Society Must Make Divorce Less Stressful For Children

It’s Family Mediation Week. The Family Mediation Association ‘FMAaims to raise awareness of mediation and how it can help separating families manage their issues collaboratively and productively. We support Family Mediation Week and thank the FMA for all their hard work. – #FamilyMediationWeek – #ABetterWay -.

family mediation 2019 focus mediation

So why don’t more separating couples mediate?

Clients tell us that they find the mediation process supportive and that it not only resolves their issues, but also improves their communication. However, there are many separating couples still battling in court. Litigation is very expensive and the court route is full of delay and uncertainty. Finances and child arrangements can be agreed quickly and cost efficiently in mediation. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations. So why don’t more separating couples mediate? Fear. They worry that mediation won’t result in an agreement that adequately meets their needs. They may believe that their spouse knows more about their finances or is a more persuasive communicator and will convince the mediator to take their side. However, the mediator is trained to ensure the process is fair and each participant is updated and fully informed. Each spouse is listened to and their concerns are taken into consideration. Power imbalances are also identified and addressed. The participants make their own decisions and retain full control. Mediators welcome solicitor’s advice so clients feel safe to make decisions about their future. Sadly, many cases that are suitable for mediation end up in court. The court looks for fairness and not winners and so often the financial and emotional investment is disproportionate to any gain.

Divorce is a huge trauma – let’s all support separating couples

Divorce/separation is a huge trauma for spouses and their children. Very few take the decision to divorce lightly. Family Law needs to respect their difficult decision and the divorce process should facilitate an amicable end to each marriage. To children their separated parents will always be their family. Blaming one person for the demise of the relationship promotes conflict not peace. Reform is coming and not before time. However, society as a whole also needs to support separating couple. Whilst a family member or friend may be hurting and need a shoulder to cry on, we also need to support them in their transition from spouse to co-parent. This means focusing on the future and not a past that cant be changed. Co-parents are parents who are each actively involved in their children’s lives after separation. These parents communicate respectfully and exchange info to keep children emotionally and physically safe. It isn’t always easy but they persevere. Children need both parents and its parental conflict that harms them more than the divorce. Children learn from their parents and divorcing well teaches children that whilst not every marriage lasts forever, there is a dignified way to separate that keeps children safe and protected. Mediation supports and facilitates this. Entering into a court battle over finances and children should always be seen as a last resort. It’s important that all family law professionals regularly ask themselves if all their advice or interventions are child focused and likely to promote the transition from spouse to co-parent. It’s the duty of parents, friends, family, professionals, The Ministry of Justice and the media, to make divorce less stressful for children and promote more amicable divorces that create co-parents and not long term conflicted parents.

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

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

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

 

Divorce: Do you need to lay blame on the other person in Divorce Proceedings? Should the Law be updated?

Under the current law (Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) you must show to the court that your marriage has broken down irretrievably. Our divorce laws are primarily concerned with you having to prove blame and that the breakdown of the marriage is due to the fault of your husband/wife. The proceedings can be lengthy and you can encounter procedural difficulties making the whole process stressful and confrontational.

divorce do you need to lay blame on the other person in divorce proceedings focus mediation blog

To prove the breakdown you must prove one of five factors:-

Adultery

You must show that your husband/wife has been involved in a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex. You must blame them for the breakdown of the marriage. Difficulties may occur if your husband/wife will not admit to the adultery. This can cause delay in proceedings and finding evidence to substantiate the allegation may not be possible. It is often best to obtain written confirmation that the adultery is admitted before proceeding with the petition. You are able to name the ‘other person’ in an adultery petition. However, this brings another party into the proceedings and one who will need to admit to the adultery. This can cause potential delays and unnecessary complications and is not required. Also, if you are made aware of the adultery and subsequently continue to live with your husband/wife for six months or more then you cannot issue proceedings based on that adultery.

Unreasonable Behaviour

You must show that your husband/wife has behaved in such an unreasonable manner that you cannot be expected to continue to live with them. You must blame them for the breakdown of the marriage. What is and what is not unreasonable behaviour can be very subjective. However, you must show to the court, in a written statement in your petition, that your husband/wife has behaved in such a way that an ordinary/average/reasonable thinking person would consider the behaviour to be unreasonable.

