Category Archives: Divorce

Housing in Oxfordshire or: Two into two won’t go!

If you care about the environment and the look of the world we live in, you will be alarmed, to say the least, about the housing developments going on in Oxfordshire.

The city is bulging at the seams. Property is in huge demand, but rental and purchase prices are amongst the highest in the UK; higher even than London, some say. Yet there is a hue and cry going on at the potential use of Green Belt land to build more houses. Green Belt land around the city is largely owned by the Colleges, who are seen as cashing in on developers’ ambitions; but they say they are simply responding philanthropically to the public need for more housing.

Oxford from the airSource:www.ssho.ox.ac.uk

The countryside is under similar threat. Much of West Oxfordshire lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); it is on the edge of the Cotswolds. Surely this should be sacrosanct? AONBs have the same protected status at law as National Parks, like the Lake District. But in fact, WODC is granting planning permission to develop sites sold off by farmers in these beautiful spots, because councils are under huge pressure from the government to meet a massive target of new builds by 2031. The countryside is being irreparably damaged.

In mediation, we hear time and time again that providing two homes for a separating couple with children in or around Oxford is impossible. Purchase prices are exorbitant, rents are too high. The mediator wishes she could wave a magic wand and produce hundreds of shared ownership houses where the deposit is low and the rent affordable. Would these new housing developments provide that? Unlikely. Some developments make a token gesture with a few “affordable” houses, but prices are still way beyond the reach of most folk, especially those involved in a divorce.

A mediator can help, however. She can work through your budgets with you both, so that you can each see what the other person is struggling with, rather than assuming that he/she/ has plenty to spare. And she can think of plans and options that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you that may make living apart possible, despite the housing crisis. Pensions can be brought into the mix, and creative solutions found. Mediation is always worth a try.

Mediation Myths and Reality

As a family mediator, I tend to spend a lot of my time explaining exactly what it is that I don’t do.  So, let’s do this quickly: my job isn’t about getting people back together – that’s couples counselling, or conciliation. It’s not telling people what they should do – as an individual, that’s what you get when you go for legal advice from a barrister or solicitor.  I can’t make anyone do anything – that’s a job for a judge or an arbitrator.  And it’s definitely not about sitting quietly in a room being mindful – that’s meditation!

What I do as a family mediator is help two people who are in the process of separating to work out the best way forward from here, in terms of  making arrangements for their children, housing, money, businesses etc – anything where plans for the future, living apart, need to be made.  But family mediation is not well-understood, so in this blog I thought I’d take a look at some common misconceptions about the process.

There’s a persistent myth that the government now makes all former couples try mediation before they are allowed to go to court about divorce issues. This isn’t true: even if it wanted to, the government couldn’t compel people to come to mediation because mediation is by its very nature voluntary.  Nobody can be forced into it.

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Mediation, CC BY-SA 3.0 NY, Nick Youngson (www.nyphotographic.com)

What is true however, is that before a person can make an application to court about financial or children matters arising from a separation, they have to make an appointment with an accredited (specially-qualified) family mediator for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (a MIAM).  This appointment takes about 45-60 minutes, and is usually just between mediator and client (although it can involve a former partner by agreement with all involved). It provides some confidential time and space to talk about what is going on, hear about all the different ways that a dispute can be resolved, and make an informed decision about the next step to take – whether it’s to court, to mediation, or another route. There is no pressure to choose mediation at the end of the meeting.

The removal of access to legal aid for family court proceedings, except where there is evidence of abuse or violence, has led to another myth that there is no help available to those on low incomes to work out arrangements on family breakdown.  In fact, many mediators offer mediation free to clients who are eligible for legal aid; even those who are not eligible themselves can access a free individual meeting and first joint mediation session if their former partner meets the criteria.

Another myth is that it’s normal to stay in separate rooms during family mediation, with the mediator walking between the two of you.  Although this is the case for most forms of mediation about business disputes, the usual arrangement in family mediation is for both people and the mediator to be in the same room, unless there’s a particular reason why this shouldn’t happen (perhaps there has been violence, abuse or intimidation). It’s quicker and therefore cheaper if everyone is in the same room, as it is possible to get more done.  The other main reason is because the mediator, and the process itself, encourages people to relate to each other as problem-solvers and co-parents rather than ex-partners – it is easier to make this shift in the same room rather than apart.

Some people think that family mediation is slow.  On the contrary: the great advantages of family mediation are in terms of cost, convenience and speed.  To get arrangements decided by a judge, you might have to wait up to a year or even more from making your court application, and go through other interim hearings before, at which you will both need to be present and over which you will have little control.  Mediation sessions usually take place every three weeks or so, at a significantly lower cost per person than for court representation, and can be arranged to suit your schedule – unlike if you end up in court.

