Category Archives: Conflict

Contents, Totems and Ginger Jars – 2018

“It’s Mine!”

Contents Totems and Ginger Jars 2019

Dawn: “Couples often have difficulty agreeing who has what of the contents of the house.  Yet lawyers and the Courts will very rarely want to get involved in the division of contents, simply because the cost of arguing over such things often exceeds the value of the contents by a very considerable margin.

Mary: “One solution might be to go round the house with coloured stickers taking it in turns to choose, with a friend to help you – and a glass of wine! This debate can cause huge bad feeling. There’s no special “right answer”, just what people work out that they can live with.”

Dawn: “When couples can’t agree the division on contents, if pushed, a Judge may order the sale of everything, or that they bid for what they want. Why do some people struggle so much with this?”

Mary: “Many reasons. They have exhausted compromise or they’re afraid of the waiting void, the silence.  After years in a conflicted relationship, people may struggle to leave that conflict. Also, often they simply can’t bear to feel they might lose the last argument!”

Dawn: “So … they could sort it out, but unconsciously they don’t or can’t you mean?”

Mary: “Yes, but the conflict has to go somewhere and attaches to things of which the worst may be totems or ginger jars (a.k.a “this is our ditch it and we will die in it”).

Dawn: “You must explain that!”

Mary: “Totems or ginger jars are often a symptom of subconscious, deep psychological or emotional aspects of a relationship.  A totem is often some legal principle like the “clean break” on spousal maintenance or inherited property, but couples can get completely hung up on those issues.  There are accustomed ways of dealing with them and it is best not to resist the conventions, but none of that matters to them – they are implacable! A ginger jar often has no value and no legal or practical significance at all, but it becomes infused with immense importance – granny’s old photos or the children’s Monopoly.  When people look back it won’t matter, but it matters immensely at the time.”

Dawn: “I know what you mean – people can be totally adamant about something relatively unimportant and the fact that there may be accepted ways of dealing with it just don’t matter to them.  Nor do they care they’ll spend more arguing over the principle than it is worth. People may cling to their ginger jar until the death.”

Mary: “OK – but some people need a ginger jar, it’s the last argument no one can lose! I tell people in advance if I think there’ll be something they can’t agree – then when we get to arguing over the food mixer, after everything else is sorted, they may even see the funny side and that is a good result!”

Author: Mary Banham-Hall LLB FMCA, 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

The Cost of Litigation

The costs of litigating a case should be in proportion to the value of the dispute. Official – but forgotten repeatedly.

The Cost of Litigation Focus Mediation Blog

The Ministry of Justice, the judges, everyone – says the costs of going to law should bear some sort of rational relationship to the value of the dispute. Yet this rule is frequently and flagrantly ignored. Focus Mediation frequently finds the main issue in dispute in mediation is the costs of proceedings at court. So, in one case where flat owners were arguing over noise between their flats (one flat was over the other), the costs were £62,000.   This was at the pre-trial review. The judge heard that the budget for costs to go to trial was a further £30,000 including the lawyers and the experts. The agreed costs of the works of noise proofing between the flats was under £4000! The costs had become the issue. If one party could ‘Win’ then the other would lose twice, they’d have to pay all the costs. The judge had a little paddy and said they had to mediate. Now this is unusual, as actually the courts have no power to force people to mediate, but he was incensed enough at the flagrant breach of the rule of proportionality on costs to send everyone away for mediation. The Focus mediator settled the case. One flat owner bought the other’s flat; not even a result the judge could have imposed if he’d wanted to. This is a classic example of conflict having a life of its own, of the disputants losing the plot and ending up in a ridiculous situation, where their litigation costs were the main issue. There are many reasons this can happen.

