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

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

Squirrels Focus Mediation Blog

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

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

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

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

By the way, all advice regarding squirrels gratefully received.

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

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

Kids Easter Activities in Hertfordshire

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

Kids in Herts one

  • Geocachinghave you tried it? It’s an outdoor treasure hunt game using GPS-enabled devices like mobile phones. Download the app and explore countrywide. It’s fun, free & great exercise.
  • Hertford Museum – Easter Holiday Activities for Children. 10.30 am – 3.30 pm (last entry 3.00 pm), £1.50 per child. Week 1: Spring has sprung! Tuesday 3rd – Thursday 5th April. Make springy dancing daffodils and bouncy boxing hares with this new take on traditional spring crafts! Week 2: Keep Young and Beautiful: Loopy Locks fancy dress! – Tuesday 10th – Thursday 12th April. Celebrate the closing of our Keep Young and Beautiful exhibition with this Easter Holiday Activity. Come and create your own wearable wigs from Mohawks to bobs to bouncy curls. Add some dazzle to your look with some glammed up glasses! FREE spaces available for families on a lower income.
  • Hertford Yarn Bombers are back & have teamed up with Hertford Town Council for a special knitted Easter egg hunt. Visit the Hertford Town & Tourist Information Centre, The Wash, SG14 1PX between Saturday, March 31 until Saturday, April 14. Claim your free Easter egg by finding a minimum of 12 out of 18 bunnies hiding in shops and businesses around the town. Pick up your Easter egg hunt map at Hertford Town and Tourist Information Centre.

Kids in Herts two

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

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

Divorce & A Seven Year Switch

Have you watched the reality series ‘Seven Year Switch’? Four couples on the brink of divorce swap partners (on a platonic basis) for two weeks. Each new couple stays in a villa in an exotic location. A relationship therapist paired the new couples together choosing partners that he felt could learn from one another.

Divorce and A Seven Year Switch

I’ve watched 3 episodes and whilst there’s some unnecessary attempts to provoke reactions for the camera, everyone involved appears to have begun to gain insight into how their past behaviour has impacted their relationship. When a relationship is in difficulty people often react to one another rather than taking a step back and considering the bigger picture. It’s hard to do so as emotions and commitments get in the way. The time away from their partners, jobs and children has facilitated introspection. The therapist allowed time for the new couples to build friendship and trust – as the tasks that followed were challenging. Each needed to feel safe and supported before they could honestly examine their own behaviour. People often feel powerless in a difficult relationship and struggle to accept that their behaviour can change the dynamics.

Previous conflict revisited

Scripts of previous arguments with their long term spouse were provided and re-enacted. The reactions of their new partner caused them to consider whether their behaviour had been unreasonable. Could they have handled the disagreement better? Did they show their spouse sufficient respect? The saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ has a ring of truth to long term relationships and sometimes friendships. Over time we feel comfortable and relax – we are no longer on our best behaviour. This can make us feel closer to someone as we can be ourselves – but boundaries can become blurred. We can sometimes treat strangers better than we treat those we love. Unacceptable behaviour may be tolerated and become the norm. When one man read out the derogatory names he had regularly called his wife, his new partner was visibly shocked. He initially tried to justify his behaviour and said he had been provoked. However, his new partner helped him to understand that he must take responsibility for his own actions and that he had treated his wife with little respect.

Another wife said her husband was immature and an underachiever and she didn’t know if she wanted to stay with him. She read the transcript and saw she had continually fired orders at him and criticised whatever he did. She began to consider how it might feel to be on the receiving end of such behaviour. She understood that she needed to encourage him and not put him down.

Lessons learnt

The lesson I think they will all take away from the experience is that they had each stopped listening well to their long-term partners. They had not shown each other sufficient respect or compassion. They were enjoying their new friendships because they were treating each other with kindness, respect and they were listening well. We are all guilty of taking partners, friends or family for granted at times. The people in this experiment were fortunate – before their respective behaviour caused the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage they were able to understand and appreciate that a relationship requires continuous effort. If we don’t listen and treat one another with respect then a relationship will inevitably flounder.