The last myth is that family mediation is suitable for everyone.  Sadly it isn’t. People only come to mediation if they want to sort things out and make a deal – it’s not a process that suits anyone taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach.  Sometimes too much has gone on in a relationship for there to be any prospect of an agreement, and the court has to be involved from the start; this may be the case, for example, if there are child protection concerns or where there has been serious violence or abuse.  However, mediators are skilled professionals who are used to working with those going through family change, and we do have success in helping people make arrangements that work for them in even very challenging cases that might seem hopeless at first glance.  It can be very empowering to understand that it is still possible to stay in control of what happens after a separation: you don’t need to hand over the power to decide to a judge who doesn’t know you, and doesn’t love your children. A specialist family mediator can help you make your own plans.

If you would like to learn more about mediation, or if you think that it might benefit someone you know, don’t hesitate to contact our accredited mediators on 01908 410508 for an informal chat.

Where can we go to sort out our divorce and separation? Who will help us – how?

‘We live miles away from each other on opposite sides of London- how do we decide who can help us?  Where should we go?’

First, it makes sense to see a mediator first – as they can help you get your bearings, give you both vital legal information and help you agree what to do. Also, if you did need to go to court you have to see a mediator first anyway – so best start there.

The first step in finding a mediator is working out what will work for you. In London it is quite common for separating ex partners to move to new areas where property is cheaper to rent or to buy. Some people even return to their parent’s home while they work out the next step. Logistics can be tricky.

So where should you meet in mediation? Near your workplace? Or your old home? Or where you are currently living?  A location with good transport connections for both you and your ex makes sense – it may involve you both in travelling out of your local area to mediate, so long as you can get there easily, which is the point really.

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The benefits of mediating with Focus Mediation at Euston?

  • You show that you are equally committed to mediation, by coming to neutral territory. You break familiar patterns: “It’s always me who makes the effort! I always compromise! He/she is so inflexible!”
  • Easy travel connections means easy access to the help you need

Call Focus Mediation London to discuss how we can offer a safe central meeting space for clients. Our main meeting rooms are right in front of Euston station, a stone’s throw away from the Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith, City, Victoria and Northern Lines and a multiplicity of railway connections. East London is 20 minutes away by train. And anyone travelling in or out of King’s Cross or St Pancras has a short walk to reach us.

Our professionally trained mediators can support you both and help you to have those difficult conversations that you must have to agree a divorce or separation settlement, sort out your kids and anything and everything else needed to enable you to move on with your lives.

Additionally we have access to a network of meeting spaces across London for our one day mediation meetings. Want it sorted fast? Then call us for more information on 0203 137 2670.

A picture speaks louder than a thousand words. Reflections of a family mediator.

Browsing Facebook I saw a photo of 4 siblings. The children were smiling, but the smile didn’t quite meet the eyes of the eldest child. I didn’t recognise the children, (the author was a friend of a friend), but the photo intrigued me. The author who had posted the photo said he hadn’t seen his children for 6 months and this photo had been sent to him by a friend. He said his ex-wife, (believe me that’s a much friendlier description than he used), hadn’t let him see them. He said he was missing so many milestones and felt like giving up on life! There was a lot of support for him. However, one woman defended his ex-wife and said he had “torn her world apart”, by leaving her for another woman. He said she had been an awful wife and he left ‘her’ and not the children. He said she had no right to stop him seeing his children.

The children were caught in the cross fire. The split was clearly very bitter and they must be suffering. I wondered if the elder children had access to Facebook and had seen their Father’s post. Had their mum confided in them? Did they feel that their childhood had ended in a flash and was the eldest forced to grow up and become the man of the house? How must it feel to live with your father all your life and then not see him for 6 months? Did they feel like their world had crumbled around them? Did they feel abandoned? Did mum reinforce that belief as she was grieving for the relationship and her lost future? Did dad feel a mixture of anger, guilt and loss? Did the children want to see him? Were they worried they would hurt their mother if they did? Did they have someone they could talk to about their feelings?

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Life is usually not black and white; with one good parent and one bad parent. Decent people can make bad decisions. However, children really need their parents to put their needs first when they are separating – and that’s not easy when a parent may feel like their world is falling apart. Initially, children may feel they don’t want to see a parent who has left, especially if it is due to an affair – this arouses highly complex emotions for all sorts of reasons, not just the anger of the left-behind parent, though it can be that. The leaver wants to move forward and may want to return to a sense of normality and introduce the children to their new partner. It’s often hard for the person who has been left to agree to that – and very often the children may also be adamant they don’t want to see the other parent and especially meet their new partner, as they may have feelings of rejection and abandonment. They are quite likely to be grieving for the loss of the family they had – and in that state feel unable to move on and cope with new relationships, it may just too soon for that.