The lawyers may advise that they cannot advise as to whether someone’s going to win the case or not, until they have seen adequate “disclosure” of documents, witness statements and expert evidence, enabling them to advise who is likely to have the best evidence and hence who will win or lose. The problem is that the cost of getting the case this far alone can be out of all proportion to the value of the case. Suddenly the issue is no longer just the liability for or ownership of the discombobulating sprocket, there is another issue – who is going to pay all the costs? Since the Jackson Reforms in 2013 there is far more pressure to mediate and a refusal to mediate can mean you don’t get all your costs even if you win. Nonetheless the number of mediations is still not rising to the levels required by any sort of rational approach to resolving court disputes. Why not?

At Focus we wonder this all the time. We think there are many reasons including:

  • The conflict has a life of its own, one or both parties cannot back down. Their irrational emotional right brain is engaged, they feel they simply must win, even though the costs make it a pointless and empty victory even if they win and they may lose but…
  • Backing down is unthinkable. The identity of one or more participants is threatened by not winning or fighting
  • The adrenaline rushes of the amygdala in the brain is priming the fight, freeze or flee -a pre-historic response to conflict. The modern interpretation of fleeing or fighting the tiger can often be the ritualised combat of your chosen combat representatives, your lawyers
  • The costs may be insane but ‘It’s because I’m worth it’. This can often be the case in a divorce, where one party may want to punish the other with massive costs, drag out the fight, to try to get control of their resolution process (in their dreams, it has a life of its own). They may seek the fight for continuing connection, to delay the waiting void after it is over, the ritual of litigation may be an expression of their grief and loss, there are so many reasons.
  • A completely mistaken understanding of likely court adjudicated outcomes. For example, the divorce client arguing over a family pot of no more than £500,000, whose London lawyer had advised her that their hourly rate of £600 was worth it, as they would get her such a good settlement the extra money would pay the costs. Again, in your dreams! However, by the time the truth dawns, it is too late.
  • In some cases, there may be a conflict of interest between the lawyers and their clients over costs. The National Audit Office reported on this in their report into Family Mediation in 2007. They found lawyers in some instances have a contrary interest to their clients to earn fees and that resolving a divorce by mediation was 75% quicker than going to court and cost a fraction of litigation. This isn’t true of many lawyers, who do refer to mediation, it is just that some don’t or leave it too late to save much.

So, what can you do? Like many things the answer is both simple and hard to do:

  • Have a sense of proportion, work out the value of what you are arguing over. Set a budget for the costs of a sensible percentage of that figure and resist exceeding it. 10/20/30%, something rational.
  • Keep proposing mediation, even if you go to trial and lose, if the other person refuses mediation, you may benefit on a costs order. If you mediate you may well settle the case.
  • Pocket your pride, be ready to engage in resolution and move on with your life
  • Talk to a mediator, call us on 01908 231132.

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

Mediation & Grey Hairs

I was previously a family & criminal law solicitor. I represented defendants accused of serious crimes including murder. I also advised and represented family clients in court. Many of my family clients were suffering with the shock and pain that family breakup can cause. I’m now a family mediator and mother to two boys and I feel my role as a family mediator is the hardest of all. I sometimes leave the office feeling mentally and physically exhausted as the work is exceptionally challenging.

Mediation and Grey Hairs Focus Mediation blog

A solicitor has one client and a mediator has two that are in conflict. A solicitor gives legal advice and tells a client what’s in their best interest. A mediator is impartial and must always also be seen to be impartial. A casual comment could be misinterpreted. Clients feel vulnerable and its human nature to want their mediator to be on their side. However, a mediator’s role isn’t to decide which party is in the right. It’s the complete opposite. We need to enable them to see that battling one another and focusing on a past that can’t be changed, keeps them stuck in conflict. It’s my role to facilitate conversations so they can hear each other’s needs and concerns. Separating couples need to work together to find solutions and that’s the one thing they think they can’t do. However, with the intervention of a mediator it is possible. They may be sceptical about mediation and advised by family and friends that they need to fight to get what they need. When clients can show vulnerability and lay down their weapons, they are closer to a resolution that will work for each of them. I need to ensure they each feel safe enough to do that. They need to know I have heard them, and I understand their concerns. Imagine trying to demonstrate this whilst mediating a session with two hurt and angry people who no longer trust each other and struggle to communicate.