Communicating as separated parents

Mediators facilitate improved communication between separated partners. Sometimes clients experience sadness that they are communicating better than they did when they were in a relationship. We don’t set out to save relationships but mediation does improve parental communication and this benefits children enormously. It’s not the separation that can cause a child long term emotional damage, but prolonged parental conflict. If parents can learn to communicate well for their children’s sake, then their children will thrive and feel safe.

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 Powerless Parent

As a family solicitor and now  family mediator, a number of separated parents told me they  felt powerless. It’s often men but also women. Historically children stayed with mum as dad worked fulltime outside the home. Now both parents may work or either sex stays at home whilst the higher wage earner works full time. It’s the parent that works full time that more often  feels powerless.

The Powerless Parent Focus Mediatiuon Blog

Custody, Residence and  Access…

Family Law makers have  moved away from terms such as custody, residence and access, and for good reason.  These terms can prevent parents from seeing the bigger picture. Motivated by the fear of losing their child, they believe they need a court order for  ‘custody/residence’ of their child upon separation.  They may believe it’s too hard to make joint decisions and with an order they can make unilateral decisions about their child.  If the other parent has parental responsibility (as is usually the case) then they should still play an important  role  in decision making about education, health and religion, amongst other issues, and so this presumption is wrong.

The family court has a ‘no order principle’. This means it takes the view that it’s often best for there not to be an order in respect of a child. An order will only be made if it believes it’s necessary and in the child’s best interests. The court appreciates that parents are more likely to stick to arrangements that they have made together than an order imposed on them by a Judge. That’s why litigants must first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) before they can issue an application for what is now known as a Child Arrangement Order. In a nutshell,  it’s usually best for parents to work things out together outside of the court room. They know their child best and can make arrangements that best suit their family.  They are still their child’s family; even if they are separated and live apart.

Child Arrangement Orders

A Child Arrangement Order focuses on how a child will spend their  time with each parent. A parent is a co-parent regardless of how many nights the child stays with them. The child may spend time in each household and so it’s important that each house feels like  home to them . A parent who works full time and spends less time caring for their child than the other parent, may  still be referred to as the non-resident parent. They often  feel that the time they spend with their child is on the other parent’s terms. So how can we improve things? Well as you’d expect, I believe and have experienced that mediation can really improve parental communication and ease this situation. Separated parents need to work at their new co-parenting relationship. They must transition from a couple to co-parents. It’s an understatement to say that this is tough and requires determination and patience. Feelings of hurt and anger don’t just disappear when a decision to separate is made. When issues such as where you will live and how you will support yourself are thrown into the mix, emotions run high. We also grieve for the relationship and must work through a series of emotions until we reach acceptance and can focus on a more positive future.

How can a powerless parent regain some control.

When separating parents attend mediation, they may not have communicated for some time. Some say that any conversation inevitably turns into an argument. A mediator helps parents to listen better and acknowledge each others fears and concerns. When we feel vulnerable or threatened we often become distant or defensive. However, that stance rarely serves us well. There’s often a point when I see the relief on each of the parents faces when the fog of anger and hurt is lifted and they appreciate that deep down the person they once knew and trusted is still there. They see that the person who they feel has  hurt them is someone they can begin to trust again as a co-parent – even if they are unable to trust them as a spouse. There is a basis for co-parenting.

Children learn from their parents’ behaviour – how we treat the other parent is how they will learn to treat others and potentially their future partners. They are half mum and half dad – when we criticise one parent we criticise the child. If we make a child choose then they may not choose us as when they become an adult. So how can the powerless parent regain control?  By communicating better with the other parent, by  showing vulnerability and being honest and open. There’s no short cut to a good co-parenting relationship –  it takes time, effort and patience.  We must love our child more than we dislike  each other.  In theory that sounds easy but it’s much harder in practice. It’s vital to respect that a child has a right to know and love both parents and that as a parent it’s our duty to ensure that’s 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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Finances on Divorce – Winner takes all?

It’s sad to note the number of divorcing couples who still believe that they must battle in court over finances. The driving force is usually fear or anger:

Finances on Divorce Focus Mediation Blog

  • I need a solicitor or barrister who will roll their sleeves up and fight to secure me what’s fair.
  • I have been treated so badly I will take them to court and show them I won’t be walked over. I want them to be punished.
  • Mediation is for amicable couples. We can’t agree so mediation is pointless.
  • I can’t mediate – they will walk all over me. They are manipulative and will convince a mediator that they should receive far more than me.
  • The finances are too complicated for mediation – it’s got to go to court.

