Monthly Archives: September 2017

My job as a mediator has taught me to…

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

My Role Taught Me To

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

I haven’t always listened well

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

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

A client who felt helpless

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

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

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

The Costs of Childcare

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

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

Childcare costs

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

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


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


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

£149                               Child benefit 2 children

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

£1,573                            Total before child maintenance                                  £3548

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

 £2,205                          Total after maintenance                                                  £2916

-£650                             Less costs of childcare                                                            –

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


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

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

Separating well

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

1. Put children first

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

2. Read up

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

3. Get advice

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

4. See a therapist/counsellor

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

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

5. Give and take space

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

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

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

7. Choose carefully whom you listen to

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

8. Don’t worry about the divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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