The Right Rites – Part 2 of 3

Part 1 – Rites of passage are important. We celebrate marriage, birth and death with rituals and gatherings; weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, leaving parties & naming ceremonies. The list is endless. We mark these important milestones because we feel it is important to do so. It is a part of being human; it is part of who we are.

The Right Rites Part 2 of a 3 part blog

There is no recognised rite of passage for separation and divorce. Yet the grief experienced on such separation can be every bit as painful as on death, possibly worse, as ending a relationship is a choice implying someone is at fault, but you don’t usually choose to die. The ending of a relationship says something additional, shared life is over by choice, there may be some blame in this. This extra dimension elicits extra painful emotions and often conflict.

Separation and the Grieving Cycle

The grieving cycle involves a journey through denial, anger, blame and often depression before acceptance can be achieved and people can move on. It takes time and couples travel at different speeds and get there at different times. Frequently one of them (or both) are so angry that they experience powerful instincts to fight their new enemy, to hurt them back, to try and get more for themselves, to try and lose less.  In this fragile state they may rush into aggressive litigation and find themselves stuck on that path. Such instincts are powerful, can take over and make rational thinking impossible and lead to poor decision-making. To understand this better we will look at some common wrong rites which are really ritualised revenge, which is often experienced on separation. Ways of getting someone back, of striking at your nearly ex:

  • A furious mother may stop children seeing their father, running him down, turning them against him. This hurts the children badly.
  • An angry father may stop paying the mortgage on the family home or supporting his family. This causes terrible anxiety and insecurity.
  • There may be an emotional explosion, the police may be called, an injunction sought, with an exclusion from the home.
  • Someone might issue court proceedings to ‘take their ex to the cleaners;’ have a ritualised fight via fierce letters and court.
  • Many threats and angry exchanges take place escalating the conflict which rapidly acquires a life of its own.

These activities are common, instinctive rites of passage and are frequently motivated by displaced grief. They are completely illogical and keep people stuck in fighting mode over everything and nothing.  People think it’s what you do in this situation. You must fight for what’s yours or you’ll lose out. Yet fighting is destructive and expensive in every possible way and does not produce good solutions.  The release of anger through court and similar rites of passage may feel cathartic – but it does not produce good solutions, just pain and more anger. And revenge. Often fighting costs more of the value of the difference between people – which is truly mad, yet these legalistic processes do nothing to deal with the underlying problem and so get hi-jacked for an emotional journey that is irrelevant to the legal process. 

A Better Way

Once people have worked through their worst grief – especially if they have received some counselling or steep legal bills – they often regret the path they have set and wish to change direction. This is where mediation can help – as it is an opportunity jointly to decide to take a different more constructive route together at the same time, to set new ground rules as a separated couple, create a new and better shared expectation for the future. Fraught couples can experience a different, creative and positive focus, a new rite of passage, without fighting. It is never too late to mediate. It’s never too late for an outbreak of sanity. We need to make the court rule that says ‘costs must be proportionate to the value of a case’ actually work. All it takes is for judges everywhere to refer all cases to mediation where the joint costs are close to or exceed 20% of the case value. Huge numbers of cases will then settle instead of lumbering on to trial with people thinking there is no way out of their litigation. See my next blog on this ‘Stop the Madness!’

The way things end is important, we remember endings forever along with how everything began. Choose a decent ending you won’t regret and be ashamed of. Choose mediation, whatever stage you’re at, because it helps.

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

 

 

 

Crime and Punishment – Part 1 of 3

We grow up understanding that when we do wrong we must face the consequences, pay the price, take our medicine. We know if we commit serious crimes we will go to prison and that less serious crimes are also punished with fines, suspended sentences, community service orders and tagging. People don’t believe you should be able to do wrong and get away with it. However, what about ‘wrongs’ that are not crimes, not illegal but which hurt very much? What about abandoning your partner? What about committing adultery, desertion, cruelty and other unreasonable behaviour?