The reality is that they will invest tens of thousands of pounds in litigation that often involves huge delay and escalates conflict – destroying hope of a future co-parenting relationship. In a recently reported case, a Judge despaired that a wealthy couple with children had been involved since 2011 in litigation that had been “bitterly contested, highly acrimonious and extremely expensive”. He said the litigation had all but exhausted the parties’ liquid capital and he was left to focus on future income only as there were no longer assets to share.

A gamble that won’t pay off.

I saw a divorcing client recently regarding child arrangements as finances were being litigated at court. They’d already spent £75,000 each in legal fees and were only at first hearing. The marital assets were 1 million. Her solicitor said the costs would at least double by final hearing. So the assets in dispute would dwindle to £700,000 (or less). The starting point for sharing the original assets was 50/50 – so £500,000 each. Now the starting point would be £350,000 each. The client said she would have settled for £550,000 but her ex refused. Now if a court awarded her £550,000, she would receive 78.5% of the assets – a tall order. Pre-litigation, £550,000 had been 55% of the assets. The method employed by each to provide them with a share they felt was fair and met their needs, would cost them approximately 30% of their joint assets.

Why wasn’t court a last resort?

Why hadn’t they used Alternative Dispute Resolution (it’s cheaper, quicker and actually promotes improved communication); Mediation, collaborative law, MedArb, or Arbitration? The client was worried that her ex, an accomplished businessman, would ‘out manoeuvre’ her in mediation. Mediators are trained to bridge power imbalances and ensure everyone fully understands the assets and options available. Litigation was the least likely vehicle to provide a satisfactory outcome – they had each gambled on winning at court and the other losing. That was the only way the numbers would add up as there was no longer enough money in the pot. There was a flaw in the plan – the court looks for fairness and its objective is to meet the parties’ needs. There is seldom a winner and loser, just two dissatisfied people.

Finances resolved in just a day.

At Focus we offer family mediation sessions spread out over a period of weeks – solicitors can advise alongside the process so clients are supported.  We also specialise in a one day civil mediation model. It costs £1000 each and our most experienced dual trained mediators facilitate resolution of finances in a day. It works. Solicitors attend and advise clients throughout the day and proposals are later that day made binding. It saves countless thousands and many tears.  Surely that’s a much safer investment in meeting needs? Gambling at court means risking hard earned assets for a victory that will probably never be theirs.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Housing crisis

Last week, despite the bone-aching cold of the Beast from the East and in the start of a snow storm, I turned out to protest against the adoption of a Local Plan by Cherwell District Council which would approve the building of 4,500 homes on Oxford’s Green Belt, around Kidlington, Gosford, Begbroke and Yarnton.

Housing Crisis Focus Mediation Oxford

In my day job as a mediator, I help people look at how two homes can be squeezed out of limited resources when a relationship breaks down. Given that 42% of marriages end in divorce, the need to re-house is affecting almost half the families in Britain. So should I be pleased that 4,500 houses will be on the market for divorcing couples in Oxford?

No! and here’s why:

  • These houses won’t go anywhere towards meeting the true housing need as most of them won’t be affordable; they will probably go to house London commuters.
  • Oxford city is dumping its housing crisis on its surrounding villages. It is prioritising employment over housing by creating offices, restaurants and shopping centres on land which could be for housing e.g. Oxpens, parts of Westgate. But employment figures in Oxford are high compared to the rest of the country: unemployment is not an issue, lack of affordable housing is. Oxford city should sort this out.
  • The impact on the villages will be disastrous in terms of traffic build-up. There are a huge number of other developments proposed north of the city, and the accumulated volume of traffic will bring the A40, A34 and A44 to a standstill twice a day. Also consider the resulting air pollution.
  • The villages will be subsumed in a seamless sprawl of development; Oxford’s character as a city with pleasant surrounds will be lost for ever. There are no exceptional circumstances proved to justify building here; we are committing a crime against future generations, who will lose the vital breathing space and character-defining landscape of the Green Belt.
  • The Golf Course should not be built over: it is a valuable resource for local and much wider community in many ways; it raises funds for charity; it is a site of great bio diversity; the alternative site at Frieze Farm is wholly unsuitable; and who will fund the cost of relocation @ £10m?

