreme view. If a wife has been told she should seek a very high level of maintenance for a long term, but her husband has been told there should be no spousal maintenance, it’s so difficult for either to move away from their respective positions and focus on needs. Providing realistic advice is a very powerful way to reduce conflict between separating parents.

Solicitors and Mediators – let’s talk more

Let’s take more time to ask each other about our respective roles. What can we do better and what works well? What do we need from one another? One of the most informative conversations I had was at a pension seminar with three family solicitors. They asked me many insightful questions about mediation and explained their concerns and what they felt the positives and negatives of mediation were. Sharing information can help solicitors and mediators to together support clients and help them achieve a conflict free divorce.

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 positive message for children during a breakup – 2018

Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

children-breakup-hutterstock_483300238

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard.

The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

Family Lives

Young Minds – Parents Guide to Supporting Your Child During Divorce or Separation

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

 

 

 

 

Christmas

The mediator’s diary is governed by the seasons. You’d think the breakdown of a relationship could occur at any time of the year, and indeed it does; but there are certain markers in the calendar that prompt people to seek our help. Organising the long summer holidays is one of them, especially when both parents are working. Christmas is another.

From about early November, separated couples are facing up to the tricky business of sharing their children over Christmas.

Christmas Focus Mediation Blog November 2018

 

Most people start from the base line of alternating year on year; but the devil is in the detail. What package is being alternated? Is it the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, swapping on Boxing Day? Or does the swap occur half way through The Day Itself, so that both parents get to see them?

In some families, the dilemma is made easier by the traditions of the extended family. Perhaps they always gather on Boxing Day; perhaps, for religious or cultural reasons, they don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

But in some cases, they make things harder. Perhaps they live at the other end of the country so any visit needs to be for several days. Perhaps they don’t exist at all, and the parent who is without the children is completely alone.

Christmas Alone

Being without the children is the hardest consequence of any divorce. Being alone at Christmas is everyone’s worst fear. Put the two together, and you have something that is impossible to contemplate, let alone agree to.

Ask the children what they would like? You can bet your bottom tangerine that they would like their parents to get back together so that these impossible alternatives are no longer debated. Since that is not happening, they will probably respond according to age “Whatever” (truculent teenager), or “I really want to  see Mum AND Dad on Christmas Day (anxious small person).  Privately, they will probably all be thinking “Can we not do it like last year, it was too much to-ing and fro-ing and I felt sick from two lots of turkey”, but they won’t know whether to say it out loud: Christmas seems to make everyone so tense. Whatever way things are arranged, the children will always feel guilty about having to divide their time, leaving one parent alone for some of the holiday.

Here at Focus, we help couples explore the alternatives. Could you write in with suggestions: tell us how you do it, and whether it works? What to avoid? Mediation is all about sharing ideas and strategies – we’d love to hear from you.

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

 

Difficult Conversations

I’ve just finished a book called “Difficult Conversations”*. I feel as if I’ve been given the key to a whole set of cupboards that have been locked for a long time. Here’s what is says:

Most of us put off having difficult conversations with our friends or family or colleagues because we are afraid of what might happen. What if the other person takes it badly? Reacts angrily? Ends the friendship? Fires us?

Difficult Conversations focus mediation blog

So the other person’s annoying or disappointing or insensitive behaviour continues to fester, and you continue to hold it against them. You either punish them with silence, or with crotchety attitudes, or you take the bull by the horns and accuse them of what they’re doing wrong in such a way that they feel pushed into a corner which they have to defend; they fight back and the whole thing gets confrontational and goes horribly wrong.

What is the point of having a difficult conversation? It’s not to create a fight. It’s to clear something up that’s getting in the way of a loving or friendly or constructive relationship. This book offers strategies for ensuring that, when you pluck up the courage to do something about the problem, you can engineer a positive outcome by following a three-stage pattern.

What Happened

You start by exchanging views on what happened, so that you can see each other’s version of events. The two accounts are often very different, which can shed light. The other person may tell you things you didn’t know about the background to what they did: something that happened behind the scenes that affected their behaviour with you.