A recent case

My clients were able to resolve their finances at their 5th mediation session. The previous sessions had been tough on both and were difficult to mediate. A husband had a long-standing affair and whilst years had passed since they separated, the wife really struggled to accept the end of the marriage. She questioned what parts of the marriage had been ‘real’ and how she could ever trust again. The husband hadn’t wanted to separate but the relationship was fractured and couldn’t be healed. The wife was a lovely lady but hurt and angry and she was unable at times to contain her frustration. Her husband apologised and said that he didn’t know what else to do to make things right. It’s such a balancing act for a mediator. Mediation isn’t therapy and we focus on the future not the past – but to ignore the past is dangerous. It’s like sticking a plaster on a cut when the blood flow hasn’t been stemmed – the plaster will fall off just when things seem to be improving. There’s also a duty to make sure that the sessions move forward and that the husband didn’t feel that they were about chastising him for the affair. Throughout the sessions I was empathetic, listened very carefully to each of them and reiterated the ground rule of respectful communication. Several times I separated them into different rooms and reminded them why they were there and what the future might look like if they reached resolution. We all persevered.

The 4th session was particularly challenging. The wife was very emotional, and her pain manifested in anger and blame. Again, I listened well to each of them until they each felt sufficiently heard to move forward. The 5th session was a culmination of their hard work and mine – it’s why I do this difficult job. The atmosphere was very different. The clients had homework between sessions and had been busy compiling mortgage information and housing options. Each came prepared to work together to try and find solutions.  Mediation had enabled them to do something vital – separate themselves from the issues arising from their separation. They were no longer blaming each other and were both trying to find solutions. They now saw the issues as joint concerns and they were beginning to build trust. They found compromises they could each live with. They thanked me for my hard work and patience and asked if I had ever encountered a more difficult mediation. I had. They joked that I would surely develop some new grey hairs.

Supporting people through a trauma is never easy. The clients had found peace and were able to plan their respective futures. As for me – I have a good hairdresser and any new grey hairs will soon be banished.

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

Divorcing? 5 things you should know

  1. Divorce is a trauma and you are experiencing severe grief.

It’s important to understand that divorce grief is extremely painful but normal. You need to be patient with yourself. Most people take about two years to work their way through the grief process. 

Divorcing 5 things you should know

  1. Court proceedings often add fuel to the fire.

It’s hard to think calmly and logically when it feels like your world is crumbling around you. Scared and angry people may believe they must hire an aggressive solicitor who will fight for them. If both sides take this view and argue over every issue, then legal fees can soon mount up to tens of thousands of pounds each. Court should be an absolute last resort as it’s expensive, involves lengthy delays and is adversarial. There are other methods of dispute resolution that are far more fit for purpose and include: mediation (with or without solicitors present), medarb (a hybrid of mediation and arbitration), arbitration (you instruct a private judge to decide the issues you can’t resolve – it’s cheaper and much quicker than court) and collaborative law (you instruct a specially trained lawyer who will work with your ex spouse’s lawyer to reach a settlement). Do your research – the most expensive option is not always the best.

  1. You do have control over your future.

Clients often feel they have no control over their future. That’s not true. You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you respond. Good behaviour is often mirrored over time. When one person puts their weapons down, the other often follows their lead. It is possible to draw a line in the sand and move forward constructively. Don’t relinquish control over your future just because you can’t agree. Options such as mediation and collaborative law, allow you to make important decisions rather than a Judge imposing them on you.

  1. Remember to your children you are still a family.

When you split from a partner and don’t have children, you never have to see them again – if that’s what you want. It makes healing easier, but that ‘luxury’ doesn’t exist for parents. It’s the parental conflict or inability to communicate that hurts a child more than the actual divorce. To a child their parents are both their family whether they live together or apart. Visualise what your child will thank you for handling well when they are 21. Consider their graduation, birth of their child or their wedding. They will want both parents there – think about the long-term bigger picture. Communication will be difficult and strained initially but parents must move from exes to co-parents if children are to feel safe and secure.

  1. Know that you won’t always feel this bad.

The grief can feel all consuming and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When life feels overwhelming it’s important to take baby steps. Take one day at a time. Talk to friends and family. Consider therapy – non-judgemental listening is powerful. Make time for yourself – even if that just means a long bath or a walk. Focus on the future not the past – you can’t change the past, but you can experience a more peaceful future.

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

Mediating Finances upon Divorce – Too Good to be True?

Clients often attend their Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting ‘MIAM’, wondering what mediation is really about. Some worry it’s about reconciliation at a time when they know the relationship has broken down – it isn’t. Other’s worry it’s a soft option and that only expensive litigation can get them the settlement they need. Mediation is anything but fluffy; it requires commitment and full and frank financial disclosure. It can be uncomfortable and challenging. However, it’s also quick, cost efficient and clients retain control of their own future.

Mediating Finances upon Divorce

Mediation is too good to be true…

A client told me that mediation sounded too good to be true. She asked why everyone isn’t doing it if it can save tens of thousands of pounds and avoid a long and often bitter court battle. Many separating couples feel that court is the only way forward as communication may be non-existent or extremely tense and they can’t agree. However that’s actually when mediation is often required and can assist. The next question is often, ‘Won’t I end up with a less favourable settlement if I don’t fight it out in court?’ Investing tens of thousands of pounds in a court process, doesn’t mean that it is the right process or the most advantageous. The courts are experiencing greater delays than ever before & a Judge, (when you finally get in front of one), is looking for fairness and how best to meet needs. It’s not about finding a winner. However to make litigation financially worthwhile clients often need to win. I encountered a couple with one asset of £500,000. One wanted a £300,000/£200,000 split and the other wanted £250,000 each. This was a particularly ugly court battle, but prior to their final hearing, each had borrowed £100,000 from their respective parents to finances the litigation. As this money had to be repaid, they had effectively reduced their £500,000 asset to £300,000. That litigation was clearly fuelled by anger and hurt. It’s very hard to walk away from a court battle when so much time, energy and money are invested

So just because you invest heavily in litigation, it doesn’t mean it’s a wise investment.

Focus Mediation was set up by Mary Banham-Hall, a highly experienced Family Lawyer. Long before mediation became popular, Mary felt that there was a better way to resolve family issues arising from separation or divorce. Our lawyer mediators know the law and we have huge collective experience representing spouses in financial proceedings. We know what’s practical and realistic and what past clients have achieved. Mediation allows clients to retain control over important decisions about their future. We fully support and encourage legal advice from solicitors. It helps clients to confidently make decisions in mediation so  their solicitor can then make the proposals binding.

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

Stop the Madness! The Court Proportionality Rule must work – once joint costs reach 20% of case value litigants must mediate. Support reform of our dysfunctional justice system – Part 3 of a 3 part blog.

Parts 1 & 2 – The Civil Proceedings Rules (CPR) and the Family Proceedings Rules (FPR) govern the operation of litigation and the courts and how lawyers, litigants and judges run cases. There is already a rule saying that costs must be proportionate to case value, but whilst judges beg people to settle their cases and stop wasting money – litigants think they can’t because no one tells them how this can be done.  People do not know how successful mediation is at settling disputes and so don’t use mediation, even though it works. No one tells them how successful it is, because they are intent on the Law, the litigation, its procedures and getting the ‘right result’. Mediation is the invisible elephant in our justice system. It is gently waiting, able and willing to help people make peaceful settlements – but the environment in which it lives is stifling it and so litigants suffer.