The protest had no effect and the Plan was approved.

Maybe with my mediator hat on, I’m hoping this will provide housing options for my clients. With my woolly hat on, however, I am sad and dispirited that this is how local government is allowed to ruin our environment.

Caroline Friend, Family Lawyer Mediator, Oxford. http://www.focus-mediation.co.uk/contact-us/oxford/

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

Butting Heads & Finding Oil

A crucial rule in mediation is ‘don’t argue over positions’. Most people engage in positional bargaining when they negotiate – ‘I won’t pay a penny more than £100’, ‘Sack my lazy colleague or I resign’, ‘You must be home by 9pm or you’re grounded’. The trouble with positions is that we are so busy defending them that we lose sight of what it is we actually need. Does our original position serve us well? Does it meet our needs and adequately resolve all of the issues? It’s hard to back down from a position and save face and so often people continue defending it come what may. Roger Fisher & William Ury wrote the acclaimed book ‘Getting to yes – negotiating an agreement without giving in’. Within it they reported real life situations when positional negotiations escalated conflict. In the following example, it almost caused bloodshed!

Butting Heads and finding oil focus mediation blog

Farmers v National Oil Company of Iraq

After the fall of the Sadam Hussein regime, displaced farmers pooled their limited funds and leased farming land and invested in planting one large crop. However, the National Oil Company subsequently discovered there was oil under the land. They served the farmers with notice to leave immediately. The farmers refused. The Company threatened them with the police, but they wouldn’t budge. The army was called in and the farmers acquired guns and said they would fight to stay. At this late stage a newly trained negotiator asked if he could intervene. He asked the farmers when their crop would be ready to harvest. They said in 6 weeks and that the harvest was all they had left in the world. He asked if they would be prepared to leave after the harvest and they said yes. He asked the Company when they intended to extract oil. Not for 3 years they said but they needed to carry out tests prior to that. He asked whether the harvest would impact this. The answer was no. In fact the Company also had no objections to the farmers farming a small piece of unused land in the future, providing they vacated the remainder of the land after the harvest. Further, they had always intended to offer the farmers well paid work on the oil project and accommodation. However, the conflict escalated too quickly to even raise the matter.

The mediator averted bloodshed by enabling the two groups to consider what mattered most to them and what didn’t. He was the only person who had thought to ask them questions about what they needed and what they could barter with. The concessions made by each side helped create peace but their respective objectives were also well met. The farmers could harvest their crop, grow further small crops and obtain well paid work & accommodation with the Company. The Company could carry out their checks on the land in the knowledge that the farmers would vacate it and they would have a ready made workforce. It was a win/win solution and a peaceful solution was negotiated. Principled negotiations often leads to objectives being met and improved communication and respect.

When couples separate they often become positional because they feel hurt, unheard or fearful about their future. They hold their position so they don’t get trampled over. As Fisher and Ury illustrated, a mediator can enable people to move away from their positions and focus on their needs. Only then can their needs be appropriately met. People often believe it’s impossible to resolve their particular issues – they have already tried hard and are stuck. However, as traumatic as divorce and separation is, their path is often well trod and an impartial mediator can help them to look at the bigger picture and focus on the future. The mediator will have experienced similar issues before and will have a wealth of experience to bring to the table. A mediator will ensure concerns are identified and carefully listen to each party. It’s then that there is often enough movement for positive change.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Doing nothing is a choice – with consequences you might not choose

When faced with a crisis such as separation, people struggle to cope. They may refuse to talk about the difficult issues that need to be sorted out. They may be in complete denial about the realities of their situation. It may be really hard to tell friends and family –it makes it all real.

Doing nothing is a choice - with consequences you might not choose

Grieving

The grieving cycle kicks in with the prospect of so much loss – and it starts with denial – this is not happening. A man once returned home to find his wife and children gone and his home empty. There was just a camp bed on the floor and a pillow and duvet on it. He went to bed in it and slept – perhaps he thought it would all be all right in the morning. His instinctive reaction was denial.

