Monthly Archives: July 2018

Sole Custody & The Fear Those Words Provoke

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 These outdated words can unnecessarily provoke fear and conflict between them.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

Sole Custody and The Fear Those Words Provoke focus blog

Divorce Forums

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

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

Simplify Co-Parenting after Separation

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

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

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

The Blame Game in Mediation

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

the blame game in mediation

The Divorce Grief Process

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

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

A Glimmer of Hope

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

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

Let’s Stop Playing the Blame Game

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

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

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

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