Category Archives: Conflict

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

What To Expect In The First Mediation Session

If both of you are willing to move ahead to a first mediation session, and your mediator thinks your case is suitable for mediation, they will fix a first mediation session.

It will depend on the issues you face as to the timing of a first session following the MIAMs.

What to expect in the first mediation Focus Mediation Blog

Our role is to offer you a safe and neutral environment where you feel able to express the issues that have been blocking for example parental arrangements or a financial settlement.

Parental Arrangements

I like to bring parents together as soon as possible to start to talk about the issues they face. The flexibility of mediation means you can bring any issues to the first session you wish to discuss.

When dealing with child arrangements we aren’t just looking at whether arrangements are possible, you can talk about the softer issues.

Why the arrangements aren’t working is often around issues of parental communication – the way parents speak to each other, or the timing of pick ups and drop offs, working up to overnight staying contact can be an issue between parents, so too the introduction of new partners particularly if you are only recently separated.

I describe the process in the first session as building a bridge, and any bridge needs firm foundations. In the first session we aim to put the foundation stones in place. Arrangements both parents are willing to sign up to for a short period of time say 4 – 6 weeks.

I ask parents to come back to another session at that point to talk about what went well and what didn’t go so well. Sometimes after the second session parents feel able to move ahead together without needing to return, and sometimes they need to know they can come back for a third session.

As they start to work well together as parents they start to build their own bridge of trust and understanding to provide that essential framework and support for their children.

Property and Finance

Couples coming to mediation to talk through property and finance are often keen to get to a resolution.

The first mediation session for property and finance follows pretty much the same financial procedures as those laid down by the court.

I usually wait 4 – 6 weeks before fixing a first mediation session. It is important that you have as much financial information as possible for the first meeting and often pension information – cash equivalent values – can take several weeks to obtain. You are paying for the sessions so it is important they are not wasted.

A bit like a jigsaw puzzle you can’t create the picture without looking at all the pieces and in the first mediation session we need you to turn over all the pieces by completing the Form E, so we can see “what’s in the financial pot”, just as you would if each of you was working with a solicitor.

Once we know what your assets and liabilities are we ask you to start to look at your needs set against what can be afforded.

Mediation is not suitable in some cases and it won’t work if one or both of you is not upfront and honest about your finances. You can’t complete a jigsaw with some of the pieces missing.

However, if you both want to get through to the other side of your financial issues and move ahead with your lives, mediation offers a collaborative and expedited way forward.

Some couples have full financial information at the first session and have already considered possible ways of splitting assets and sharing liabilities. Some couples need time to assemble their information and think about options, those couples will need more sessions.

I usually run 1 ½ hour sessions for couples in property and finance matters but if couples would like to spend half a day or a day working through issues I can do this too.

I also offer One Day Lawyer Assisted Mediation – a topic for another time.

Author: Joanna Chawla LLB FMCA , Family Mediator, London & Watford

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

A Mediator’s Guide To Separating Well

Reflecting on the start to 2019, people who are separating I have seen this month, wish to find out about how they can move forward and to try to understand how that might work.

A Mediator’s Guide To Separating Well Focus Mediation Blog Feb 2019

 

How do we get started?

The first step is to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM.) Sometimes your solicitor will have told you that you need to see a mediator to get the court form signed, or you need to get your MIAM form. The court rules expect that separating couples, or parents, attend a MIAM meeting so that they can have the opportunity of finding out how they can get on with their lives, and out of their current difficult situation.

Part of the MIAM meeting is used by me to give you information about the mediation process and answer any questions you may have, and I assess whether the process is suitable. This gives me an opportunity to find out a bit about what is going on for you and what needs sorting out. After that, we can set up a joint mediation session if we all agree that this is the best way forward.

In case it doesn’t look like the best way forward, I also talk to you about other options. This does not just mean Court. That is not the only option. There are all sorts of options I can give you information about ranging from different types of mediation to bringing your solicitors along for a One Day Lawyer Assisted Mediation.

There are also other options to help you get towards a solution that works for you, such as jointly instructing an expert to give you an ‘Early Neutral Evaluation’. In that option it can be really helpful to ask an expert, often a specialist Family law barrister, to say what they would decide if they were your Judge or Arbitrator.

Finally, if you really do think that you need someone else to decide for you then you can either choose to ask an Arbitrator to decide for you, or you can apply to the Family Court.

After the MIAM you can think about what might work best for you, and take legal advice. It is really important that you can talk to your solicitor.

Next time- what to expect in the first mediation session:

  • Getting mediation started
  • Issues to bring to mediation
  • Get on with your own lives

Emma Bugg, Lawyer Mediator, mediates from our Hemel Hempstead & St Albans offices.

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 Fears of a Divorcing Parent

A divorcing parent will often have fears about the future of their relationship with their child. If the family structure was traditional and one parent stayed at home whilst the other worked full time, it’s likely the working parent will have concerns about the level of their future involvement. Will they be judged because they weren’t as involved in the day-to-day care? The stay at home parent may also worry that they may be forced to go back to work full-time and that this might negatively impact the children. Such fears can lead to each becoming positional and this can cause conflict. The full-time working parent may fear the other parent will stop them seeing the children or will limit time to such an extent that it damages the relationship. The stay at home parent may argue that the other wasn’t very involved when they lived together and that they don’t understand why they are now insisting they spend much more time with the children. They may feel that their role is no longer valued. Obviously, there are numerous family models, and each will experience unique concerns.

the fears of a divorcing parent focus mediation blog

Communication When Divorcing

When parents decide to separate, communication may have broken down or become strained. Mediation creates a safe space for parents to work on improving their communication. They can share their concerns with one another and know they will be heard. At a recent mediation session, a father explained that he was ‘terrified’ that his relationship with his children would be irreparably damaged now he was no longer living in the same household as them. He had proposed child arrangements that meant that he would spend considerably more time with the children than he ever had before. His wife was frustrated; she had often asked him to spend more time away from the office when they were a couple. Now they had separated he was suggesting she return to work and he reduce his hours and provide some of the childcare. She felt he was dismissing her role. The wife said they had agreed to a traditional relationship and she had given up a well-paid career to be a full-time mother to their four children for the last 12 years. She worried about the impact on the children if she returned to work when they were also dealing with the breakdown of their parents’ marriage. The husband said that he needed her to return to work so that he could take reduced hours so that he could spend more meaningful time with the children. In mediation I helped them to explore each other’s concerns and fears in greater detail. They both loved their children very much and each feared the divorce would result in child arrangements that could negatively impact their relationship with the children. The husband explained that sharing a home fulltime with the children had meant that he had been able to touch base with them in the mornings and evenings and that he had spent quality time with them at weekends. His biggest fear was that he would only see them every other weekend and their close bond would deteriorate. The wife reassured him that it was very important to her that the children maintained a strong relationship with him. She expressed her concerns about returning to work; she worried about the impact on the children if she no longer did the school runs. She viewed the school runs in the same way that he had viewed touching base with the children in the mornings and evenings. They continued to share their fears and concerns in a way they hadn’t been able to outside the mediation room. The husband made it clear he wasn’t asking her to work full time and stop the school runs. This led to them together making child arrangements that they felt would help the children to cope with the changes that lay ahead. The wife found a role which allowed her to still cover all morning drop offs and a couple of afternoons. This paid less than the husband had hoped, but he was still able to slightly reduce his hours (and work from home one day a week), so he could collect the children from school twice a week. They listened and compromised so the children didn’t suffer.

So Why Does Mediation Resolve Issues That Parents Can’t?

Often at intake a parent tells me that they fear mediation won’t work as they have repeatedly told the other parent how they feel, and it has fallen on deaf ears. A mediator doesn’t have a magic wand. However, their impartiality allows them to create an environment where each parent can be listened to. Outside mediation during a difficult conversation one may have walked away, or an argument may have ensued. The mediator makes sure the discussions are fair and each parent has an opportunity to express themselves clearly. It’s not an easy solution – it’s hard work and painful at times. However, it lays important foundations for respectful parental communication. Parents won’t always agree and that’s normal regardless of whether they are a couple or separated. Each parent needs to grieve for the end of their relationship, and this takes time. Mediation enables couples to have difficult conversations at a time when emotions are running high and it’s too hard to resolve issues without the support of a professional.

When times are difficult it can be helpful to think about the future. What will your child thank you for handling well? How can you ensure that you will both be there for major events such as a graduation, wedding or even a grandchild’s 1st birthday? Nothing worth having comes without effort and that includes a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce.