However bad the relationship, even if you ended it – there is loss and the stages of grief. People are so frightened of what else they will lose – children, home, money, security, even part of their identity, the couple part. Anger and blame can be overwhelming.  Sorting things out can feel impossible – all suggestions for the future may elicit a categoric ‘No!’ Anger may make you fight, litigate to try to ‘win’ and this can cost more than it’s worth and then everyone loses. Doing a deal with your enemy is anathema – and that’s what mediation means, so no, it is not something you want to do. You are at your most vulnerable and least able to cope yet there are all these critical decisions to face. You may want to make them wait, not face the choices, do nothing, hang on to your life as long as possible. Sometimes delay results in a lot of other problems that makes sorting things out eventually even harder. Examples include children suffering avoidably, increases in family debt, mortgage default or serial rows over anything and everything – everything gets worse than it need have done.

Moving forward

Research on decision-making by psychologists tells us decision-making is often hap-hazard and flawed. Especially if motivated by emotions, we do not make our best decisions when we are upset. This is where mediators can help. Trying to do it alone is like trying to do your own dentistry – you cannot see the problems and you’re not a dentist. Family mediators understand the situation and have helped thousands of people to sort things out and start re-building their lives. Yes, it’s tough, but it’s a process for making your best decisions, easier than fighting, it costs less and it is just as fast as you want.

Family mediation is flexible, it starts where you are and wraps around you to help you cope, helps you to see the real issues and work out what to do for the best in a rational way. It is nothing like counselling, it is very practical and future-focussed. Good mediators listen hard – and support you both to make difficult decisions, working through all the options, challenging and reality testing your plans. Yes, effective mediation can feel tough. It brings you face to face with the realities of your situation fast – but isn’t that best? Get it over with? Most people say ‘I just want it all sorted as soon as possible.’ That means mediation. Court applications take up to 18 months, sometimes longer. The legal process is rarely fast. Mediation regularly helps people bring litigation and negotiations to an end with Consent Orders and agreements.

So when you’re fed up with it all – remember it is never too late to mediate and do a deal and doing nothing is a choice that may deliver a poor outcome.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Mediation – your questions answered

What is Family Mediation?

An impartial mediator helps couples agree all arrangements for separation – whether regarding children, property, finance or pensions.

Mediations Questions Answered Focus Mediation Blog

Is Mediation compulsory?

No. Since April 2014 it’s compulsory (there are exemptions) to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court regarding family finances or child arrangements. There is no obligation to mediate thereafter, but many choose to do so after hearing about the benefits of mediation and the associated costs and potential delays at court.

I know my ex will refuse to attend a MIAM…

Mediation is voluntary and your ex can’t be forced to attend a MIAM or to mediate. However, clients who believe their ex won’t attend are often surprised when after speaking to a mediator, they agree to do so. Even if mediation does not proceed, our lawyer mediators provide considerable information at MIAM (including an info pack), and clients tell us this is very helpful. Mediators are trained listeners and clients benefit from feeling heard and understood. The process helps people to consider what they need to prioritise so they can positively move forward.

Do I choose between instructing a solicitor or a mediator?

No, a mediator can give you helpful legal information but they can’t advise you about what’s in your best interests as they must remain impartial. Your solicitor will advise you and is often a great support. Isn’t that double the expense? No, mediation works very well alongside legal advice. The advice often reduces the number of mediation sessions as you feel confident about what options and proposals you can agree to. Many clients like us to send a record of session to their solicitor so they are kept up to speed. In financial cases your solicitor will help make mediated proposals legal binding. Mediation and legal advice is a fraction of the cost of legal fees for litigation.

How can I make sure in a financial case that I get all the information I need about assets?

Our lawyer mediators are well accustomed to ensuring that the legal process of ‘disclosure’ is completed properly. They will help you understand your whole situation. The standard of disclosure is no less in mediation than court – plus you can ask each other questions face to face about any anomalies.

How will I know what the options are? 

Our lawyer mediators give first class legal information in a neutral way about complex cases involving pensions, businesses, companies, tax and similar issues. They will help you explore all available options.

What if my ex if more vocal or forceful in mediation?

Mediators are trained to cope with power imbalances. They ensure both of you are heard and the process is designed to maintain a safe environment and a fair balance between you, as well as ensure you both understand all the financial information.

Will I get the best deal possible or can that only be achieved in court? 