The Right Rites Part 3 Focus Mediation Blog

Countless cases go through the courts with costs mounting to stupefying levels. Examples include:

  • A dispute between neighbours over drain repairs worth £4,000 in a garden, where costs exceeded £300,000 and became existential with the fight continuing over costs and who lost their house to pay.
  • The divorce case over £3m of assets where the costs were £930,000 – wholly disproportionate when mostly people are arguing over 10-20% of their assets.
  • Countless divorces where the costs exceed 20% of the assets so people have less for housing and costs exceeded the value of the difference between them. Why?
  • Numerous cases where the costs are £30,000 and the case settles in mediation with no money changing hands or a smaller payment.
  • A dispute we mediated between two flat owners over noise – sound-proofing between the flats cost about £3,000, they were about to go to trial with total costs of £64,000 – the judge directed mediation and they settled with a Focus mediator with one person buying the other flat (the judge could not have ordered this).

I could go on all day – you get the picture. I looked at the Civil Litigation statistics for 2015 and calculated less than 4% of all defended cases were mediated, the rest litigated with no intervention to try and settle them. When people issue court proceedings they expect to engage a functional system and have no idea of the costs and delays they will face or how broken our system is. The legal process is narrowly focused on establishing the facts/truth then applying the Law (statute as interpreted by case law) to the facts and KERCHING – the ‘Right Answer!’ In reality it doesn’t work, because the truth and facts are debateable and establishing them prohibitively expensive and the Law is often unclear with much ‘On the one hand this and on the other hand that . . . ‘

What happens when parties get desperate for litigation to end?

There comes a time when the parties are getting desperate for litigation to end. They see the it stretching into their future life like cancer, they want it to stop – but how?  This is where in a functional dispute resolution system there must be alternatives to trial, escape hatches from the madness – and this should be mediation. We know mediation works. It deals with every aspect of the dispute, especially those emotional conflict drivers that fuel litigation and which the legal system ignores as irrelevant. Legally irrelevant they may be – but for many people emotional conflict drivers are the real reason for fighting at court.

We need to make the Proportionality Rule mean something understandable so it works. When joint costs reach 20% of case value judges must automatically refer cases to mediation, so people can have help settling their dispute with a conflict resolution expert.  Where the case value is unclear the judge must simply refer to mediation before costs get out of hand. This has the added attraction of costing the tax-payer nothing and diverting and settling huge volumes of litigation. Justice as it works at the moment is the medicine that is killing the patient. We need a workable, fast and humane alternative – and mediation is the answer.

What conceivable reason is there for not trying to settle litigation before it has cost more than it’s worth? Stop the Madness – make the Proportionality Rule work with an automatic referral to mediation when joint costs reach 20% of case value.

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

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

Co-Parenting after Separation

The fundamental principle, when dealing with cases involving children, is that their welfare is paramount and their best interests must come first.

co-parenting

Sometimes parents dealing with their own emotions forget their children may also be suffering. Their lives will change and it isn’t always appreciated how much an impact a separation can have on a child. If their parents are in constant conflict it will hurt and upset them. This can lead to anxiety and depression. A child can be burdened by parental conflict and an acrimonious separation can affect their schooling, peer relationships and their emotional well-being, even into adulthood.

What do children need?

To:

  • be loved and supported.
  • feel safe and secure.
  • have routine and stability.
  • have a relationship with both parents.
  • see their parents communicating and co-operating.
  • have their wishes and feelings considered.
  • have a voice –to be heard.

How can mediation help separating couples make arrangements for their children?

A mediator can assist by helping parents to discuss how to care for their children and how to communicate with about those arrangements.

The first decision to be made is where the children are to live and if they are to have a principle home or an arrangement for shared care. Whichever arrangement is chosen, details will need to be discussed, so that the children can spend time with each parent. The mediator and parents will concentrate on establishing a structure for the children to spend time with both parents, with some flexibility. If the children are old enough and want to have a say – this is possible in mediation.

