My job as a mediator has taught me to…

Listen actively! My mediation training has inadvertently improved my relationships with friends and family. I can’t mediate between friends or family as without impartiality it’s hopeless! However, it has shown me that active listening is far more powerful than any other social skill. It has an astonishing effect on people, simply because they’re not used to feeling understood.

My Role Taught Me To

Before I trained as a mediator I thought I was a good listener. However, research shows most people are not good listeners and actually disregard between 75% – 90% of what has been said to them.  A good mediator must listen ‘actively’. This means concentrating fully on what the speaker says, including studying their body language and their tone, asking questions to clarify and gain a complete understanding. The mediator will often summarise what has been said to show the speaker they have heard and check they’ve got it right. The speaker may correct them if they have misunderstood – and it provides the speaker an opportunity to hear and reflect on what they have said. This makes the client really feel heard and understood by the mediator, which builds trust and rapport between them. Mostly people are too busy formulating their response to listen fully. It’s often why couples argue; ‘You aren’t really listening to me, you didn’t hear what I said – and you didn’t care what I said or felt’.

I haven’t always listened well

I am a good active listener in my role as a mediator, it’s integral to the work and a professional skill. However, with friends and family I still don’t always listen actively enough. Almost all of us could improve our relationships and communication if we understood how to listen actively to friends and family.

Sometimes emotions can get in the way of me listening properly. I may have been too angry, excited, frustrated or too rushed to listen actively. Most of us want to help friends and family. When they are suffering we want to ease their pain. Of course I have listened to their concerns and fears – but I simply didn’t comprehend just how powerful and healing it can be to just feel heard. I didn’t understand that listening was enough – I wanted to give them more. When someone shares their innermost feelings with you, it is of course both a privilege and a responsibility. In the past I tried to find a way to fix their problems or I would share my own problems to try and empathise. As an experienced mediator I now understand that people need to feel heard more than anything else. If someone has suffered a bereavement you can’t speed up their healing process and take their pain away. When they share their grief with you they need to know that you understand what they are going through and that you empathise with them. Acknowledging how they feel helps them to feel supported and to know that they aren’t alone.

A client who felt helpless

A father told me how helpless he felt. He had separated years ago from his daughter’s mother who had mental health issues. Sometimes she wouldn’t take her medication and her behaviour would become erratic. She would isolate herself and her teenage daughter from people who genuinely cared and could help them. This father applied for residence, but his daughter wanted to stay with her mother and told the court this. This father really wanted to help his daughter. He felt hopeless and that there was nothing he could do to help his daughter unless she lived with him – because he was trying to fix the problems. He described conversations he had had with her and it was apparent to me that he hadn’t actively listened to her.  Unintentionally he had not been as supportive as he could have been. He was so preoccupied with trying to help, he couldn’t see she just wanted to confide in him and to feel he heard her and supported her. He had been shocked during the residence proceedings to find out that she didn’t want to live with him. He had assumed so much without asking his daughter what she wanted. She was a teenager and the court had respected her wish to stay with her mother. He could best support her by letting her know he was always there for her and that he would always listen to her. If she wanted more help she could tell him.

In the past he had been highly critical of his daughter’s mother to her. We discussed how that could have a negative impact on his relationship with his daughter. He confirmed it already had – she had stopped discussing her mother with him as she was protective of her. He needed to stop judging and fixing and just be there to listen. Listening is what truly connects us. Talking is a repetition of what we already know – however when we listen we may learn something new. We have two ears and one mouth – if we could try to listen twice as much as we speak, the world would be a better place.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

The Costs of Childcare

The Costs of Childcare combined with the inadequacies of the child maintenance calculator can result in unfairness.

The cost of childcare is massive. For a full-time worker with a one year old it may be £1,300 or even more a month, every month, even when you’re on holiday – to keep that vital nursery place. That makes an impossible hole in most incomes – especially if you are paying tax, NICs, the cost of commuting and a few hundred a month off a student loan. There may be virtually nothing left. You may not be able to afford to work. But then you may have to work to pay the bills. You may be working for a net nothing to keep your job open, so when child care reduces you still have it. No wonder young people are delaying having children, opting out or just having one. They cannot square the circle – and it is not because they waste money. They have less disposable income than their parents and grandparents.