Crime and Punishment Part 1 of a 3 part blog focus mediation

There is quite rightly a movement to take the blame out of divorce and make it into an administrative process where no allegations of fault can be made. This has to be right as it is well settled law that the reasons a marriage ended does not affect arrangements for time with the children (unless the behaviour distresses them) or the financial settlement. The only exceptions are if it falls into a vanishingly rare category of cases where the behaviour is so unreasonable it would be inequitable to disregard it. For most purposes that means forget it, ordinary unreasonable behaviour won’t suffice. You probably need fraudulent financial conduct, forged signatures, and making off with the money – most ordinary divorces come nowhere near the level of conduct required. Having a secret affair and even a hidden child is not relevant conduct. Emotional ‘crimes’ are less likely to count than financial crimes, where there is room for the view that the person who reduces the matrimonial pot should pay the price for that.

An Ex Getting Away with Murder

There is no doubt that some people faced with the end of their relationship get very stuck on the reasons it ended. They may find it impossible to accept that their ex had an affair and that’s just what happens. They may strongly believe their ex must suffer a penalty, albeit not a true crime in the sense of behaviour that is charged, proven then punished through the criminal courts. We do not stone people to death for adultery. For the ‘innocent party’ this can feel hugely wrong and unfair. They see their ex ‘Getting away with murder’ so to speak. They believe s/he should suffer, pay the price and that price is that they should have less money or time with the children and they as the innocent party should have more money, an exclusive relationship with their children. . whatever. Of course this is not how it works. Children need a relationship with both parents and should not have to choose. Also, you are not rewarded with a more generous divorce settlement because your ex had an affair or was in some other way ‘at fault’. Yet still that feeling of injustice persists – not your fault – their fault – they should suffer you should not. Retribution is required.

The truth is the person who suffers the most in these situations is the person who cannot detach emotionally from the situation and let the relationship go, who cannot soothe their anger and move on with their life. There has been no crime and there will be no punishment. It’s not a criminal offence for a relationship to end – and most marriages die quietly when no one’s looking. So what should society offer as an alternative to adapting the principles of crime and punishment to family break-down?

Truth & Reconciliation

I’d like to propose a family version of Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, now the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, which has been copied world-wide it is so successful. This is not with a view to saving the relationship, but with a view to constructing a forum in which things that need to be said can be said and heard and people can be helped to come to terms with divorce. We know that this type of process works and allows healing to take place and people to move on. How and why?

When people have been hurt and wronged they often feel upset, angry and outraged. They want this understood and acknowledged by their oppressor and they may want revenge and punishment. They need to be heard, this need is huge and there is currently no forum for it in family break-down where it is badly needed – otherwise it will continue to burst out inappropriately.  So we should set up a process for helping people to come to terms with the end of their relationship and where children want to be included this should be facilitated. We might call this The Acknowledgment and Acceptance Forum (AAF) and it would be informally facilitated by someone trained to run it. I’m not a therapist but as a mediator I have had to help people with a version of this many times – in order to start the work of mediation. This is what might happen:

  • Each person explains their pain and their ex’s effect on them
  • They must listen to each other and acknowledge each other’s pain and any responsibility they have for this
  • Things that people need to say can be said, heard and acknowledged
  • The facilitator helps understanding with explanations and interpretation, normalising and summarising. They reality check assertions and try to establish some sort of shared understanding about events if such is possible
  • The couple may realise they may never agree on the ‘truth,’ they have their own beliefs about what happened, this is normal and they need to let it go anyway
  • The parties are helped to come to terms with the end of the relationship, there may be forgiveness but it isn’t necessary – acceptance is enough
  • There may be apologies, acknowledgment of wrongs done so rage can subside along with any sense of injustice, so people can move on

The problem we have at the moment is there is no way for this emotional journey to be facilitated and without it the angst breaks out inappropriately in other forums such as court proceedings, solicitor’s letters, fights about children and the money. We need a Rite of Passage for broken families – next week see part two of this blog The Right Rites.

