Monthly Archives: March 2018

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 

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