Childcare costs

If you add a separation into the mix – with both parents struggling to work and keep two homes going, the situation can be dire. Let’s imagine a typical scenario. The father is working full-time and paying child maintenance. He also has some child-related costs when the children are with him.  Mum is working 16+ hours a week, caring for the children, getting tax credits and child benefit and just surviving. If she is on a very low income she will get 70% of the work related child care costs paid by additional tax credits. Once she earns too much for that she must pay them herself. Say it is £4.75 an hour per child and there are 2 or three children – she may not earn enough to pay that, she may be worse off. At any rate after the cut off points her tax credits are reduced by 41p in  every pound she earns – plus so far as child tax credit is concerned by 20% income tax and her NICs. She is working very hard to stay still and in some cases to go back-wards, depending on the costs of child care.

It is not uncommon when mediating with separating couples to find that the child support does not even cover the costs of the primary carer’s child care costs, without which she cannot work at all. They are effectively a mortgage on that parent’s income, like tax. Yet she’s supposed to work isn’t she? Government policy is directed towards that end. The cost of childcare falls on the parent with whom the children live.  That is usually the parent with the lowest income. Take the following example:


Primary Carer           Income per calendar month , separated family,     Other Parent Op,
 typically mother       2 children living mainly with mum                            typically father


£916                               Net earned income, he £60,000 gross;                     £3,548
she £11,000, assumes no student loans

£149                               Child benefit 2 children

-£508                              Child Tax Credit, assumes no
Working Tax Credit

£1,573                            Total before child maintenance                                  £3548

+£632                             Child maintenance calculated by CMS                   -£632
(assumes no other children in OP’s new home and
1-2 nights pw overnight stays, maintenance could
be a lot less

 £2,205                          Total after maintenance                                                  £2916

-£650                             Less costs of childcare                                                            –

£1,555                           Net income to live                                                              £2,916


It can work the other way – in some cases after paying child maintenance the non-resident parent may struggle to meet their own costs and the primary carer can be in a much better position. The problem we have is this one size fits all child maintenance calculator combined with a refusal to look behind that at the net effect in each case. In mediation we look at the net effect of everything and consider together in a problem solving way how to address the issues. Time and again the father in the above scenario will say how silly the result is and has no hesitation is offering to pay all or some of the childcare costs; they are his children after all. Problems mostly arise when parents have got used to thinking adversarially and in terms of how much/little can they get/ get away with. It has become a battle between them in which they have forgotten the real issue – which is how to meet their children’s needs. This is one of the many strengths of mediation compared to the legal route. It is based on interest-based negotiation with a focus on solutions that work for you both and where your children’s needs are central.

Call us on 01908 231132 or info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Separating well

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.

4. See 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.

For further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at www.focus-mediation.co.uk. Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

Don’t call my marriage a failure!

I recently met Sue (name changed) whilst on holiday. Sue had been married for 25 years and divorced for 3. She told me she detests the term ‘failed marriage’ and gets very angry if anyone insinuates her marriage was a failure. In her opinion her marriage hadn’t failed – it had actually been very successful. They had grown up together and shared many firsts. They met at 17 and married 2 years later. They purchased their first home together, raised two children, built a successful family business and supported each other through Sue’s cancer and the death of their respective fathers. That in her book didn’t constitute failure. They had been a good team and their children had been raised in a loving and nurturing home. They had their ups and downs – but she said who doesn’t! Sue said she still believes in the institution of marriage and entered the marriage believing it was a commitment for life. However, people change and it wasn’t to last.

marriage failure

Sue said that she had enjoyed some very supportive friendships over the years but that she isn’t close or even in touch with all of her friends now. One close friend, who had children the same age as Sue, had emigrated. Contact had over time reduced to birthdays and Christmas cards. Sue said she loved her friend and asked whether I considered the friendship a failure. I said no and that friendships ebb and flow.  However, I said we don’t contract to spend the rest of our life with a friend and so friendship couldn’t be compared to marriage in that sense. ‘True’ she said ‘but people change and want different things from life.’ She felt that as a married couple they had made a very difficult but brave decision to ‘set each other free’. They didn’t bring the best out of each other. They had different hopes for their future and very different interests. A third party wasn’t involved. They didn’t known when they married how much they would change as people over the years. They simply had little in common except for their children and shared history. They holidayed together during the marriage but he liked cycling and walking holidays and Sue wanted to sit by a swimming pool and read. At home he liked nights in and she liked socialising with friends. His home was his sanctuary and she liked friends to visit her there. Sue said she had been divorced for 3 years and her ex now had a new partner and was very happy. The formation of her husband’s new relationship hadn’t been easy for her to observe, but she still didn’t regret their decision. She also pointed out that if the marriage had ended due to the death of either spouse, that the union would have been celebrated and viewed as a long and happy marriage. She didn’t feel ready to share her life with anyone else but hoped her future would involve a new relationship.