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

What advice would you give to a close friend experiencing divorce?

At Focus Mediation our Lawyer Mediators collectively have many years of experience supporting separating or divorcing couples. We asked them what advice they would give to a close friend experiencing divorce.

Mary Banham-Hall

Mary Banham-Hall FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

You and your children will hurt enough without fighting, so don’t let conflict take over. Remember what’s important and focus on that. ALSO Working out what to do together helps you both and is definitely the way to go. Yes, it’s hard but worth it – and with a mediator’s help you can do it!


Emma Bugg

Emma Bugg FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

I would recommend they read the Separated Parents Information Programme ‘SPIP’ and Resolution “Helping parents to help children”  handbook and to read as many other resources as possible to find out how best to navigate a way forward that works for their children and enables them to continue their parenting role as best they can.


Jane Leadbetter

Jane Leadbeater – Family Mediator

Try mediation. It can help you to resolve issues quickly and at much less financial and emotional cost than negotiations between solicitors or court proceedings.


Rachel Lander

Rachel Lander – Family Mediator

Lots of people seek the support of counselling when their marriage breaks down.  A counsellor can really help you in working through the difficult feelings and emotions that you may face.  In turn this can assist you in approaching practical issues, such as where you will all live, how the bills will be paid, emotion – and money – and add to your stress.  There are many alternative ways to civilly reach agreement with your ex: mediation (coupled with advice from a solicitor as the mediation progresses) will provide a forum to explore issues, future pension provision etc., in a more pragmatic and calmer way.

Remember that you don’t have to ‘fight’ or ‘have your day in court’.  Both of those approaches will drain you of much needed energy in a safe environment and to reach proposals that in a lot of cases can be put before the court by post and made into a binding court order.

If there is an insurmountable blockage that can’t be resolved in mediation, then consider arbitration as an alternative to court proceedings.  An independent arbitrator who is picked by you and your ex (usually an arbitration trained Barrister or Solicitor) will act like a Judge, on a private basis, and can deal with matters in a more flexible way than traditional court proceedings including incorporating mediation into the arbitration itself.


Elaine Clarke

Elaine Clarke FMCA – Family Mediator

Don’t rush into agreeing anything. Mediation will help you – it’s a cheaper alternative to court – but also be guided by legal advice. I believe with the help of a mediator, separating couples can make their own arrangements for separating, rather than battling through the courts. This is usually much better for them and their families, as well as being quicker and costing less, both financially and emotionally.


Sara Stoner

Sara Stoner FMCA – Family Mediator

Feeling hurt and angry is normal and to be expected. You can’t change the past and you won’t agree on it. Focusing on your future enables you to move forward and find peace. A court battle won’t make you feel any better and you will regret wasting so much time and money. Don’t dismiss mediation just because you don’t get along. Mediation is a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations that you haven’t managed to have. Decide your own future and resolve matters quickly and cost efficiently. Your children need you to sort out finances so they aren’t caught up in a toxic situation. It’s not the divorce that harms children; it’s the prolonged parental conflict.


Caroline Friend

Caroline Friend FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

This is one of the worst times in your life, so don’t be surprised if you are overwhelmed with difficult emotions. The trick is to try to put those emotions on one side when you are looking at your financial settlement, and when you are making arrangements for the children. So far as finances go, maybe jot down how you would like your life to look
in one year’s time; two years time, five years time: generate some thoughts on how you can best develop your independence while supporting the family. As for the children: what do you want to avoid; what do you want to aim for for them? How would you like them to look back on this difficult period in their lives? What can you do to make sure they continue to grow up with good relationships with both their parents and
don’t feel caught up in the conflict?

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

 

It’s Hard to Hate up Close

I read an interesting article about a black man who was responsible for over a 100 Ku Klux Klan members leaving the organisation. What was his secret? He said, “It’s hard to hate up close.” He didn’t try and convince them that the KKK was wrong. He just asked them to spend some time getting to know him. Many had never had a proper conversation with a black man. Each of the departing KKK members found that they no longer had it in them to hate a black man that they now knew. Clearly that’s an extreme example of bridging an empathy gap. However, I’m sure we can all recall a time when we fell out with someone or drifted apart. Communication will have deteriorated and it’s natural to then fill in the gaps and made assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling. When communication is good, empathy flows and allowances are made for friends and partners; “I know she wouldn’t have intentionally forgot, she is very busy and has a lot on her plate.”  When an empathy gap forms, goodwill is less forthcoming.  People stop understanding one another and frustration and resentment can build.

It_s Hard to Hate up Close Focus mediation Blog

Bridging The Empathy Gap

Mediation involves bridging the empathy gap between separating couples. If there’s no empathy, there’s often no compromise. “He’s the one who had a one night stand and ruined our marriage. He can spend Christmas alone, why should I spend any time away from my children? ” Or “Why should I pay her any spousal maintenance? She had an affair and left me; let her feel what it’s like to live without my hard earned salary.” It’s so difficult for angry spouses to place themselves in the other’s shoes when their own pain feels so overwhelming. Their anger often masks underlying pain. Whilst anger is a normal part of grieving for a relationship; it can be self destructive if it doesn’t dissipate over time. As Nelson Mandela wisely said, “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

A mediator’s role isn’t to convince couples to fall in love again or to even like each other. The past can’t be changed but a mediator can encourage clients to focus on the future. Clients might be  frightened about where will they live, how will they pay the bills and whether they will be able to spend enough time with their children. This fear can lead to each becoming positional; “Give me the house and I won’t touch your pension. If you don’t agree I’ll take you to court. I’ll claim the house, high maintenance for life and most of your pension.” When resolving finances in mediation we take a very practical approach. The clients work together to identify and then quantify their assets. Only then can they explore options. The mediator will ask them to check mortgage capacity and suitable housing options, amongst other things.  During the process communication improves and each begins to better understand the other’s concerns and worries. Sometimes I can pinpoint when the tide changes. Recently, a wife turned to her husband and said after several sessions, “Deep down I do know you want me to be ok, and I want you to know that despite everything, I want you to be ok too.” I sat back and observed as they nodded knowingly at one another. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations to resolve issues arising from separation.

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

What makes a Good Divorce?

Resolution is an organisation for solicitors and other professionals in England and Wales who commit to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family law matters. This week it’s Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ campaign. They are focusing on how separating or divorcing parents can limit the impact of conflict on their children. They also campaign for divorce reform and the removal of ‘blame’ within the current divorce process.  Parents need to focus on the future and not a past that can’t be changed. However, sometimes the current law requires one to dredge up the past and blame the other. It’s a poor start for parents transitioning from ex-spouses to co-parents. So is there such a thing as a ‘good divorce’? Perhaps the word ‘good’ is too ambitious. When parents separate or divorce they suffer a huge trauma. If they can divorce in a manner that doesn’t inflict further damage on each other or their children, then that is a positive outcome.

What Makes a good divorce Focus Mediation Blog Nov 18

Family Law Professionals

As family law professionals we have a duty to focus on the best interests of children and to enable couples to finalise their divorce, child arrangements and finances, as peacefully as possible. We should constantly review whether our current practices correspond with that ethos. In my experience, most solicitors encourage clients to peacefully reach agreement, (if possible), and avoid litigation. In mediated financial cases, once full disclosure has been completed, clients are more likely to reach a negotiated settlement if they first receive good legal advice from their solicitors. They trust their solicitors and therefore feel safe to enter into negotiations. What’s good advice? Good advice involves a solicitor also considering what they would advise the other party if they were their client. This grounds the advice and makes it more realistic. However, problems arise if each solicitor takes an extreme view. If a wife has been told she should seek a very high level of maintenance for a long term, but her husband has been told there should be no spousal maintenance, it’s so difficult for either to move away from their respective positions and focus on needs. Providing realistic advice is a very powerful way to reduce conflict between separating parents.

Solicitors and Mediators – let’s talk more

Let’s take more time to ask each other about our respective roles. What can we do better and what works well? What do we need from one another? One of the most informative conversations I had was at a pension seminar with three family solicitors. They asked me many insightful questions about mediation and explained their concerns and what they felt the positives and negatives of mediation were. Sharing information can help solicitors and mediators to together support clients and help them achieve a conflict free divorce.

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

Christmas

The mediator’s diary is governed by the seasons. You’d think the breakdown of a relationship could occur at any time of the year, and indeed it does; but there are certain markers in the calendar that prompt people to seek our help. Organising the long summer holidays is one of them, especially when both parents are working. Christmas is another.

From about early November, separated couples are facing up to the tricky business of sharing their children over Christmas.

Christmas Focus Mediation Blog November 2018

 

Most people start from the base line of alternating year on year; but the devil is in the detail. What package is being alternated? Is it the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, swapping on Boxing Day? Or does the swap occur half way through The Day Itself, so that both parents get to see them?

In some families, the dilemma is made easier by the traditions of the extended family. Perhaps they always gather on Boxing Day; perhaps, for religious or cultural reasons, they don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

But in some cases, they make things harder. Perhaps they live at the other end of the country so any visit needs to be for several days. Perhaps they don’t exist at all, and the parent who is without the children is completely alone.

Christmas Alone

Being without the children is the hardest consequence of any divorce. Being alone at Christmas is everyone’s worst fear. Put the two together, and you have something that is impossible to contemplate, let alone agree to.

Ask the children what they would like? You can bet your bottom tangerine that they would like their parents to get back together so that these impossible alternatives are no longer debated. Since that is not happening, they will probably respond according to age “Whatever” (truculent teenager), or “I really want to  see Mum AND Dad on Christmas Day (anxious small person).  Privately, they will probably all be thinking “Can we not do it like last year, it was too much to-ing and fro-ing and I felt sick from two lots of turkey”, but they won’t know whether to say it out loud: Christmas seems to make everyone so tense. Whatever way things are arranged, the children will always feel guilty about having to divide their time, leaving one parent alone for some of the holiday.

Here at Focus, we help couples explore the alternatives. Could you write in with suggestions: tell us how you do it, and whether it works? What to avoid? Mediation is all about sharing ideas and strategies – we’d love to hear from you.

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

 

Difficult Conversations

I’ve just finished a book called “Difficult Conversations”*. I feel as if I’ve been given the key to a whole set of cupboards that have been locked for a long time. Here’s what is says:

Most of us put off having difficult conversations with our friends or family or colleagues because we are afraid of what might happen. What if the other person takes it badly? Reacts angrily? Ends the friendship? Fires us?

Difficult Conversations focus mediation blog

So the other person’s annoying or disappointing or insensitive behaviour continues to fester, and you continue to hold it against them. You either punish them with silence, or with crotchety attitudes, or you take the bull by the horns and accuse them of what they’re doing wrong in such a way that they feel pushed into a corner which they have to defend; they fight back and the whole thing gets confrontational and goes horribly wrong.

What is the point of having a difficult conversation? It’s not to create a fight. It’s to clear something up that’s getting in the way of a loving or friendly or constructive relationship. This book offers strategies for ensuring that, when you pluck up the courage to do something about the problem, you can engineer a positive outcome by following a three-stage pattern.

What Happened

You start by exchanging views on what happened, so that you can see each other’s version of events. The two accounts are often very different, which can shed light. The other person may tell you things you didn’t know about the background to what they did: something that happened behind the scenes that affected their behaviour with you.

How it made you feel

Then you can each describe the emotional impact of the incident. Here, you have to be careful not to accuse; instead, simply explain the feelings that arose in you as result of the behaviour. You each need to listen to the other and try to empathise with how they felt. If you don’t do this, those feelings of, say, resentment or loneliness will continue to colour everything: get them out, make sure they’ve been heard, and they will recede.

How it affected your opinion of yourself

Lastly, be open about how the incident or behaviour attacks your identity. You’ll need to have worked this out before you start the conversation. Did their behaviour leave you feeling you are a bad mother/husband/colleague? If those identities are important to you, they will be why you have been so shaken. So, let them know how important it is to you that you do a good job in that role and how you want to mend things so you can improve.

The learning conversation

Now you can see how you have contributed to the bad blood between you (because you’ve listened to what they’ve told you about what you did and how it made them feel), and you understand their contribution better. Ask them what they suggest you can both do from now on to improve matters between you. In other words, turn the conversation into an appeal for some shared proposals that will help you both mend matters.

The book is littered with excellent examples of Difficult Conversations; ones that need to be had, ones that go wrong, ones that work out well. There are numerous situations that ring bells, whether it’s in your marriage or with your parents, your children, your house-mate, your sibling or your boss. There’s practical advice and even some coaching. It’s succinctly written, very witty, very clear, and very wise.

If everyone put it into practice, there’d be no need for mediation!

* Difficult Conversations: how to discuss what matters most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

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

 

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