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

Activities and Places to Visit for children in Beds, Bucks and Herts Summer 2018

The Higgins Museum and The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery

Castle Lane, Bedford MK40 0PF

Craft activities throughout the summer on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Exhibition by the artist Edward Bawden entitiled Bawden’s Beasts

St Albans Museum and Gallery

Market Place, St Peters Street, St Albans, Herts AL3 5DJ

Opened in June 2018. Visit the old court room and prison cells and find out about the history of St Albans. Free family activity trails from 28 July 2018.

Knebworth House Dino Adventure

Knebworth, Herts SG1 2AX

Dino Adventure: Saturday 18 August 2018 – Experience the pre-historic world of the dinosaurs

Knebworth Country Crafts and Steam Fair: Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 August 2018 – Including birds of prey, steam engines, children’s entertainers and horseback displays

Days Out

 

Bletchley Park

Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes ,Bucks MK3 6EB

Play the games of the codebreakers: Chess and Challenges – every Tuesday and Thursday  from 31 July to 30 August 2018

Wrest Park

Silsoe, Beds MK45 4HR

Listen to the Summer Bands playing over the bank holiday on Sunday 26 and Monday 27 August 2018 between 12 noon and 4 pm and explore the grounds with an activity pack and audio trail.

Chiltern Open Air Museum

Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks HP8 4AB

Take part in Medieval Pagaentry and Vicious Vikings and Tudors on Thursdays from 26 July to 30 August 2018.

Explore this historic working farm and see the preserved historical buildings.

Shuttleworth Collection

Old Wareden Aerodrome, Hill Lane,Biggleswade, Beds SG18 9EP

Family Air Show on Sunday 5 August 2018 and The Flying Proms on Saturday 18 August 2018

Visit the museum with vintage aircraft,cars, motorcycles and agricultural exhibits – all in working order.

Stockwood Discovery Centre

Stockwood Park Golf Course, London Road, Luton LU1 4LX

Various workshops to include a Lego workshop, a Very hungry caterpillar workshop and a Bear hunt workshop throughout the holidays.

Forest of Marston Vale

Station Road, Marston Mortaine, Beds MK43 0PR

Activities will take place throughout the summer holidays to include Wild Artwork in the woods and Dragonfly Safari

Royston Cave

Melbourne Street, Royston, Beds SG8 7DA.

Visit this unique man-made cavern in the shape of a bee hive which is thought to date from the 13th century and covered in ornate carvings.

Natural History Museum Tring

Akeman Street, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP

Discover the special exhibition ‘What’s in the Woods’. A hands on exhibit to discover the sights and sounds and smells woodland spaces.

With summer activities in Tribal den building, Prehistoric detectives and Ice Age cave art.

Verulamium Musuem St Albans

St Michaels, St Albans, Herts AL3 4SW

Find out about life in Roman Britain. Take part in activities and dressing up and explore the remains of the Roman town

Leighton Buzzard Railway

Pages Park Station, Billington Road. Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 4TN

Heritage steam railway and working museum. Enjoy a 70 minute return train ride.

Go Ape Woburn

Woburn Park, Woburn, Beds MK17 9QN

Tarzan swings, rope ladders and zip wire. See the elephants in the safari park from high in the tree top walkways.

Compiled by: Elaine Clarke, Family Mediator, 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

Free Family days out in Hertfordshire 2018

The school summer holidays are a few days away. At Focus Mediation, we appreciate entertaining the children over the summer can seriously stretch family finances. Days out don’t have to cost a fortune to be entertaining and memorable though. Sara Stoner, Lawyer mediator at our Potters Bar and Broxbourne office, has compiled a list of some of her children’s favourite free days out. “After some family days out I have felt like I have spent a small fortune. However, some of the best days out with my children have been free and very simple. Visiting large open spaces and bringing a picnic, football and friends for them to run around with, has created some very happy memories. My favourite days involve joining in with the children’s games and then watching them play. My top tip is to buy a cheap foldable chair and watch the children in comfort! Now that does make me sound old, doesn’t it?”