Sue said they had managed to remain friends. It hadn’t been easy at first and they both had needed space and time to heal. However they were now able to spend time together with their children and it wasn’t awkward. Clearly Sue didn’t see the end of her marriage as a failure. Neither did I. Of course marriage should not be entered into lightly or viewed as a temporary arrangement. However, realistically not all marriages last a lifetime. Perhaps whether or not a marriage is viewed as a failure shouldn’t be determined by it’s length but by it’s successes and how well it ends. When someone has enjoyed a long and illustrious career but is no longer able to perform due to ill health, we don’t judge success on how well they performed at the end. We look at the career as a whole and commend achievements attained over the years. Sue chose to focus on the successes her marriage produced and the happy memories. I admire her positive mindset.

Call Focus Mediation on 01908 231132 for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at www.focus-mediation.co.uk. Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

What children wish divorced parents knew

I am a family mediator and child consultant and trained to listen to children. I help children to talk about their wishes and feelings.  Direct Child Consultation can take place if both parents agree and the children are about 10 or over, depending on maturity. Giving children a voice (not to be confused with allowing them to make decisions) can empower and help children so they know their feelings are important to their parents. Children often find it easier to speak to an impartial professional, as they can worry about hurting their parent’s feelings.  I often ask adult clients who have experienced their parent’s separation as a child, what they wish their parent’s had known at that time. Here are some of the most common answers, both from adults and children;

What children wish divorced parents knew

What do you wish your parents had known that you didn’t tell them?

1. I love you both and that won’t ever change.

The divorce doesn’t make me love either of you any less. Please don’t make me choose between you. I can’t. I need you both.

2. I don’t want to hear negative things about the other parent; it hurts me.

When you criticise each other, you make me feel insecure and anxious. Please don’t criticise each other to me, or let me hear you criticising each other to anyone else. I feel protective of you both. I feel torn. I am part of both of you.

3. Tell me the truth, don’t lie to me; but don’t tell me all the details.

If we are moving home, I want to know so I can prepare. I don’t like things being sprung on me. It makes me feel unimportant and an ‘after thought’. However, please don’t make me a shoulder to cry on or your confidant for the divorce. Talk to your friends or even a therapist about the divorce. Nobody wants to hear intimate private information about their parents’ marriage; even as an adult.

4. Please don’t argue when I can see or hear.

I heard a lot of arguments when you lived together. I thought you separated so that you could stop upsetting each other. It hurts me that you still argue. Can’t you be civil for my sake? You don’t have to be friends, but I do need you to talk to each other about me. When you do I feel safe. What will happen at my graduation or wedding? I need you to be in the same room without an atmosphere and to support me.

Please don’t use me as a messenger and then get cross if I forget a message or get it wrong. Please don’t use me as a middle man to find out information about what the other is doing. It makes me feel used and that you have an ulterior motive for spending time with me.

5. Don’t try and buy my affection.

I want to spend time with you because I love you. I value your time, not what you can buy me. I don’t always need or want expensive gifts and trips. They sometimes make me feel uncomfortable. I want you. Even if I am angry with you and our relationship needs work, expensive presents won’t help.

6. When I’m upset or angry it’s not always because of the separation.

Not everything is your fault, my other parent’s fault, or because of the separation. Sometimes I feel moody, upset or angry and that’s just normal for my age.

7. Don’t try and make me part of an immediate new family with your new partner.

Don’t introduce me to someone unless it’s serious. Give me time to get to know the other person on my terms. Don’t force the issue. Make sure I still get to spend plenty of time alone with you. I may resent him/her if they are always with us. I see less of you than I did before and I don’t want to share all of our time with your new partner, it makes me feel I don’t count.

8. It can be hard to go between two homes and two parents sometimes.

That’s not because I don’t want to see you both. I need time to adjust each time I go to and fro.  It’s new to me and can feel strange. It’s made so much easier if you both talk to each other and are polite when I go from one parent to the other. Walking away from one parent and towards another can make me feel anxious, especially when you won’t talk to each other or if you argue.