How it made you feel

Then you can each describe the emotional impact of the incident. Here, you have to be careful not to accuse; instead, simply explain the feelings that arose in you as result of the behaviour. You each need to listen to the other and try to empathise with how they felt. If you don’t do this, those feelings of, say, resentment or loneliness will continue to colour everything: get them out, make sure they’ve been heard, and they will recede.

How it affected your opinion of yourself

Lastly, be open about how the incident or behaviour attacks your identity. You’ll need to have worked this out before you start the conversation. Did their behaviour leave you feeling you are a bad mother/husband/colleague? If those identities are important to you, they will be why you have been so shaken. So, let them know how important it is to you that you do a good job in that role and how you want to mend things so you can improve.

The learning conversation

Now you can see how you have contributed to the bad blood between you (because you’ve listened to what they’ve told you about what you did and how it made them feel), and you understand their contribution better. Ask them what they suggest you can both do from now on to improve matters between you. In other words, turn the conversation into an appeal for some shared proposals that will help you both mend matters.

The book is littered with excellent examples of Difficult Conversations; ones that need to be had, ones that go wrong, ones that work out well. There are numerous situations that ring bells, whether it’s in your marriage or with your parents, your children, your house-mate, your sibling or your boss. There’s practical advice and even some coaching. It’s succinctly written, very witty, very clear, and very wise.

If everyone put it into practice, there’d be no need for mediation!

* Difficult Conversations: how to discuss what matters most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

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

 

Mediation won’t work, do not pass Go, go directly to Court

Many divorcing spouses believe they need a Judge to divide their marital assets, or they risk losing out. They know litigation is hugely expensive and adversarial, but they believe that ultimately it’s the only viable option for them. A stay at home mum/dad may feel they need to fight to keep the house.  A mum/dad working full time may believe they will lose all / the majority of the equity in their home and half their future salary, if they don’t battle in court. Full time working parents may also worry they will be penalised for working so hard – what if they aren’t portrayed as involved and loving parents? There’s no doubt that each of these scenarios is frightening.  ‘Arm yourself with the best solicitor you can afford and fight for what’s yours, is often the collective advice from friends and colleagues.

Mediation won_t work do not pass Go go directly to Court

Will litigation really secure the best outcome?

As a former family solicitor and now a full time family mediator, I believe litigation is rarely the best option for a family. The reality is they will each spend tens of thousands of pounds protecting ‘what’s theirs. The process is lengthy and adversarial. Parental communication will be tested to the absolute limit – never good for children. Mediation saves many thousands of pounds in litigation fees. ‘But we don’t get on – he/she hates me and wants to take me to the cleaners!’ Mediation is voluntary and so it won’t be suitable in every case. However, there’s a misconception that couples have to get along for mediation to work. Not so. Quite often clients haven’t spoken for many months or their communication is extremely strained and difficult. It doesn’t mean mediation isn’t suitable. There’s no secret or magic to mediation. It’s for couples who understand that the most efficient way to resolve finances and child arrangements is to resolve the issues together – but they can’t.  Mediation is a process that enables conflicted couples to avoid court and maintain control of their own future. At what other point in our life would we relinquish control of decision making about our future? Happily married but can’t agree on the best school for your child – would you ask an outside agency to decide for you? Thought not. Divorce shouldn’t prevent self determination.

How does it work?

Couples who need a financial settlement come to mediation and the mediator ensures they provide full and frank financial disclosure. If one party isn’t as familiar with the finances, then time is spent ensuring they are fully informed and clear about what the finances consist of. Our lawyer mediators are used to dealing with financial disclosure and checking every stone has been turned. Once full disclosure has been completed, we strongly recommend each client sees a solicitor for ‘goal post advice’. Goalpost advice means your solicitor gives you a range of possible settlements, “this is the lowest, this is the medium and this is the best you can hope for”. It’s very important to ask your solicitor what they would advise your ex if they were their client. It’s highly unlikely they’d tell them they must give up all equity, savings, pension and half their income. So asking this question ensures the advice they give you is realistic and meets everyone’s needs. The starting point is 50/50 and the court has a duty to try and ensure that each parties’ needs are met, as far as reasonably possible given the resources available. That’s actually why litigation often disappoints – as the costs are so high, someone needs to win. The court however isn’t looking for winners.