The best deal is really what suits you and your family. The mediator will help you generate and explore options. If you attend court you may find that any ‘win’ (which can never be guaranteed) is lost due to the   legal costs in securing it. The court aims to meet the needs of separated families and so there are rarely clear winners.

We have already started proceedings. Does that matter? 

Mediation is a useful aid to resolving disputes at any stage, whether before or after proceedings have started. Court proceedings are frequently resolved by agreement. Mediation is a great aid to that end.

How long does it take?

Each session lasts about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, and it usually takes between 1 and 5 sessions to resolve the issues. The number of sessions depends on the range of issues and the complexity of your affairs. The introductory session lasts about an hour.

Are proposals in mediation binding?

No, not in conventional family mediation, but you take the proposals to your solicitor for a binding Court Order or Separation Deed if that is needed in your case. Children’s arrangements don’t have to be made binding, but we could draw up a co-parenting plan, which you can sign if you wish.

In 1 Day Family Mediation, your solicitors are there at the end, not all day, to make your agreement binding.

Is the mediation process hard?

Yes, sometimes it can be difficult, but it is usually easier than the alternative of Court proceedings. Separation is painful, and sorting things out is not always easy, but it has to be done. It is a type of facilitated DIY divorce and separation.

Is it quick?

Mediation is usually as quick as clients want, with sessions arranged at weekly intervals if you wish or even in one long session if everyone is prepared (“1 Day Mediation”). However, it may take time to assemble the necessary information and sometimes you may benefit from a period of reflection between sessions. A mediated outcome will almost always be achieved before your case could proceed to a Court hearing.

Is mediation always appropriate?

Not always. Both parties have to want to take part in mediation – it is voluntary. Also, if there is heavy domestic violence, it may not be possible to mediate. The mediator will make a careful risk assessment.

I don’t want to meet my ex – do I have to?

We can offer shuttle mediation, with you in separate rooms, in appropriate cases. We would talk to you about the implications of this.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

£2m Divorce Fight Dubbed a “Scandalous Waste of Time” by Judge

Mr Justice Holman said that Michael Parker and Barbara Cooke who are locked in a bitter and expensive court battle “Had lost touch with reality.” So far the costs of their financial proceedings over their divorce settlement were £2m from a total of £6.6m in assets, so nearly a third. The likely costs of their trial are estimated at a further £200,000.

2M Divorce Costs Focus Mediation blog

“If there’s nothing left at the end there’s nothing left,” said the judge.

What is going on for couples like this who simply cannot agree a settlement and seem hell-bent on pressing on with litigation, the costs of which are completely disproportionate to the value of their assets? Let’s look at some possibilities based on experience of other such cases and listening to exchanges in some mediations, where people are trying to end runaway litigation:

  • Neither can back down; they feel they must ‘win’ and have the last word, win the last battle even if this means they both lose out.
  • They are stuck at the angry/furious stage of the grieving cycle; everyone has to work through this at some stage – litigation can keep you stuck there for some time.
  • Demonisation of each other and each other’s representatives; believing the other person’s position is ‘mad’, ‘unfair’ or that there are hidden assets to be discovered.
  • Temporary insanity; I’ve heard people refer to this – saying afterwards ‘I think I went a bit mad.‘
  • 75% of litigants think they will win – so a species of hope springs eternal.
  • The adversarial system itself – which bewails such costs and ticks off litigants – but does nothing to stop it, despite court rules saying that costs must be proportionate to value.

Sadly such cases are all too common in divorce and in general civil cases. What about:

  • The dispute between two neighbours about the costs of £4,000 worth of drain repairs in a garden – costs £300,000.
  • A case mediated successfully by a Focus mediator where previous litigation costs were about £64,000, over noise between two flats, where the cost of sound-proofing was only around £3,000.
  • Countless divorce cases where costs exceed the margin of difference between the parties by a considerable margin.
  • The £3m divorce where costs were £930,000.
  • Numerous cases Focus mediators have settled where costs have been say £20,000 or £40,000 and the case settles with no money changing hands or with a small payment.

And so it goes on. Our justice system is dysfunctional in that no one using it imagines this can happen. If people knew where they were going to end up they’d probably be much more focussed on mediation at an early stage to resolve their dispute. Which is the point really. Our mantra is ‘Stop the madness of runaway costs and mediate – it’s never too late for an outbreak of sanity.’

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk