Category Archives: Conflict

Archer v Titchener

The nation has been gripped by the Rob & Helen’s saga in the Archers!

One interesting aspect which did not grab the headlines was baby Jack’s name. Rob wishes to call him “Gideon Titchener”. Theoretically there is nothing stopping Rob calling the baby “Gideon”.  However a court may well find it emotionally harmful to the child to have different names.

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Rob could make an application to the court for permission to change the child’s name formally to “Gideon”. The court would consider all relevant factors such as his name which appears on his birth certificate as “Jack Archer”, the circumstances surrounding his conception and the fact his half-brother is called Archer. Whether the parties are married is relevant, but divorce must be on the agenda.

It is rare that you can say decisively what you think a court would do but it seems highly unlikely in these circumstances that a court would give Rob permission to change “Jack’s” name.

It seems there is a lot in a name.

No one listening? Then stop shouting, you might get heard

Communication is complex. It is much more than words. Communication comprises a range of related activities, including, speech, facial expression, body language and most importantly of all, the subtext of the total communication package and critically what you do, as actions speak louder than a thousand words.

An example will help. If someone is shouting aggressively and waving their arms, this is likely to induce a panic reaction in the listener. In that state that they experience a rush of adrenaline which suspends their ability to process information and programmes them to fight, flee or freeze, the classic survival response.

 The person shouting has generated the opposite response from that intended. If they had spoken quietly without aggression, the panic response would not have overwhelmed their listener and the meaning of the words could have been satisfactorily conveyed. Literally, you might say ‘If you shout I can’t hear you!’

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‘Gorilla Family Moment’, photo taken by Pascal Walschots

Couples who are separating frequently say they cannot talk, can only communicate by email or text and seem inevitably to fight. Their conflict is so high it breaks out over anything and everything. One of the mediator’s tasks is to break this habit, if only for long enough to help the couple agree their settlement or what to do about their children.

So if you want to be heard and understood, talk quietly and not aggressively, listen thoughtfully to any response – and respond to it respectfully in a co-operative spirit and you might be heard and you might even start to communicate. True, exerting self-control is out of fashion, sometimes it’s even perceived as a weakness by a society which sees ‘chest thumping’ responses as a strength. But such an approach should be rediscovered – as it might be the only way to solve some problems which have remained painfully unresolved. Then you can both move on in a constructive way.

Brexit or Brin? That is The Question . . .

Last night my hairdresser asked me ‘In or out?’ Everyone knows what this means – but how to decide? That is really the first question we should ask ourselves.

As a mediator I have observed people making decisions for over 17 years and many are motivated either by hope or fear – though some make decisions based on deeply held beliefs that are so strong they are part of their very identity. I’m not talking about those people, as they have decided.

Tribalism

Many of us decide things tribally – we identify with a certain group and vote with them. Unless you are UKIP, that doesn’t help you much on the in or out debate, as most political parties are split on the issue. So tribalism doesn’t work – unless you identify yourself as tribally European or tribally English – but if you are tribally Scottish, they are pro staying in. Actually that helps you decide, sort of. It is interesting to observe that tribalism on Brexit seemed to cause politicians to line up on the issue of benefit cuts for the disabled in the budget – with the pro leaving brigade supporting IDS and the pro staying in brigade behind the Chancellor. What relevance has Brexit to benefits cuts for the disabled? None. Pure tribalism.

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Mediation Decision-Making Matrix

Mediators understand how to approach decision-making constructively, intelligently and creatively. It’s their day-job. So complete the table with your hopes and fears then place in order of importance to you. This can help you decide ANYTHING.

Hopes for Brexit

Fears for Brexit

We will be economically better off

We will be worse off economically

We will be more secure and safer – less likelihood of war.

Security and safety will be reduced; we will be vulnerable and alone in a global world.

We will get control of our borders; migration will be reduced. No EU quotas – it’s an EU problem

The EU will let migrants pour over the Channel – you cannot police 1,000 miles of coastline; we will get all the migrants

Hopes for Brin

Fears for Brin

Add your own – you get the picture.

Using a rational system, non-adversarial – try and distance yourself from emotional rhetoric and tribalism – you decide on the most important issues, the probable outcomes on Brexit or Brin – and order of importance – for you. If you are altruistic – choose the best for the young or for all of us. Your ideas are as likely to be right as anyone’s. Think about probabilities and priorities. The experts don’t agree. We are all experts on this. Besides, it is more likely to help you decide to vote than listening to Boris or David! Oh yes – and the same is true if you are litigating at court or lawyers are writing letters on your behalf. Stop. Think. Use your own wisdom and trust yourself .- and use mediation systems for resolving problems, disputes and working out the future. It results in better interest-based results. Just saying – and this is my belief system, so is part of me, my identity. And I think I am right, but I would say that wouldn’t I?

Unhappy Holidays

How was your Easter?

Fabulous. We took some days out, watched lambs in the Spring sunshine, the children had fun and we all ate too much chocolate.”

Miserable. Things are impossible at home. We don’t talk except to argue, and now the rows are happening in front of the children. Little Jo is wetting the bed again and Sophie is very tearful. We couldn’t go out because we’ve got no money, and the debts just aren’t going away.”

If the second response is closer to your current situation than the first, you are in company with many, many families: at least half of all marriages and partnerships run aground in difficult circumstances.

Where do you turn for help?

If you are contemplating divorce, you might want to find a local solicitor. Alternatively, you could download the Divorce Petition and instructions on how to fill it in, and start the divorce yourself. But the divorce is simply the legal process which dissolves your marriage. What about the children and what about the financial side?

A mediator can help. Here at Focus Mediation, we offer an introductory meeting with an experienced, highly qualified lawyer-mediator who will listen to your story, and then describe how you go about preparing, negotiating and finalising a financial settlement. She will then invite your other half to a similar meeting, so that she has heard how things look for both of you: where are the problems, what are your fears, what do you hope to achieve? She can help you sort it out.

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When you start the joint mediation sessions, and the mediator can help you work out a set of proposals which meets the needs of everyone and takes everything into account. If you need help with your shared parenting plan, she will offer a session on that as well.

Mediation is cheaper than using lawyers, quicker and less divisive.

With any luck, by the time you get to the next holidays, things will be looking up and be a bit more sorted.

The Huge Cost of Court Proceedings

The chairman of the Laura Ashley  Khoo Kay Peng has been ordered by the High Court this February to make an offer to Pauline Chai his estranged wife to end legal battle that has  cost him £6.1million in legal costs. Mr Justice Bodey gave his lawyers a 21 day ultimatum.

The case which at one stage was also running  in Malaysia, is one of the most expensive divorce cases ever to come before the UK courts.

Costs began to increase dramatically when Khoo fought and lost a bid to have the divorce decided in the Malaysian courts. Chai, who was Miss Malaysia 1969, won the argument that London was the appropriate location.

The Judge ordered “open offers of settlement” to be made by both sides, and said at a case management hearing: “I am striving to exercise some control over this titanic case. Otherwise the case will inevitably proceed on its expensive way to the detriment of the parties and the court’s resources. The actual resolution of the finances of this couple, who have more money between them than they could spend in their lifetimes, has unfortunately taken a second seat. The legal costs bill is going on for £6m at a stage where the case has barely reached the first fence.”

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Chai, 69, alleged that Koo,77, was worth more than £440 million and earned £5.4 million a year. They have five grown up children and she maintains that she is entitled to half of his fortune. He disputes her claim and maintains that his assets are worth £66 million.

The couple married in December 1970 and separated on Valentine’s Day 2013. A decree nisi was pronounced in January this year and is due to be made absolute later this month.

They bought their first property in England – Wentworth Park – in 1995, and then five years later acquired the 1,000-acre Rossway Park estate at Berkhamstead. Khoo has indirect interests in a variety of businesses through two holding companies in Malaysia as well as substantial holdings in Laura Ashley and Corus Hotels.

Although the figures and costs are extreme many couples who navigate financial proceedings within divorce in this country will be all too familiar with the huge cost of court proceedings to them. If a case reaches or nears a final hearing both parties can incur upwards of tens of thousands in legal costs and certainly many thousands for the first few hearings.

Here at Focus we offer mediation as an alternative route to resolve these disputes by allowing a separating couple to discuss various options with a trained mediator thus avoiding lengthy court battles and the stress that this entails. Throughout the process they both work with the mediator to help them reach an agreement that they are both comfortable with. Mediation gives the couple a degree of control over the speed and cost and is quicker and less expensive than court proceedings. Some couples prefer to have their lawyers with them at mediation. This can be arranged with a dual trained Focus mediator able to use the One Day civil model of mediation, which results in a binding agreement being drawn up by the lawyers on the day.

For more information please click on our website.

Tara Deegan

Heterosexual Couple lose civil partnership court challenge

A couple from London, were told in 2014 that they could not have a civil partnership because they did not meet the legal requirement of being the same sex.

Last week they took their case to the High Court saying they were being discriminated against.

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They had said that they wanted to commit to each other in a civil partnership as it focuses on equality and did not carry the patriarchal history and associations on marriage. Further that the current legislation was incompatible with their right to a private and family life.

However Mrs Justice Andrews dismissed their claim for judicial review.

One of the government’s arguments was that now gay couples are able to marry, civil partnerships might be abolished or phased out in the future, and changing the legislation before then would be “costly and complex”.

A spokesman welcomed the ruling saying the current regime of marriage and civil partnership does not disadvantage opposite sex couples.