Reaching agreement.

When clients return to mediation after receiving ‘goalpost advice’, we explore their respective capital and income needs and consider options.  Communication slowly improves over the sessions and clients work together as problem solvers and find solutions they can both live with. There are more assets available as they haven’t been reduced by expensive litigation costs. Their solicitor will then make the proposals binding.

Find out more about mediation at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) with one of our experienced lawyer mediators. Clients can attend together or separately. It’s full of useful information and a great starting point.

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

 

Separating well 2018

In the early stages of a separation, you can feel like you’re in a vortex: everything is swirling around, uncertain, and it’s difficult to find anything to grab on to and steady yourself.  Here are 10 things that our experience has taught us can hel

1. Put children first

If you have children, their needs should be the guiding factor while you are going through the separation.  A lot of people might take this to mean you shouldn’t separate at all, but the research is clear: it’s not separation or divorce that harms children; it’s being exposed to conflict.  The very best thing you can do for them is not to argue in front of them.  If you let their needs guide your decisions during this difficult time, you will generally be doing the right thing. 

2. Read up

Helpful resources include websites such as The Parent Connection https://theparentconnection.org.uk and the Couple Connection https://thecoupleconnection.net , both from relationship charity One Plus One, that give ideas for better communication in difficult circumstances.  The Resolution website http://www.resolution.org.uk  is an excellent source of legal information and guidance. Relate https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/self-help-tools/book-shop  have done an excellent series of books about managing the process of separation in a positive way.

Separating Well

3. Get advice

The law surrounding separation and divorce is not necessarily what you might think.  For example, it might come as a shock to people separating out of unmarried relationships that simply cohabiting with someone, no matter for how long, confers no legal rights as such: the concept of the ‘common law’ wife/husband is a myth. The law about separating out finances or property on divorce might also come as a surprise, particularly the fact that it doesn’t matter who has done what to end the marriage in 99% of cases – it’s nearly always the financial needs of family members that matter most.

4See a therapist/counsellor

Often when a relationship is in trouble people consider seeing a counsellor, or therapist, in an attempt to ‘save’ it.   In our experience, it can also be helpful to see one together during the process of breaking up. A good couples’ therapist can facilitate you both to process any anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion in a safe space and in a constructive way that means it is less likely to spill over into the rest of your lives, or in front of any children.  A therapist can also help you work out how you will talk to any children about your separation, and think through possibilities for the future.

Many people also find that it is helpful to see a therapist on their own, separately, to work through some of the intense feelings that are inevitable. You can get a referral to a therapist via your GP, although you may find there is a waiting list.  Alternatively, you can find a good private therapist in your area via the BACP website http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk , and seeing a counsellor needn’t be costly.  Having a safe space to process complex emotions can be helpful to stop them from impinging on other areas of your life.

5. Give and take space

It’s really important to give your estranged partner or spouse space during a break-up, but often this is more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you’re still sharing the same home. Fear, suspicion or anxiety can make it difficult to keep things in perspective, but being aware of how you’re feeling can make it easier to recognise when you need to take a break.  When the pressure’s on, it’s so important to take space for yourself, and to force yourself to do things that you enjoy or that make you feel better, whether it’s going for a run, spending an evening out with friends, or anything else.

6. Be businesslike – work out the best way to communicate – project manage

You and your partner or spouse will have to continue communicating throughout your separation, particularly if you share children, pets or a living space. If early on you can take the time to work out how best you can do this to minimise stress, disruption and misunderstandings, you may save yourself a lot of trouble later.  (As family mediators, this is one of the first things we look at with the aim of reducing further stress.)  For some people, it’s main communication by email and by text in emergencies; for others, it’s limited emergency phone calls and weekly meetings about plans.  Whatever you choose, if you can remain businesslike and communicate with your former partner as if he/she were a work colleague on a project, you will make headway with arrangements much more quickly.