Free Entry

  • Stanborough Park Activity Centre, Stanborough Road, Welwyn Garden City, Herts, AL8 6DF. Whilst there are some paid for attractions within the park, entry is free and there are plenty of open spaces and a stream for paddling in. Bring towels and water proof shoes. Dogs allowed. It’s website says the park includes, Fishing, Nature Trails, Children’s Play Area, Water sports Activity Centre, Rowing Boats, Pedal Boats & Water Walkers, Model Boating Lake, Terranova Restaurant (south side), Stanborough Coffee Shop (south side), Kiosk providing drinks and snack (north side only), Bouncy Castles and Healthy Walks’.

http://www.finesseleisure.com/parks/stanborough-park

  • Rye Meads Nature Reserve, Rye Road Stanstead Abbotts Hertfordshire, Stanstead Abbots SG12 8JS

The RSPB website describes the nature reserve as;

A great family trip; visit this delightful wetland reserve beside the River Lee. Rye Meads is a favourite with walkers, birdwatchers and photographers too. There are wheelchair-friendly trails, and 10 hides (come just to see the amazing murals!) look out over the reed beds, wet meadows, open water and artificial sandbanks, which are a great place to spot the blue flash of a kingfisher.’

Read more at; http://www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/reserves/rye-meads

  • Tring Natural History Museum, The Walter Rothschild Building, Akeman Street, Tring, HP23 6AP

Explore the museum which houses one of the largest collections of stuffed mammals, birds, reptiles and insects in the United Kingdom. There is a drop-in session for toddlers and group sessions for children to explore natural history in the grounds of the museum.

Discover more at; http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/tring.html

  • Lee Valley Regional Parks

10,000 acres to explore. Walking and cycle paths are surrounded by nature. Explore and discover new sights on each visit. Not to be missed; Amwell Nature Reserve (SG12 9SN), Stanstead Innings (SG12 8HL), Flen Fabo and Dobbs weir (CM19 5EX) and River Lee Country Park   (EN10 6LQ). Children are fascinated by the colourful barges moored along the canal and they may even get the opportunity to help open a canal lock.

This year Lee Valley Parks are marking their 50th Anniversary. There are lots of family events planned for the summer holidays. The website lists routes for popular walks. My children’s favourite is the Artworks Route number three, as the giant wooden chair is located on this route.  Lee Valley Farm isn’t free, but at £16 per person for entry for the whole summer, it may be worth the investment.  The farm has many summer activities planned. Visit the Lea Valley White Water Centre. Entry is free and you can watch the white water rafting. There is a free large sand pit for children to play in. The centre has a great atmosphere and you may even catch a glimpse of an Olympian training! https://www.visitleevalley.org.uk/, https://www.lvfarms.co.uk/visit, https://www.gowhitewater.co.uk/visitor-info.

gREAT dAYS oUT

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

Why Does Empathy Matter in Forgiveness?

Last month, I witnessed an extraordinary meeting. The man who was responsible for the Brighton bombing in 1984 sat next to the daughter of one of the men his actions had killed, and together they discussed empathy, and how it could change the world.

Why Does Empathy Matter in Forgiveness focus blog

I was at the UK College of Mediators’ annual conference. The man was Pat Magee of the IRA. The woman was Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry. It was Jo, who, after losing her father to the terrorist attack, realised she had a choice: to remain in the grip of blame and victim-hood, and to live with “an enemy” in her life, or to try to understand the man who was capable of ordering such violence. She asked to meet with Pat, and he eventually agreed. Their first conversation was in private, with no intermediaries, and lasted three hours. It led to an astonishing alliance that now seeks to help people build bridges all over the world, in all sorts of conflicted situations.

Pat spoke humbly to us of how he began his first talk with Jo driven by political allegiance but found his stand-point gradually eroded by her willingness – her eagerness – to understand him. Jo had begun the conversation full of fear at what she would find and overcame that fear by concentrating on what Pat might be feeling about meeting the daughter of the man he had killed. Pat, in turn found that Jo’s empathy disarmed him. His political beliefs were acting as a barrier to his understanding of the consequences of his actions; Jo’s curiosity, her genuine desire to understand him, dissolved his defensiveness and led him into true dialogue.