Reasonable notice should always given for any changes to the agreed routine. The key to successful co-parenting is good communication between the parents. Mediation helps you work out what form of communication will suit you best.

A Focus mediator will take parents through the various arrangements that may apply. Weekends, what is to happen during school holidays (Easter, Summer and the three half terms). It is important arrangements for Christmas are decided on and this can be very difficult, also what is to happen when special occasions arise that might affect the children’s planned routine.

How can a child have a voice in mediation?

Focus Mediation offers Direct Consultation with children, with specially trained DBS checked mediators, if both parents and the children agree to this. The children will meet with the mediator to discuss their wishes and feelings and the mediator will relay back to the parents what the child wants to say. This often helps a child who is worried about speaking to their parents directly.

Co-Parenting Plans

Once decisions have been made about the arrangements for children a Co-Parenting Plan can be prepared by your mediator, setting out details of all issues referred to above. This document sets out the arrangements that parents intend to follow with their children.

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 

Divorced or separated? Will your child want you at their wedding?

I regularly mediate child arrangements between parents who have very limited communication or none at all. They often ask for help working out a schedule setting out how their child will share time with each of them. As a very new trainee mediator, I co-mediated child arrangements with a very experienced mediator. I used printed calendars to help the parents plan child arrangements for the next year. They both seemed very relieved when it was resolved. The supervising mediator thanked me and took over the remainder of the session. As I watched her interventions, the penny dropped – I had only tackled the surface issues. There was absolutely no longevity in what I had done.  The parents did not have the tools to vary the arrangements when they became outdated. The parents needed much more than someone to draw up a timetable for them. I had simply stuck a plaster over a weeping cut. If I didn’t facilitate the healing of the wound, the plaster would come off and they would be back to square one. That’s what court orders often do and that’s why parents can bounce back and forth to court for years. The cause of the issues between them are ignored. Separated parents have suffered a huge trauma and need time to grieve the loss of their relationship, family unit and their planned future. When we separate without children, we can often walk away. We don’t have to communicate if we don’t want to and so it’s easier to heal. However, parents don’t have that option. They don’t have the luxury of licking their wounds completely in private and avoiding one another. Their children need them to co-parent so they can feel safe and secure. However that’s very hard to do when each parent may be feeling exceptionally hurt or angry.

Divorce or Separated Focus Mediation Blog

Fake it until you make it

I learnt quickly from that first mediation session that parents will rarely say ‘please help us to improve our parental communication.’ They focus on the problems that the lack of communication has caused and ask for help with those issues. Mediation is an ideal place to have difficult but necessary conversations so parents can move forward. It draws a line in the sand and both parents at the same time commit to change. I once told my young son to ‘fake it until he made it’ when he told me he didn’t get on with a child that everyone else liked. It wasn’t bad advice. He was probably making it clear to the other child that he didn’t like him and that led to the child responding in a similar vain. It didn’t matter who had started it but by being polite to the child, my son began to improve and repair their relationship. A parent once said that they initially treated their co-parenting relationship as a business arrangement – the business of raising their child. They treated one another like colleagues and then in time they began to trust one another again. It’s about transitioning from spouses to exes and then to co-parents.

Will you attend your adult child’s wedding?

A bride to be told me that she was getting married but each parent had a problem with the other attending. What a sad situation for her. Even if both did attend, she said she would worry about them on the day. Her fiancé’s parents were on good terms and were going to sit at the top table together, but she couldn’t imagine how she could ask her parents to do the same.  I ask parents to imagine the future and how they can sow seeds now to make it better for their children. The reality is that if they want to share events such as a child’s wedding or a grandchild’s birthday party, then they have to put in the hard work now. To a child their parents will always be their family whether they are together or not. Therefore, it really does make sense to invest in their future by working on your co-parenting relationship now. Then your child never has to choose between parents or worry about how awkward it would feel to have both parents at their wedding.

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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