7. Choose carefully whom you listen to

Friends and family can be a lifeline during divorce and separation.  They love you, they want to support you and they are unquestionably on your side. However, this means that they may not always be the best source of advice or guidance about present and future dealings with your estranged spouse or partner. Divorce is not unusual and people will carry their own baggage from their own separation, or their parents’, or a friend’s.  Although delivered with the best of intentions, it is important to be aware that other people’s perspectives and experiences may not always be helpful to you – objective advice from a solicitor, or a counsellor to whom you can chat without fear of judgment, can help provide some distance.

8. Don’t worry about the divorce

The actual legal process of divorce often weighs heavily on the mind of married couples who separate. In fact, this is generally one of the smallest issues.  Legally, it matters not who divorces whom and why; the process is now done entirely on paper in most cases, and you will not need to see a judge to get a divorce unless there is something very unusual about your case.  In most cases, a mediator can help the two of you work out the formalities of divorce very quickly, leaving more space to focus on financial and children issues.

9. Seek consensus about future arrangements: litigation is a last resort

The court is, generally, the least appropriate place to work out arrangements for a family’s future after separation or divorce. Sometimes it can’t be avoided.  Most of the time, taking a practical and child-centred approach to arrangements for children’s care, and a commercial approach to matters of finance and property means that you can avoid court.  Collaborative law, mediation, negotiating through solicitors, and arbitration are all sensible options for sorting things out without going near a court.  A good legally-qualified mediator, such as those working with Focus, will save you time, money and stress while helping you keep control over your future financial arrangements.

10. Remember everyone has their own truth about why a relationship broke down – don’t let this stand in the way of your future

As mediators, we work with couples to stop arguments about who did what in the past from getting in the way of making arrangements for the future.  It isn’t necessary that each of you should have the same view about what caused the relationship to end.  Our job is to help you to focus on what happens next and to enable you to move forward with a workable plan.  We’ve helped thousands of separating couples do exactly this; give us a call on 01908 231132 if you’d like to have a chat about how we might be able to help you too.

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

Contents, Totems and Ginger Jars – 2018

“It’s Mine!”

Contents Totems and Ginger Jars 2019

Dawn: “Couples often have difficulty agreeing who has what of the contents of the house.  Yet lawyers and the Courts will very rarely want to get involved in the division of contents, simply because the cost of arguing over such things often exceeds the value of the contents by a very considerable margin.

Mary: “One solution might be to go round the house with coloured stickers taking it in turns to choose, with a friend to help you – and a glass of wine! This debate can cause huge bad feeling. There’s no special “right answer”, just what people work out that they can live with.”

Dawn: “When couples can’t agree the division on contents, if pushed, a Judge may order the sale of everything, or that they bid for what they want. Why do some people struggle so much with this?”

Mary: “Many reasons. They have exhausted compromise or they’re afraid of the waiting void, the silence.  After years in a conflicted relationship, people may struggle to leave that conflict. Also, often they simply can’t bear to feel they might lose the last argument!”

Dawn: “So … they could sort it out, but unconsciously they don’t or can’t you mean?”

Mary: “Yes, but the conflict has to go somewhere and attaches to things of which the worst may be totems or ginger jars (a.k.a “this is our ditch it and we will die in it”).

Dawn: “You must explain that!”

Mary: “Totems or ginger jars are often a symptom of subconscious, deep psychological or emotional aspects of a relationship.  A totem is often some legal principle like the “clean break” on spousal maintenance or inherited property, but couples can get completely hung up on those issues.  There are accustomed ways of dealing with them and it is best not to resist the conventions, but none of that matters to them – they are implacable! A ginger jar often has no value and no legal or practical significance at all, but it becomes infused with immense importance – granny’s old photos or the children’s Monopoly.  When people look back it won’t matter, but it matters immensely at the time.”

Dawn: “I know what you mean – people can be totally adamant about something relatively unimportant and the fact that there may be accepted ways of dealing with it just don’t matter to them.  Nor do they care they’ll spend more arguing over the principle than it is worth. People may cling to their ginger jar until the death.”

Mary: “OK – but some people need a ginger jar, it’s the last argument no one can lose! I tell people in advance if I think there’ll be something they can’t agree – then when we get to arguing over the food mixer, after everything else is sorted, they may even see the funny side and that is a good result!”