Unreasonable behaviour can take many forms but the most common include:

Domestic Abuse – physical, verbal, sexual, undermining, threats, possessiveness, control, insults, blame, deprivation.

Social problems – drug taking, alcohol abuse, criminal activities.

Financial concerns – financial irresponsibility, lack of contribution, increasing joint debt, controlling, secretive.

Desertion

You must show that your husband /wife has left you with the intention of ending the marriage and had no reason to do so. You must blame them for the breakdown of the marriage. Proceedings cannot be issued until two years after your husband/wife deserted you. This reason for divorce is rarely relied upon as it is difficult to prove. It is usually only used in cases of ‘absolute’ desertion i.e. when no trace of your husband/wife can be found.

A two year separation period

Many couples choose to rely on a two year separation period as they do not have to prove any blame against the other person. However, the other person must give their consent, in writing, to the divorce. It is possible to divorce on this basis even if you are living in the same household. However, you must prove that you have lived completely separate and apart within that household. To include not sleeping together or eating together or doing each other’s household chores i.e. washing, ironing, cleaning and shopping.

A five year separation period

This is the same as a two year separation period except that you do not need the written consent of your husband/wife. In fact it is the only way to divorce without agreement or consent.

Is an overhaul of the Divorce Law needed in modern society?

For a number of years there have been suggestions and discussions upon how to move towards ‘no fault’ divorces. The blaming culture of divorce has led to continued conflict, stress and difficulties which have impacted on the participants and their children.

A Government consultation for the reform of the divorce laws took place between September and December 2018 and its outcome is awaited. Generally, the amendment of the law to a ‘no fault’ divorce system will strive to ensure that couples are able to consider the implications and change their minds if need be. To ensure there is support for them and their children and that the process is future focusing. It is hoped that any changes will be implemented in the shorter term and that they will prove to be quicker and less stressful than the existing proceedings. It is thought that only ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’ will need to be shown and contesting the proceedings may not be possible.

The proposed changes in the divorce law will sit well with family mediation. Mediators try to bring couples together to sort out arrangements for their children and their finances with less:

Acrimony

Animosity

Confrontation

Antagonism

Stress

Anxiety

………… and less blame.

Author: 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

 

 

 

Mediation – I Can’t Afford It!

We know the feeling: Christmas has used up all the money and there’s nothing but bills in the post.

i cant afford it focus blog jan 19

But the fact is, if you are reading this blog, you are going through some sort of separation or divorce, and you are wondering what sort of professional help you should get. The last thing you want is an open-ended arrangement where costs mount invisibly with nothing to show for them except a huge, unexpected bill …

At Focus Mediation, we make two things absolutely clear: mediation is cheaper than using lawyers to negotiate your settlement, and all the costs are known in advance.

Why is it cheaper? Because you each pay half our hourly rate. When you pay a lawyer to represent you, you pay the entire hourly rate. With both of you there in the room with the mediator, you share it. It’s that simple. So, a lawyer might charge you £280 + VAT per hour (this varies, of course, and some offer fixed fee packages). We charge each of you £140 + VAT per hour.

We also charge you at the same rate for any documents we draw up: your Financial Statement, which captures all your figures in one place, and your Memorandum of Understanding or Parenting Plan, which records your Agreement.

We do NOT charge for emails or phone calls.

So, the typical cost of mediation looks like this (costs are per person, but will vary according to time actually taken):

One session of 1.5 hours sorting out arrangements for your children: £252 including VAT. Simple Parenting Plan £168 including VAT.

Three sessions of 1.5 hours sorting out your finances: £756 including VAT. Two documents for your financial settlement: £504 including VAT

We make all these costs clear at the start. You book your sessions at times to suit your budget, and you pay at the end of each session, so it’s pay as you go, going at your speed to suit your purse. No hidden costs, no deposit up front, nothing that you don’t know about and agree to.

We always recommend you consult your lawyers for personal advice, and you will need them for your financial Consent Order, but by using mediation for your negotiations, you definitely save money.

And if you reflect on the fact that a typical court case will set you each back £10 – 20,000, there isn’t much more we need to say ….

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

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

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

What advice would you give to a close friend experiencing divorce?

At Focus Mediation our Lawyer Mediators collectively have many years of experience supporting separating or divorcing couples. We asked them what advice they would give to a close friend experiencing divorce.