What role does empathy play in mediation?

It is key. It is vital. It is the bedrock of our process. Mediators work best when they take time to identify what their clients are feeling and respond with respectful attention and empathy. A couple in mediation will achieve more if they each listen hard to what the other person is saying and try to understand where he or she is coming from. Separated parents will do their children the best possible favour if they concentrate on forming a Parental Alliance that transcends the broken relationship between them as individuals.

Only with empathy can we bring peace into the room and generate an atmosphere in which differences can be managed and solutions proposed.

Watch the TED talk by Jo Berry on Empathy. It could change your life.

Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford & Milton Keynes

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

Sole Custody & The Fear Those Words Provoke

I wish I could ban words like ‘sole custody’, ‘access’ and ‘visitation’ from conversations between separated parents. These outdated words can unnecessarily provoke fear and conflict between them. They are not conducive to an amicable co-parenting relationship as they evoke images of ownership and power imbalance. I hear parents say in response, ‘I have parental rights’. Actually they have parental responsibilities. A child has rights and as long as it’s safe, it’s their basic right to know both of their parents and to spend time with each of them. Parents have a duty to facilitate this.

Sole Custody and The Fear Those Words Provoke focus blog

Divorce Forums

Today I read a post from a mother on a divorce forum and it prompted me to write this blog. Her 8 year old son had returned home after spending a few days with his father. He told her that his father said that when a child turns 12, they decide who will have sole custody and at that point he could choose his father instead of his mother. The mother explained there was no court order in place and that his father had 3 days a week ‘access’ to him and she had 4. Communication wasn’t great, but they were civil. She said she was terrified that her son would choose his father and she would lose him. She was frantically researching the law to see if her son’s father was right and he could ‘take her son away from her’ in a few years. This was my response to the mother.

 Hi, I’m a lawyer mediator. I appreciate that it must be very frightening to feel that you could lose your son. However, please try not to panic or be frightened, as I don’t believe that will happen. Old fashioned words like ‘sole custody,’ provoke fear in parents and this can very easily translate into parental conflict. If both parents are involved in a child’s life, (you say your son spends time with each of you and that you are both loving parents), then it’s best to try not to think in terms of custody and access. Your son has a right to spend plentiful time with each of you. Therefore, thinking about how you can both practically achieve this, is a much more positive way of looking at things. Your son has two homes and for children with separated parents, that’s their normality. So whilst I completely understand why you fear you will lose your son, as he has two loving parents who want to be involved in his life, there’s no reason for that to happen. He needs you both & you each have an important role to play in helping him to thrive. Maybe his father doesn’t feel he spends enough time with him and that’s why he has been thinking in these terms. Or maybe he feels the amount of time is fine, but the arrangements don’t work as well as they could. Perhaps you could talk to him about this and how the conversation with your son made you feel. Ask him what prompted the conversation. Does he feel he isn’t as involved as he would like to be in decisions about your son? What’s his fear? Positional statements usually come from a place of fear. How can you improve your parental communication? Would a weekly phone call help to keep you both in the loop and build trust and understanding? When communication is limited it’s easy to assume what the other is thinking. When it comes to discussing this situation with your son, it would be helpful to speak to his father first so you are both on the same page. Reassure your son. In your position I might say; “you have a mummy and daddy who both love you very much. You enjoy spending time with each of us and we love spending time with you. You never have to choose between us as you have two parents and two homes and will always spend time with each of us. We will always be your family. As you get older, we can regularly look at how you share your time with us and what works best for you and for us. We can all figure it out together as we go along. We will always be your parents and we will always love you…”

Simplify Co-Parenting after Separation

When parents live together they work out how they can meet their child’s needs in a very practical way. ‘I am working Monday and Tuesday and so can you pick up from school both days?’ When couples separate, they often want a more structured arrangement so they can plan ahead and are assured that they will spend time with their child. It’s helpful to agree that there can be some flexibility, so the arrangements aren’t too rigid and can meet a child’s changing needs. When we throw unhelpful words into the mix, it changes the conversation and dynamics. It’s important to focus on what works best for you all and not to get hung up on terminology. Mediation can create a safe space to have these discussions. The mediator ensures discussions are fair and balanced and that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. Sometimes it just takes one or two sessions with an impartial mediator to enable parents to get back on track.  It’s not always easy to communicate with a co-parent and there will always be challenges and bumps in the road. However, in years to come, it is something your child will understand you worked hard at and they will be immensely grateful for your efforts.