9. I need emotional permission to love you both.

I’m perceptive and pick up on nuances; so even if you don’t say you don’t want me to see my other parent, or that you are angry with them, I will still know. I worry about making you unhappy. When I don’t feel guilty about spending time with each parent, I feel safe and happy. Knowing it’s ok to mention them, makes me feel relaxed and secure.

10. Be there to listen when I need you, but don’t push me to talk about my feelings.

Listen to me and let me know you are there if I want to talk about my feelings. If I feel unable to talk to you about something, don’t pressure me. Let me know its ok to speak to another safe adult; including my other parent, a teacher, a family member or a family friend. Don’t make me feel disloyal for doing so. Sometimes I don’t tell you things as I don’t want to hurt you – I know you are having a tough time too.

Assume nothing

My friend has a postcard pinned over her desk reminding her to “Assume nothing”. It is a piece of advice given by her therapist to help her resist self-destructive trains of thought. “She is married so she must be happier than I am”; “They have a nice house so they must be richer than me”; “I’ve messed up in my previous job/relationship so I expect I’ll mess up in this one”. Why assume those negatives? What do you know – really know – about any of those scenarios?

assume nothing

I was reminded of all this the other day when I met a man for his first mediation meeting (his MIAM). My conventional small talk as we introduced ourselves was met with one-word answers, and even when we were seated, he batted away my questions with uninformative responses and a blank stare. I assumed he was a man of few words who would rather not communicate with anyone.

I managed somehow to push things along, persuade him to engage – and blow me down, it turned out he was a professional speaker and made a decent living addressing rooms full of people, motivating them to support charitable activities.

Mediators avoid making assumptions

Mediators have specific strategies for avoiding assumptions. They are trained in active listening: they focus intensely on what their clients are saying, often interrupting them to confirm they have understood correctly, and to check out the impressions they are forming. “Have I got this right? Am I correct in thinking…?” They do their level best not to form opinions or pass judgement. That’s possibly why clients say they feel relieved at the end of their MIAM: they had assumed they would be quizzed and judged, and actually, what happens is that for the first time for ages, they are listened to and heard. It feels good.

In mediation, we take you as you are, find out as much as we can about you both, and then help you cut through assumptions you may have made about each other. That too can be a huge relief. Being able to ask questions about the other person’s finances, or the way they are parenting the children, and get answers, can clear up a lot of resentment based on assumptions that had no foundation in fact.

“Assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me” – another useful reflection. Maybe I’ll pin that over my desk as well …

Why should I forgive my ex?

You feel hurt, angry and confused. You want an amicable divorce or separation, but you don’t feel you know your ex anymore. What will they do next? Trust is a distant memory or has been seriously eroded. You struggle to communicate at all.  How on earth can you resolve child arrangements, housing needs, maintenance and pensions? It all feels insurmountable.

Issuing court proceedings for finances or child arrangements is likely to throw petrol on to the fire.  Sometimes it’s the only option – but those situations are rare. Giving evidence against each other and cross examination creates a war you have to win. Yet the reality is that there are seldom any winners. A judge must find fairness – fairness doesn’t manifest itself in the form of a huge victory for one against the other. How can it, when the Judge needs to consider meeting both your needs and the needs of the children? Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence. 84 family courts have closed or are closing at a rate of knots and legal aid is almost non-existent. The Ministry of Justice doesn’t want you there – they know it’s not the place for families. The MoJ and the judges know family mediated agreements have longevity and are more likely to be complied with. People are far more likely to stick to agreements they have made.

Why Should I Forgive my Ex

Many couples mediate – but why don’t more? Some fear their settlement will be less advantageous than a court imposed decision. That’s wrong – and even if you were to get a court decision slightly weighted in your favour, what about the legal fees? They are likely to be many thousands of pounds, which makes a big hole in any advantage. Some couples struggle to pick up the phone and arrange mediation, as they are too hurt and angry. They just can’t forgive and need to feel vindicated by the court. When an affair is involved or you just haven’t been treated well, this is often the driving force behind litigation. You can and should have legal advice throughout the mediation process – and your lawyer will tell you that it is well settled that behaving badly is not relevant to the division of finances or the children at court. So other than being able to avoid a painful, protracted and expensive court case, why else should you forgive your ex?