An appeal is anticipated.

“Court costs?? I don’t have to worry about lawyer’s fees! I’ll represent myself!!”

This was the thought of Mr Veluppillai who decided to represent himself against his wife in divorce proceedings recently in what the judge called “a routine needs case after 20 years of marriage.” Not only did Mr Veluppillai not save himself money, he ended up with a costs order against him of £150,000.It seems that the Judge found in favour of his wife whose proposals were described by commentators as eminently sensible. A lose lose situation for Mr Veluppillai.

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Admittedly this case is extreme. Here, the husband did cause there to be over 30 hearings in front of the court, he ended up assaulting his wife’s barrister and his wife in court, was convicted of assault, fled the country and sent the court abusive emails saying he had a fatal illness and that the proceedings should be adjourned indefinitely! The eventual outcome was that an order was made allowing the wife to sell off one property to pay off the mortgage on another and this also provided a fund for her to set up a business, amongst other things.

The point to take from this is that going to court, whether in person or with your lawyer, means engaging in a battle, starting a fight and sometimes people lose perspective in their desire to win. But there is no winner here. The bottom line is that there is less money available to divide between the separating couple at the end of the day. And immense bad feeling between them.

Another approach is mediation. In mediation we start from the place where separating couples say: “it went wrong, we can’t put it right but by blaming and punishing nothing is mended. Let’s work together to build workable futures for us both”.

Yes. We do tell clients that this is hard work.  But a lot less stressful than fighting and cheaper than the £150,000 that Mr Veluppillai will be handing over to his ex-wife’s lawyers.

Courts are deliberately misled by a quarter of divorce petitions

The introduction of a no-fault divorce petition is the subject of a 10 minute motion which was debated in the Commons on the 13th October.

The law should not require couples to “throw mud at each other” and instead should allow for divorce without blame. A simple signed declaration by each party to a divorce that the marriage had broken down irretrievably should be sufficient.

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Research conducted by YouGov in June 2015 found that 52% of divorce petitions were fault based and that 27% of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their petition admitted the allegation was not true.

Support for no fault divorce has also come from Resolution. Their chairman has said “fault based petitions are outdated, unfair and in need of urgent reform. Its not about making divorce easier – its about making it easier for people to move on. The current system is causing couples to make false allegations to have their divorce finalised in a reasonable time. The charade needs to be ended”.

The removal of blame from the divorce process would bring England and Wales into line with other jurisdictions including the US, Australia and Spain.

A Safe Place to Talk?

Has talking to each other become impossible? Are the things you’ve got to sort out too difficult? Does it feel as if there’s a brick wall between you that you can’t bring down?

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live. The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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Focus mediators are trained and practised in addressing any power imbalances. They are completely neutral: they don’t take sides. Most importantly, they are non-judgemental. Nothing shocks them. The mediator keeps you focussed on the plans you need to make for your future, rather than dwelling on the past. She uses her wealth of experience to help you both knock down that wall and build a future.

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’. Mediation can only help those who want it to work and are willing to set aside their old habits, under the mediator’s guidance. The mediator has a right to end the mediation if she feels the process is being abused.

What’s your story?

Any parent facing six weeks of summer holidays has the challenge of keeping the kids entertained, and if you have separated from your partner, the challenge is even tougher.

The Oxford Story Museum does a fantastic job at offering diversion for families who love reading. http://www.storymuseum.org.uk

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Their imaginative conversion of a rambling old house on Pembroke Street now offers rooms where children can take part in a fabulous array of book-related activities.

There’s an Illustration Exhibition with a live ‘Illustrator Zoo’; the chance to dress up and sit on the Talking Throne; a giant bed, where all sorts of people are reading bed-time stories – and there are rooms rigged out to feel like a scene out of people’s favourite books – Treasure Island, Narnia – where you can snuggle up and read stories to your heart’s content.

We all love stories. As adults, we develop the knack of creating a story in our heads about how life is treating us – usually unfairly ­– and when our marriage breaks down, that story becomes a script we hang on to, to prove how badly the other person has behaved, and how awful they made us feel.

In family mediation, those stories are important. Focus mediators always start by asking each person to spend an hour just talking about themselves, in private, in complete confidence, so that the mediator gets the hang of how things look from both points of view, and each of you feels heard. But when the joint sessions start, at which you come together with the mediator to discuss the issues you’ve got to sort out – arrangements for the children, what’s happening about the house, how is maintenance going to work, and what about the pensions – those stories become less important. It’s not about who did what anymore; it’s about who is going to do what, so that you can both move forward into your independent lives. Not exactly stepping through the wardrobe, and not nearly so much fun, but a constructive, reasonable, mature way of dealing with divorce. It’s comparatively quick, and cheap – and the kids will thank you for it.