Monthly Archives: March 2019

Divorce – What Price Peace?

In a supermarket I noticed someone familiar smiling at me. I couldn’t immediately place him, and he laughed and said, “Don’t tell me you don’t remember me, I find it hard to believe our mediation sessions weren’t memorable!” He was a client from a few years ago and he and his ex-wife were involved in a high conflict divorce. They came to mediation to resolve finances. He was right the sessions had been memorable. They had tried to resolve finances for years before coming to mediation and they had little faith that they could be settled outside court.

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Attack or be Attacked

He and his wife had developed a toxic pattern of communication. They verbally attacked one another whenever they met. It was painstaking work to move them away from this dysfunctional pattern of communication. I felt like a strict school teacher at times. At one point I had said, “stop arguing or do it outside where it will be a lot cheaper. It was their mediation and they made all the decisions. However, it was my process and if they couldn’t respect it and let me manage it, then I wasn’t prepared to continue. Mediation is voluntary for each participant, including the mediator. Gradually they saw that rehashing the past and trying to apportion blame, was not a constructive use of mediation time. They couldn’t change the past and were unlikely to ever agree on it. I encouraged them to focus on their individual futures. What were their housing and income needs? How could they best be met? They reached an agreement at their 5th session. They were amazed. I wasn’t. I knew they were slowly but surely making progress and that if they wanted a resolution strongly enough, that mediation was the best place to achieve it.

What Price Peace?

So back to my supermarket encounter. I politely asked him how he was. He told me that he had thought about contacting me and thanking me, but he had never got around to it. He said that he wasn’t particularly happy after the mediation. He had wanted more of the marital assets. However, over time he realised that it wasn’t such a bad deal and that the deal had bought him peace and he was no longer stuck in a rut. He said his ex-wife felt the same way about her share of the settlement. The reality is that a negotiated settlement doesn’t produce a winner and a loser – it means each must make compromises. Walking away with an agreement they can each live with is far more realistic than expecting a big win. Winning is why people go to court – they need to win to justify the big legal fees. However, the court is looking for fairness and meeting each side’s needs; not winners.

I asked him if he would recommend mediation. He said he wished they had been able to sort things out themselves. However, he knew that wasn’t realistic and he said he would recommend mediation to a friend. He said that there was an advantage that he couldn’t see at the time – things had really improved with his ex-wife. He didn’t think it would matter to him; but it did. They weren’t exactly friends, but they were friendly and if they bumped into each other when seeing their adult children, then they would happily chat. He said that mediation had provided closure. He realised he didn’t like his ex-wife disliking him, and he said their children were happier.

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

Anger – A Mediator Point of View

The other day, a man arrived at mediation so angry he could hardly speak. He certainly wasn’t making eye contact. He slammed his papers onto the desk and shifted impatiently in his chair. I asked him what was up. He was angry at having to be here, furious about the money he was spending and spitting nails at what seemed to him to be a completely pointless exercise: working through the financial disclosure “when we both know what we’ve got and that it isn’t going to be enough”.

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My first reaction was the wrong one. I got defensive. Pointed out that he voluntarily agreed to come, and that the hourly rate was reasonable and less than that charged by most solicitors. “That doesn’t stop this whole thing being a complete waste of time”; “But we haven’t even started yet, how do you know that?” I was stupidly letting my professional ego get in the way of a much better approach.

I continued in an unhelpful, rather smug vein by showing them both the flow-chart they had seen in their introductory meeting: it explains why disclosure has to be done, whether you are using mediation or solicitors: without it, no-one can help you negotiate a settlement.

He was still smouldering. We had a few more tetchy exchanges. Finally, finally!, I remembered that this wasn’t how to deal with anger.

I said to him that he still seemed cross. I asked him what about. “Everything”.

And who are you angry with: me? – (politely)No.

Her? – (reluctantly) No.

Who, then? – (ruefully) Myself.

Ah!. Now we could go somewhere with it. I sympathised with him with them bothsaying I could see what a difficult situation they were in, how upsetting it was and how understandable his anger was. I listed all the unfortunate aspects of their case, and told them I could see exactly why they might be feeling hopeless about it.

I also told them that they were amazingly brave to opt for mediation; to choose to work this thing out together, face to face; and that I really hoped I could help. I told them we would be dealing with facts and figures rather than messy emotions; that we would focus on the wayforward rather than on the path that had led them here. I said I would do everything I could to help them reach a solution so that they could draw a line and move on.

I am pleased to say, we worked hard all morning and reached a set of proposals that were eventually converted into a consent order. It had turned out to be simpler than they thought – and they wrote to thank me at the end.

Moral? Anger usually stems from a feeling that you have been misread or wrong-footed, and it is often expressed about something other than the root cause. It seeks to win power over a person or situation, so a defensive, self-righteous response only fuels it. Accepting, analysing and understanding it is a better way forward, whether you are in the mediator’s chair or at home. Good luck!

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

Squirrels Can’t Undo Safety pins – and they get the nuts whatever you do! – 2019

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.

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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.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & 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 

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