Your reward for forgiveness

  1. Forgiving your ex benefits you

Forgiveness is the key to moving forward – without it you will remain stuck. Forgiveness isn’t a selfless act – letting go of negative thoughts will allow you to feel more positive about your future.

  1. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning or tolerating bad behaviour

Letting go of resentment will make you feel more at peace and can help to stop you feeling your ex has any control over you. You can’t change how they behave but you can change how you respond to them and how you let it impact you.

  1. Stop waiting for an apology

Clients often tell me that they just need an apology or at least an acknowledgement that they have been wronged. As a mediator I have had the privilege of facilitating some genuine and well received apologies, not something that happens any other way.  Acknowledgment of feelings and hurt is a frequent component of mediation, which builds real understanding between separating couples. Interestingly, they seem to occur when the recipient and I least expect them! However, to heal you need to accept that you may never receive an apology and even If you do – you may find that it doesn’t feel as complete or sincere as you had hoped.

  1. Children suffer immeasurably from parental conflict

Children who experience prolonged parental conflict are less likely to meet educational and developmental milestones. They are also less likely as an adult to maintain a long term relationship with a spouse. Children blame themselves and can suffer from low self-esteem, which can adversely affect many aspects of their lives. Ask yourself – what do your children mostly see you both argue about? Is the answer ‘them’? If so to the children it’s simple – they are to blame! Forgive your ex so you can move forward and let your children flourish.

  1. Negative feelings can damage your physical health as well as your mental wellbeing

Negative emotions and reliving hurtful experiences can cause symptoms from headaches, fatigue and high blood pressure to back and neck problems and reduced immunity.  Holding on to negative feelings hurts you more than your ex.   

  1. Forgive or risk anger turning into bitterness

If you don’t release the negative emotions, they can turn to bitterness and this can feel toxic to those around you. You become unable to enjoy the things that used to make you happy – you see life through a bitter lens.

So how do you forgive an ex? 

  1. It’s ok to admit that your ex really hurt you

Acknowledging the hurt that was inflicted upon you is not a sign of weakness. Consider keeping a diary or writing letters to yourself and explore your feelings, hopes and wishes. The process can be cathartic. Committing the feelings to paper can be the first step to leaving them in your past. Set yourself some small goals; perhaps you will promise to walk the dog every day and get some fresh air and exercise.

  1. Decide not to live your life as a victim of your separation

Consider what the painful process has taught you. Are there any positives? In the early days they can be hard to find – but new beginnings are often disguised in painful endings. Jo Woods, often referred to as long suffering former wife of ‘Rolling Stone’ Ronnie Woods, recently spoke about her devastation when Ronnie had an affair and left her after 23 years of marriage. She said she eventually realised it was for the best. One day she had an epiphany whilst struggling to reach the summit of a mountain. At the peak she decided to forgive Ronnie as she realised that to do so would set her free. She is quoted as saying, “Ronnie, I forgive you. I’m not willing to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to be strong and I’m going to make the most of the rest of my days.’

Quote by Jo Woods from the Daily Mail

The Child Maintenance Service – suggestions for reform

We are not talking about the majority of non-resident parents, who mostly pay all they should pay and often more. We are talking about those parents who are determined to avoid supporting their children, even when they could easily afford to do so.  They see the avoidance of supporting their children as a type of game – or a battle, perhaps because they want to do the other parent down, to ‘win,’ even though as a result their offspring suffer. We saw this in the recent case of the pensioner father with over £5m in assets who avoids supporting his son by depressing his income. He does this by not earning or drawing from his pension funds or paying support from his capital.

Child Maintenance Service

There are sadly too many such cases. The self-employed working for cash and under-declaring their income to HMRC may pay little child support on the low income the tax authorities are aware of. Worse still are those who don’t work and live off substantial capital investments and gains. They may pay virtually nothing to support their children and be millionaires. The tax-payer props up their families with tax credits and universal credit. Unfair.

Judge Mostyn is calling for reform. The government say it is too complicated to make it fair for everyone. Yet there are some simple options as follows:

  1. Capital gains inside and over the exempt amount for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) must be declared on your tax returns. This could be added to income and child maintenance could be levied on it. If not in all circumstances, in cases where maintenance of less than a certain amount is being paid
  2. Child maintenance could be payable from unearned income such as rent and dividends, interest and the rest of it. It’s already payable on pension incomes – but some people avoid drawing their pension income to avoid paying child maintenance, so
  3. In circumstances where no child maintenance or very little is being paid, it should be ordered as a percentage of the capital value of the liable parent’s pensions. 3% would arguably be right.