Mary Banham-Hall

Mary Banham-Hall FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

You and your children will hurt enough without fighting, so don’t let conflict take over. Remember what’s important and focus on that. ALSO Working out what to do together helps you both and is definitely the way to go. Yes, it’s hard but worth it – and with a mediator’s help you can do it!


Emma Bugg

Emma Bugg FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

I would recommend they read the Separated Parents Information Programme ‘SPIP’ and Resolution “Helping parents to help children”  handbook and to read as many other resources as possible to find out how best to navigate a way forward that works for their children and enables them to continue their parenting role as best they can.


Jane Leadbetter

Jane Leadbeater – Family Mediator

Try mediation. It can help you to resolve issues quickly and at much less financial and emotional cost than negotiations between solicitors or court proceedings.


Rachel Lander

Rachel Lander – Family Mediator

Lots of people seek the support of counselling when their marriage breaks down.  A counsellor can really help you in working through the difficult feelings and emotions that you may face.  In turn this can assist you in approaching practical issues, such as where you will all live, how the bills will be paid, emotion – and money – and add to your stress.  There are many alternative ways to civilly reach agreement with your ex: mediation (coupled with advice from a solicitor as the mediation progresses) will provide a forum to explore issues, future pension provision etc., in a more pragmatic and calmer way.

Remember that you don’t have to ‘fight’ or ‘have your day in court’.  Both of those approaches will drain you of much needed energy in a safe environment and to reach proposals that in a lot of cases can be put before the court by post and made into a binding court order.

If there is an insurmountable blockage that can’t be resolved in mediation, then consider arbitration as an alternative to court proceedings.  An independent arbitrator who is picked by you and your ex (usually an arbitration trained Barrister or Solicitor) will act like a Judge, on a private basis, and can deal with matters in a more flexible way than traditional court proceedings including incorporating mediation into the arbitration itself.


Elaine Clarke

Elaine Clarke FMCA – Family Mediator

Don’t rush into agreeing anything. Mediation will help you – it’s a cheaper alternative to court – but also be guided by legal advice. I believe with the help of a mediator, separating couples can make their own arrangements for separating, rather than battling through the courts. This is usually much better for them and their families, as well as being quicker and costing less, both financially and emotionally.


Sara Stoner

Sara Stoner FMCA – Family Mediator

Feeling hurt and angry is normal and to be expected. You can’t change the past and you won’t agree on it. Focusing on your future enables you to move forward and find peace. A court battle won’t make you feel any better and you will regret wasting so much time and money. Don’t dismiss mediation just because you don’t get along. Mediation is a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations that you haven’t managed to have. Decide your own future and resolve matters quickly and cost efficiently. Your children need you to sort out finances so they aren’t caught up in a toxic situation. It’s not the divorce that harms children; it’s the prolonged parental conflict.


Caroline Friend

Caroline Friend FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

This is one of the worst times in your life, so don’t be surprised if you are overwhelmed with difficult emotions. The trick is to try to put those emotions on one side when you are looking at your financial settlement, and when you are making arrangements for the children. So far as finances go, maybe jot down how you would like your life to look
in one year’s time; two years time, five years time: generate some thoughts on how you can best develop your independence while supporting the family. As for the children: what do you want to avoid; what do you want to aim for for them? How would you like them to look back on this difficult period in their lives? What can you do to make sure they continue to grow up with good relationships with both their parents and
don’t feel caught up in the conflict?

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

 

It’s Hard to Hate up Close

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

It_s Hard to Hate up Close Focus mediation Blog

Bridging The Empathy Gap

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

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

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

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

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

The Orange and getting more of what you want – 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What makes a Good Divorce?

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

What Makes a good divorce Focus Mediation Blog Nov 18

Family Law Professionals

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

Solicitors and Mediators – let’s talk more

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

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

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

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

A positive message for children during a breakup – 2018

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

children-breakup-hutterstock_483300238

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

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

Chorus

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

There ain’t no one here to blame

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

Come home early after class

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

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

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

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

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

Family Lives

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Christmas

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

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

Christmas Focus Mediation Blog November 2018

 

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

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

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

Christmas Alone

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

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

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

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

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

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

 

Difficult Conversations

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

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

Difficult Conversations focus mediation blog

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

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

What Happened

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

How it made you feel

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

How it affected your opinion of yourself

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

The learning conversation

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

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

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

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

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

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

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

 

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