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 Blame Game in Mediation

I mediated a family case recently and whilst no two cases are the same, it involved the type of issues that I regularly encounter. Janet had felt unhappy and lonely in her marriage for some years. She raised this with John and suggested couple counselling. John felt that they just needed to spend more time together as a couple and not just as parents. They carried on for a couple of years and then something made Janet decide that they couldn’t continue (she was diagnosed with a serious illness). This completely changed her outlook on life and she said that life wasn’t a dress rehearsal. She felt they couldn’t make each other happy anymore and she wanted a divorce. John was distraught. He suggested couple counselling and Janet said no. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t willing to try and save a long and mainly happy relationship. Janet got angry – she had begged him to work on their marriage for years and he had refused. She said she had accepted a long time ago that their relationship was over and now there was no going back.

the blame game in mediation

The Divorce Grief Process

When I met them for separate intake assessment meetings, they both elaborated on their feelings. Janet had felt lonely and isolated in their marriage. She felt John dismissed her concerns and shut her down.  She attended counselling on her own and realised it was their relationship and lack of communicating that made her feel depressed. John said that he was fighting for survival at work. They had a crippling mortgage and his company would let anyone go who didn’t reach targets. He said he tried to talk to her about his work issues but she dismissed him. He had also felt lonely within the marriage for some time. When they came together for their first joint mediation session, Janet had already spent many months grieving for their relationship. She had worked through emotions including denial, anger and depression. She was close to acceptance and had a desire to move forward. John was seriously playing catch-up. He was reeling and felt a mixture of shock, hurt and angr. Like many newly separated couples, they were living separately within the same household. This is often because couples can’t afford two homes or they receive legal advice that leaving will weaken their financial claims. Couples live in a pressure cooker – emotions can & will boil over at any time. John couldn’t understand how Janet was so calm and accepting when he was in so much pain. Didn’t she care? Couldn’t she see his world was crashing down around him? The reality was that she was at a very different stage of their separation journey, as they hadn’t started it together.

This couple were suffering from the inevitable stresses and strains of separation. However, they had the fortitude to use mediation and avoid spending tens of thousands of pounds on a court battle to determine finances.  They both wanted to retain control of their families’ future. They explained they needed closure – everyone was suffering. They couldn’t continue to live in a constant state of flux within the same household.

A Glimmer of Hope

The first joint session is often the first time couples have actively listened to one another for days, months or even years. Why? Because these difficult discussions usually end up in an argument or one person walks away. A mediator is like a referee – they make sure the conversations are fair and they create a safe space for difficult but essential discussions to take place. I liken it to cleaning out a cupboard; the mediator enables each to identify their concerns and discuss their worries. It feels messy, but until difficult subjects are identified and addressed, it’s impossible to begin reorganising and create some semblance of order. We discuss what they each need to move forward and we clear up misunderstanding. When we don’t communicate well, all that there is left to do is to assume. This exchange, whilst highly emotional, is often a relief to both. They see that it is possible to work through the issues that have arisen from their separation. They together focus on the problems and try and find solutions they can both live with. They discuss the children and it’s again a huge relief to share information about them. They often mirror each other’s concerns. We discuss ground rules to make it more manageable for them to live together under the same roof.

Then we discuss formalising the separation. The mediator explains that to divorce without waiting 2 years, one must blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. They discuss who will be blamed and what examples of unreasonable behaviour will be relied upon. As a mediator my heart sinks at this point. I’ve worked with the couple to enable better communication. I’ve also encouraged them to focus on the future and separate themselves from the problems they need to resolve – this removes blame and negativity.  Then we all take a huge step backwards and start looking at blame, past mistakes and hurts. Couples are fragile and blaming one another to secure a divorce is destructive.  Yet the law insists one of them must do so.

Let’s Stop Playing the Blame Game

Janet & John were doing everything they could to put the needs of their children first and to move forward as co-parents.  However, now one had to start throwing mud at the other to secure a divorce. The positivity in the mediation session began to dissipate. Children suffer far more from parental conflict than divorce itself. So why do we still have such an antiquated divorce process that actively encourages conflict between parents, instead of minimising it? Fortunately, many clients are able to overcome this huge bump in the road (Janet and John did), but why should they have to? The law needs to change so children and couples no longer suffer. To those who say removing blame will make divorce too easy, I say that’s hugely insulting to the couples I work with on a daily basis, who are experiencing one of life’s greatest traumas. It’s not about making it easier for people to give up on marriage.  It’s about helping those who have made the difficult decision to divorce, to do so in the most painless and child friendly way possible.

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

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating – Part 3

In part 1 & 2 of my blog about decision-making when you split up, I looked at how instinctive decision-making can lead you astray and at how slower more rational decision-making can modify decisions made intuitively.  If you haven’t seen part 1 & 2, you may want to read them, as they are full of insights.

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating Part 3 Focus Mediation Blog

Following part 1, I wanted to recount the ways in which mediators have helped separating couples in very common post separation crises, by helping them out of impossible situations using mediation techniques, to illustrate how mediation works. Another very common situation follows.

Frequently when couples split up they cannot afford the costs of their two households, there just isn’t enough income. This usually results in one of the following scenarios or a combination of them:

  • The ex with the higher income, let’s assume it is Jack, stops paying everything to fund his new home and life.
  • Jill then has a massive financial crisis, as she is unable to pay her bills and live. She applies for benefits if she can; their relationship deteriorates hugely.
  • Or Jack might get into debt trying to meet all the outgoings then Jill might argue it’s nothing to do with her, it’s post separation debt caused by his reckless lifestyle with his new girlfriend, if there is one.
  • Other variations include progressive reduction in payments over time as Jack tries to live within his income and limit mounting debt, as he does this it may well be Jill who gets into debt.
  • If there are children the parent they live with most of the time may apply to the Child Maintenance Service for an assessment and also expensive collection, this may well result in an assessment that is less than they need or expected, but at least it is something.
  • If it’s less then this may cause the payments to be further reduced.
  • In the worst cases this may also spill over into fighting over children.

Such couples are very frightened and come to mediation feeling angry and blaming. Instinctively they know the other person is to blame, because they have stopped paying/are spending all the money/ don’t care how they live. So here’s how we deal with this in mediation.

First we check out their incomes from all sources and what they might get if they can increase what’s coming in, if that is possible. We give them detailed spreadsheets to record their current outgoings of every type, so they can see what they need to live in the situation they are in. This may well be an interim budget, designed to last until they move into permanent accommodation that costs less. This means as they begin to understand the other person is in an impossible situation as well as them. The facts of the figures speak for themselves. Arguing isn’t going to help, they realise it needs sorting out.

It’s often necessary to make big changes to enable people to stabilise their spending within available income. The mediator helps them work out what needs to happen and time-table the changes, for example moving house after children have finished exams, with an interim higher level of maintenance reducing once the final settlement can be achieved. A bit like the game of ‘Pick-a-Stick,’ piece by piece we gently dismantle the wobbling financial edifice of the present to construct something workable for the immediate and longer term future.

It’s certainly the case that in these mediations that start with a catastrophe or emergency of some sort, the couples really don’t want to mediate and think it won’t work. They are pleasantly surprised when mediation does work, which is why I’m writing this series of blogs. Mediation is for people who can’t agree.

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

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating – Part 2

In my first blog about decision-making when you split up, I looked at how instinctive decision-making can lead you astray and at how slower more rational decision-making can modify decisions made intuitively.  If you haven’t seen the first blog here it is – you may want to read it, as it is full of insights.

How and Why part 2 focus mediation blog

Fast intuitive thinking and slower more rational thinking are both utilised in mediation with a mediator helping couples get on the right track.  Mediation helps people let go of their instinctive fighting and blaming and start using slower constructive thinking to get where they need to be. Here are some more examples from real life as to how this works.

In several mediations over the years, spouses who were terrified of the financial consequences of the break-up of their marriages, variously transferred all, most or half of joint savings from accounts in which large sums of family money were saved. This is not an uncommon reaction to the panic that can occur in the early stages of a split. ‘Supposing the other spouse takes it? They cheated/left/cannot be trusted – I need to be sure I’ve got some security/it’s my money/whatever’. This can get things off to a very expensive start with potentially a court application for an order the money is repaid and then people find themselves seemingly locked into litigation over everything. Toxic, expensive, distressing frightening. Fortunately there are solicitors who think first of mediation – who make emergency referrals to mediation, not emergency applications to court. This is mostly how these cases came to mediation.

In each case we were able to deal speedily with the situation, listening carefully to each person’s agonising story. Sometimes they mediated together, sometimes separately, but in each case they realised they were each frightened of the same thing, of losing out, of being done down by the other person. We mediated safe holding positions, ground rules and with mediations sessions following swiftly on each other they were able to avoid extra court hearings and settle matters. The instinct to take the money in the first place had been flawed, but in mediation people found a way to retrieve an impossible situation, stop panicking and use rational, practical thinking to work out what to do, facilitated by a mediator.

It’s certainly the case that in these mediations that start with a catastrophe or emergency of some sort, the couples really don’t want to mediate and think it won’t work. They are pleasantly surprised when mediation does work, which is why I’m writing this series of blogs. Mediation is for people who can’t agree.

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 Archers – Shula Hepden Lloyd & Alistair Lloyd’s First Mediation

How honest is honest?

I am pleased to hear that Shula and Alistair are engaging in the process of mediation and that they have already seen their solicitors. It is important that the listening public understand how mediation can be a positive way forward for separating couples and that solicitors remain part of the process. I am optimistic and hopeful that the storyline will realistically portray mediation, as it has so far managed the separation storyline.

the archers blog focus mediation

First mediation session – steps you need to take to set up the mediation.

Ahead of the first mediation session we hear Shula talking to her Aunt Lilian about her plans for the afternoon, saying she needs to have a good think before the mediation session today.  It is not clear whether Shula and Alistair have attended a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM), and Shula seems uncertain as to how the first session will be.

Shula reports that she has had a phone call from the Mediator the morning before because they each “have to speak to him separately” before the first session.

Attending a MIAM meeting, often days or weeks before the first mediation session, enables couples to then give proper thought and consideration to the mediation and to properly assess if it is for them. Perhaps this has happened.

Shula reports that the Mediator said, “we need to lay cards on the table and be completely honest, then the process is much smoother in the long run.”  She asks but how honest is honest?

Issues to bring to mediation

Shula asks if it would be helpful to bring in reasons why she believes the marriage broke down. She reflects that Alistair has been so desperate might it help him to understand? As Lilian wisely states: Alistair will accept your decision, he has to in the end, but he has to do it in his own speed and on his own terms and then you can both get on with the rest of your lives…

Mediation can include many issues one of which could be how best to proceed, if there is going to be a divorce, to discuss drafting of the petition perhaps and how the costs of the Divorce, the Court fee & the solicitors costs will be met.

In addition another very important part of honesty is that of full and frank financial disclosure- less easy perhaps to summarise in a short radio show, but let’s hope!

Get on with your own lives

A strength of mediation is that it can work at the pace that suits each couple. At Focus mediation we give couples all the tools and information at the MIAM that they need to be able to complete the financial disclosure themselves, and then to work through that in the mediation sessions.  Couples know what to expect and what the way forward could look like for them. We explain that the couples control the content of the mediation and the outcome, so that they can both get on with the rest of their lives.

Let’s hope Alistair and Shula can too.

Emma Bugg, Lawyer Mediator, mediates from our Hemel Hempstead & St Albans offices.

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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