If the parent responsible for supporting their child won’t co-operate, then there must be penalties that benefit the child. So in the event of non-disclosure and failure to co-operate then there should be power to order an attachment of a pension fund or other asset, such as a bank account. Much of the requisite information will be on such wealthy parents’ tax returns. Many of them would not defraud HMRC – this being a criminal offence for which they could be jailed. We also need a public information exercise. Not supporting your children is unacceptable and anti-social. Society and children deserve better.

Summer Activities for families in Bedford & Bedfordshire

  • Box End Park, Kempston, Beds. Kids Aqua Multi Activities boxendpark.com Tel: 01234 846222

‘Box End Park is a truly unique destination within the UK. Incorporating an amazing, giant Aqua-park, premium Water-ski and Wakeboarding facilities, a lakeside bar and restaurant and meeting and function rooms. We offer brilliant activities for both adults and children. Click on the links below to learn more about what you can do.’

  • Woburn Safari Park. Road and Foot Safari with soft play area, railway, high ropes, outdoor play area, plus handle and meet the animals info@woburnsafari.co.uk Tel: 01525 290407
  • Open Air Theatre Swiss Gardens, Old Warden, Beds – Wind in the Willows show; Friday 25 August 2017. Gates open 5.30pm and show starts at 6.30pm. Tel: 01767 627933
  • Open Air Theatre Bedford Park, Bedford – Wind in the Willows Saturday 2 September 2017 Tel: 01234 351104
  • Bedford Town Centre Beach and Children’s Fare, Harpur Square, Bedford. 6 to 13 August 2017. Punch and July shows and rides. Free entry. Tel: 07976 813639
  • Higgins Gallery and Museum Castle Lane, Bedford. Free entry to museum on Fridays and after 4pm Tuesday to Thursday. Family drop in sessions for Arts and Crafts and museum tour. 22/23/25/29/30 August and 1 September. Times 11am/12noon/2pm/3pm for 1 hour. Price £2.70. No booking required. Children must be aged 3 and above and must be accompanied by an adult. Separate exhibitions include Edward Bawden (Artist and Designer) Shorts Brothers (Airships built in Bedford) and Art of the Victorians. higgins@bedford.gov.uk Tel: 01234 718618
  • Wimpole Hall, Arrington SG8 0BW Tel: 01223 206000 National Trust owned hall and farm. Junior 2 KM park run every Sunday for ages between 4 and 14 years. Free. Meet the animals at Home Farm and walk in the park on Wednesdays through the summer holidays from 11am to 1pm. Free. Harvest Folk and Farm to include music, songs and celebration from 28 August to 3 September  2017 between 2-4 pm (Tel: 0344 800 1895)

Bedford Summer Activities for Kids 2017

  • Jungle Jims 5 Tyne Road, Middlefield Industrial Estate Sandy Beds SG19 1SA. Indoor play centre. Tel: 01767 682808
  • Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable Beds LU6 2LF. 2,500 rare and exotic animals. Be a keeper for the day and explore the animal trial. Tel: 01582 872171
  • Bird of Prey Activity Farm , Herrings Green Farm, Cotton End Road, Wilstead, Beds MK45 3DT. Tel: 01234 742362 Pat a Pet. Owl Flying. Shire Horses
  • Lego Brick Wonders, Stockwood Discovery Centre, London Road, Luton. Lego recreating sights and monuments from around the world. July 22 to 3 September 2017. Tel 01582 878100
  • Magical Fairy Trails at the Swiss Gardens, Old Warden, Beds 1-31 August 2017 enquiries to shuttleworth.org
  • Gulliver’s Theme Park, Summer Finale with fireworks in the evening on 2 September 2017 gullivers.co.uk

 

Gingerbread & Mostyn J call for urgent reform so parental capital is taken into account by CMS

Mr Justice Mostyn has again called for urgent child maintenance reform. He is frustrated that some asset rich non-resident parents pay nothing or as little as £7 per week child maintenance. Since the child maintenance reforms 5 years ago, a non-resident parent’s assets are no longer taken into account when calculating child maintenance as only taxable income is included. The result is that in a significant minority of cases, there is a loophole that allows a wealthy non-resident parent to avoid taking appropriate financial responsibility for their child.