Parents have to find a way to discuss these and other parentings issues and protect their children from acrimony and avoidable hurt and loss. Mediation creates a safe and neutral place for these conversations to take place. Furthermore, the mediator is highly trained and experienced in facilitating their much needed conversations and can help with formulating new  boundaries and ways of communicating and planning that work.  This helps parents to focus on their children’s future and what’s best for them. Children of an appropriate age and understanding (roughly over age 10, sometimes younger with older siblings) can also speak confidentially to a mediator in a child inclusive mediation – something many children really appreciate. They don’t make decisions; but their feelings are taken into account and can be respected. This is empowering for children. Studies show adults whose parents split up when they were children often look back and say that they felt unheard when their parents separated, that no one asked them how they felt or what they wanted and it made them feel they were not  important and didn’t matter.

To return to the Facebook photograph and my so-typical story of a separating family in terrible pain – the father’s frustration and grief was palpable and the mother’s friend described a woman who was also in a great deal of pain. The photograph of their oldest child’s face spoke of his suffering and tension – and it is very unlikely the others were unaffected by the situation, however bright their smiles. Parents will sadly continue to separate – but the ways and means they do this can make things infinitely worse – or easier. I hope they find their way to mediation; it could save them and their children from a great deal of further heart-ache.

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.

Mary will Feature on Radio 5 Live – Sunday 14th August 2016 at 11am

Mary will guest feature talking about divorce on BBC Radio 5 Live show “Raising the Bar with Rob Rinder” on Sunday 14th August at 11am.

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The previous shows in the series may be listened to Here.

Separation and divorce end a couple’s relationship – but what about the ongoing importance of the separated family for their children?

The importance of the family is perhaps something we all take for granted and under-value – until it is not there. What we know is that we all thrive better and fulfil our individual potential within a family unit where we can be nurtured, valued and supported. Children need to have secure attachments during their formative years and this is a fundamental and irreplaceable basic need. Sadly, when parents separate and are in conflict, are facing uncertainty and may be afraid of the future, they can lose sight of their children’s most basic needs.

Essentially after separation children usually have two homes where they need to belong and feel valued. Whilst children may spend more time in one home than the other, both homes are equally important. Parents may no longer be able to live together – but they still need to be able to operate as a functioning family albeit under two separate rooves.

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Achieving this can be tricky – but mediation provides the opportunity to come to terms with the new reality and process information and plan. Your whole life can be thrown into the air like a pack of cards – so you don’t know which way up they will land. If there are children, the family may be separated and living apart – possibly some distance apart, with the children moving between two homes. The assets and income will need to go twice as far and friends and family may be divided too. The most basic foundations of several lives will change.

At a time like this, people need a calm supportive environment to process what is happening to enable them to move forward and to limit any further damage to them, their family and assets. Fighting tends to protract matters and be both emotionally destructive and expensive. Mediation offers the opportunity to the whole family to be supported in renegotiating their relationships to create a separated but functioning family with different boundaries.  The mediator helps you retain control of the decision-making process – and plan for your separate futures kindly and constructively.

FAULTY COURT CALCULATOR – UPDATE

FAULTY COURT CALCULATOR MAY HAVE CAUSED ERROS IN THOUSANDS OF DIVORCE SETTLEMENTS – UPDATE

According to the Law Society Gazette the outcome of more than 2,200 financial settlements on divorce may have been voided by the Form E software fault.

Justice Minister Shaillesh Vara MP has indicated in a statement to Parliament that the assets of more than 3,600 couples were miscalculated.  Those involved in the over 2,200 closed cases affected are to be written to by HMCTS, (the court service) and may need to re-apply to court to re-open or re-negotiate settlements (although the error may not have impacted upon the outcome in all of these cases).

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No court fee will be charged for applications to set aside or vary orders. Those involved in the 1,400 or so ongoing cases will have the issue flagged to them by HMCTS in order to avoid the error affecting their final orders.

A new version of the Form E is being uploaded, but with the automatic calculator being disabled whilst the future of the form is considered as part of broader court reforms.     Many family lawyers and mediators do not rely on the Form E automatic calculator in any event. They use their own assets schedules setting the figures out clearly and simply, often using Excel. Such cases will be unaffected by the problem. At Focus Mediation whilst we use Form E to collect information and documents, we have never used its calculator, our mediators always prepare our own.

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?