Author: Mary Banham-Hall LLB FMCA, 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

The Cost of Litigation

The costs of litigating a case should be in proportion to the value of the dispute. Official – but forgotten repeatedly.

The Cost of Litigation Focus Mediation Blog

The Ministry of Justice, the judges, everyone – says the costs of going to law should bear some sort of rational relationship to the value of the dispute. Yet this rule is frequently and flagrantly ignored. Focus Mediation frequently finds the main issue in dispute in mediation is the costs of proceedings at court. So, in one case where flat owners were arguing over noise between their flats (one flat was over the other), the costs were £62,000.   This was at the pre-trial review. The judge heard that the budget for costs to go to trial was a further £30,000 including the lawyers and the experts. The agreed costs of the works of noise proofing between the flats was under £4000! The costs had become the issue. If one party could ‘Win’ then the other would lose twice, they’d have to pay all the costs. The judge had a little paddy and said they had to mediate. Now this is unusual, as actually the courts have no power to force people to mediate, but he was incensed enough at the flagrant breach of the rule of proportionality on costs to send everyone away for mediation. The Focus mediator settled the case. One flat owner bought the other’s flat; not even a result the judge could have imposed if he’d wanted to. This is a classic example of conflict having a life of its own, of the disputants losing the plot and ending up in a ridiculous situation, where their litigation costs were the main issue. There are many reasons this can happen.

The lawyers may advise that they cannot advise as to whether someone’s going to win the case or not, until they have seen adequate “disclosure” of documents, witness statements and expert evidence, enabling them to advise who is likely to have the best evidence and hence who will win or lose. The problem is that the cost of getting the case this far alone can be out of all proportion to the value of the case. Suddenly the issue is no longer just the liability for or ownership of the discombobulating sprocket, there is another issue – who is going to pay all the costs? Since the Jackson Reforms in 2013 there is far more pressure to mediate and a refusal to mediate can mean you don’t get all your costs even if you win. Nonetheless the number of mediations is still not rising to the levels required by any sort of rational approach to resolving court disputes. Why not?

At Focus we wonder this all the time. We think there are many reasons including:

  • The conflict has a life of its own, one or both parties cannot back down. Their irrational emotional right brain is engaged, they feel they simply must win, even though the costs make it a pointless and empty victory even if they win and they may lose but…
  • Backing down is unthinkable. The identity of one or more participants is threatened by not winning or fighting
  • The adrenaline rushes of the amygdala in the brain is priming the fight, freeze or flee -a pre-historic response to conflict. The modern interpretation of fleeing or fighting the tiger can often be the ritualised combat of your chosen combat representatives, your lawyers
  • The costs may be insane but ‘It’s because I’m worth it’. This can often be the case in a divorce, where one party may want to punish the other with massive costs, drag out the fight, to try to get control of their resolution process (in their dreams, it has a life of its own). They may seek the fight for continuing connection, to delay the waiting void after it is over, the ritual of litigation may be an expression of their grief and loss, there are so many reasons.
  • A completely mistaken understanding of likely court adjudicated outcomes. For example, the divorce client arguing over a family pot of no more than £500,000, whose London lawyer had advised her that their hourly rate of £600 was worth it, as they would get her such a good settlement the extra money would pay the costs. Again, in your dreams! However, by the time the truth dawns, it is too late.
  • In some cases, there may be a conflict of interest between the lawyers and their clients over costs. The National Audit Office reported on this in their report into Family Mediation in 2007. They found lawyers in some instances have a contrary interest to their clients to earn fees and that resolving a divorce by mediation was 75% quicker than going to court and cost a fraction of litigation. This isn’t true of many lawyers, who do refer to mediation, it is just that some don’t or leave it too late to save much.

So, what can you do? Like many things the answer is both simple and hard to do:

  • Have a sense of proportion, work out the value of what you are arguing over. Set a budget for the costs of a sensible percentage of that figure and resist exceeding it. 10/20/30%, something rational.
  • Keep proposing mediation, even if you go to trial and lose, if the other person refuses mediation, you may benefit on a costs order. If you mediate you may well settle the case.
  • Pocket your pride, be ready to engage in resolution and move on with your life
  • Talk to a mediator, call us on 01908 231132.

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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