Green v Adams May 2017 EWFC 24

Green v Adams May [2017] EWFC 24

In May 2017, Mostyn J heard an already heavily litigated case between unmarried parents. The mother who was on a low part time income and in receipt of tax credits, made an application for singular items of capital provision for her 16 year old son under Schedule 1, to the Children Act, 1989.He awarded lump sums amounting to £20,600 to cover current capital needs of the son (car for mum, laptop, trips…) His father, 65, owned properties valued at over £5,000,000, had substantial savings and a pension fund of £1,350,000. He had already taken a pension tax free lump sum of £450,000 in the tax year 2011/2012. Father’s child maintenance payments were based on his state pension as that was his only income for the purposes of the Child Maintenance Service’s (CMS) calculator.  He lived with his elderly parents as their carer and in n return they ‘kept’ him. Mostyn J questioned at what point he would receive an income from his pension ( Mostyn J calculated it to be £70,000 per annum). Father said he had to wait until he was 67.

Mostyn J felt he was evasive and could receive the pension income immediately if desired. Under current child maintenance rules, the court can only award periodical payments under schedule 1 to ‘top up’ child maintenance payments if the CMS has awarded a resident parent the highest child maintenance award. As this wasn’t the case, and as mother had not been married to father, her only option was to apply under schedule 1 for singular items of capital expenditure. Mostyn J said ‘for reasons which I cannot fathom the assets ground of variation has been removed from this latest regime. Therefore, it is possible, as in this case, for a father to live on his capital, which may be very substantial indeed, and to pay no child support at all.’ He went on to say that he felt the ‘parsimonious approach’ to the support of his son was little short of scandalous. He called for the urgent reinstatement of the old rules to take into account a parent’s assets.

Action since Mostyn J’s call for urgent child maintenance reform

Conservative MP David Burrows on behalf of the mother raised the issue in parliament and proposed a bill to ensure that assets were taken into account in future. He said, ‘the boy should not be made to pay the price of low child maintenance contributions simply because the father has a clever accountant who can help to hide his assets.’ Gingerbread, a charity which promotes equality of single parents has produced a report ‘children deserve more; challenging child maintenance avoidance’. Click here for the full report.  The report states that the child maintenance service’s loophole denies children the financial support they deserve. It explains that the CMS is supposed to calculate and when necessary enforce the payments that children need. However, the reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. It believes the system lets resident parents down. In particular, it is critical of the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HMRC. It highlighted how paying parents with often considerable assets can end up paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments. It argues that the CSA was not fit for purpose and nor is the CMS. It said, ‘Parents who believe they are receiving less than their children are entitled to frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS, or being kept in the dark about their options. Since the calculation is based on HRMC information, single  parents often find themselves being passed back and forth between the two organisations, with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation.’

Gingerbread Director of Policy Dalia Ben-Galim went further and said, ‘Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.’ Gingerbread is calling for the government to set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion, including far greater co-ordination between the CMS and HMRC when assessing incomes and greater support for parents who wish to challenge assessments.

Green v Adams August [2017] EWFC 52

The case returned before Mostyn J regarding consequential issues arising from the principle judgement.  Mostyn J again bemoaned the abolition of the assets ground of variation and urged the government to consider its reinstatement. He said he had read with interest the Gingerbread report.  He said the report recorded that the CMS had explained that, compared to the CSA, the scope of income which could be captured by a possible variation had been widened to include almost all sources of gross income identified in the self-assessment process. The author of the report he said rightly pointed out that this was a non-sequitur because the assets ground of variation was focussed on people who arrange their affairs so that they do not have any income but who rather live on their capital. He said the relevant minister then said that the CMS doesn’t attempt to provide a unique, bespoke solution in respect of the care of each child, as it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to do so. Mostyn J argued that the scheme should strive to provide solutions in every case and that ‘justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of managerial efficiency. Ease of administration surely does not furnish an objectively reasonable justification for a process that allows a multi-millionaire father to get away with paying child support for his son of a mere £7 per week.’ He concluded that if the ground is not reinstated that he could foresee more cases seeking singular awards of capital and the family court taking an ever more expansive view of what constitutes singular expenditure.

We wait to see what happens next. However, Mostyn J is clear that without CMS reform the courts may look for ways to provide more generous capital awards to remedy the unfairness some children and their resident parent face.