Category Archives: Divorce

Jacket Pockets

When people split up they often try to get the better of the other person. They most often fight about money. Resources feel scarce. You may think if the other person has more, you will have less. This seems unfair and a struggle for money can begin. However, our instincts lead us astray so often in this situation. Why? Simply because if the case is decided by a judge or when it is settled by agreement, all the assets and liabilities are added up and the total divided very often equally but in any event what each person has spent has gone, so making your ex pay for something makes no difference, as their position is taken into account and you’ll pay half. Whatever has been spent on anything is effectively paid pretty much equally once those assets are split, as each party’s current position is added into the pot and that effectively takes their spending pre settlement into account.

jacket pockets focus mediation blog

Examples include:

  • Bank accounts and investments
  • Properties
  • Pensions
  • Credit cards and debt

The way to think of it is as a jacket with lots of pockets. The pockets have money or debt in them. The up to date value of the pockets will normally be used in the settlement or judgment. Very occasionally someone may succeed in an adding back argument, for example, adding back a significant value they argue the other person has squandered in some way or applied in a way that is prejudicial to the outcome. Much would depend on scale and if the application of money was unusual and prejudicial to the person who had no control or say in it.

Very often couples argue fiercely over which pocket something is paid from. They don’t want it paid from ‘their’ pocket, it must come from the other person’s pocket. This is an illusion when the pockets are totalled as it simply makes no difference.

Recently I was mediating a case where everyone got very bogged down in pockets arguments. Even their advisers struggled to remember it was all one jacket. Each was taking the same drawings from their business and getting their bills paid on top, they were ticking over OK, but one wasn’t paid any child support, the other wanted child support. This would mean the other person didn’t have enough to live on, they would have to take more from the business or get into debt. It was a joint business, so very much a one jacket situation. There needed to be a discussion about the extra costs of the children and an agreement for that to be met where it arose. However there was a feeling of outrage no child support was being paid. It looked as though an application to the Child Maintenance Service would be made. This would result in an assessment on historic and very high figures that would necessarily involve the paying person having to take more from one jacket pocket to pay it, even if it was overdraft and debt, and then later it would be taken into account. These people has agreed to take less from their business not more, so the whole argument was a pointless totemic argument over the contents of the pockets of the same jacket, the jacket they were going to be splitting between them anyway and they had agreed it would be split equally! Other examples include:

  • Someone making a big pension contribution to take money off the balance sheet and out of their pocket – it does no such thing, as the pension is part of the jacket and the contribution and its tax relief is included and split!.
  • Buying an expensive car then seeking to depreciate it as it isn’t new any more – this takes money off the balance sheet, but the car is usually included at its purchase price.
  • Leaving money undrawn in a business controlled by one party, in the hope no one will include the full value of the undrawn capital or take into account the undrawn income as relevant to maintenance. It has to be one or the other. It is usually quantified and included.

I have lost count of how often this type of thing happens and people think their thinking is so original and they are so clever and they will get more in ‘their’ pockets and be better off. People who work with separating couples for long will have come across all this countless times, they know where the bodies are buried!  How ferociously people fight over all this – when it doesn’t matter. Thought you should know, just in case it affects you. You’d be better of saving your breath to cool your porridge, as they say.

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 Grieving Cycle and Relationship Break Down

When a relationship breaks down one party leaves and wants to separate. The person who is left can feel angry, abandoned, a high level of anxiety, hurt and a sense of loss. These feelings are similar to those we experience during bereavement and the separation and divorce process can be very like the grieving cycle. It is intense – love turns into anger, anger into sadness and despair. Deeply hurt, we lash out, get a solicitor, apply to the courts and try to hurt the one who hurt us. The result is usually emotionally and financially catastrophic.

In discussing death, Dr Kübler-Ross identified stages of grief that can be aligned to the emotions experienced during a relationship breakdown: shock, denial, hope, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Stages of the Grief Cycle Focus Mediation Ltd

When couples engage in mediation one partner may be more recovered emotionally and ready to negotiate child contact and/or finances. The one who is still trying to adjust the breakdown of the relationship may well be lurching through the emotions of anger, bargaining, depression denial and hope. The emotions loop and intertwine as understanding of the situation is explored, but time is a great healer. Although both partners may be at different stages of adjusting to the separation, mediation can facilitate that adjustment and understanding and help the separating couple focus on the future. Parents are encouraged to communicate and consider the impact the separation is having on their children and their ability to build a future as separated parents.

Understanding where you are in the cycle of emotions and that there will be a moving on and recovery helps in the recovery process. Mediation is a humane way of sorting everything out, allowing each of you to proceed at the pace you can cope with and in a problem solving way, without becoming opponents in a fight.

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 

 

Sticks, Stones, Names & Children

Sadly badmouthing the other parent to a child is an issue that’s often raised in mediation – with each parent accusing the other. Why would loving parents do this? Separation can create a huge & painful trauma. They may each feel they have been vey badly treated by the other. There’s often a strong desire to verbalise this and let others know that it’s not fair. They may fear their children will be manipulated by the other parent and that they need to set the record straight and that can involve telling children what they believe the other is doing wrong. Anger often plays a part too.  It’s therefore easy to lose perspective and confide in your child about adult issues or vent to them. Whatever the motivation, it hurts children.

sticks and stones words and children focus mediation blog.png

How do children deal with badmouthing?

When a child hears negative comments about their parent, it is often upsetting and hurtful. They are half mum and half dad and will recognise similarities and characteristics they share with each parent. When they hear a parent criticised by the other, it creates insecurity and conflicted emotion. They may feel torn and that they are being forced to take sides. They may even feel disloyal as they haven’t defended the criticised parent. If they accept what’s said as a truth, they can begin to feel that the other parent no longer cares about them. As a mediator I sometimes meet and listen to children.  A 12 year old child once said the worst thing about her parents separating was hearing the mean things they continually said about each other to her. I asked her what she needed from her parents and she said she needed them to stop. She loved them both and she didn’t want to hear anything bad about either of them.  How did it make her feel? ‘Scared and really uncomfortable.’ She said sometimes she wanted to scream ‘shut up’, but just said nothing and hoped it would stop. She also said she wanted to pack her bags and go and stay with the other parent when it happened. The most concerning aspect was that she said each parent told her such differing accounts, that she didn’t know who to believe. Sometimes she believed one and sometimes the other. In the past she had always trusted both and this made her feel safe. She now didn’t feel as safe and secure. Whilst she didn’t think her parents would ever be friends again, she wanted them to move forward with their lives and leave any bitterness behind. A pretty mature 12 year old – wouldn’t you agree?

Children are parent pleasers

Children love their parents (often unconditionally) and want to please them. Sometimes a child will tell each parent what they think they want to hear, whilst internalising their real feelings. They do this to keep the peace, gain acceptance and to avoid rocking the boat. I once mediated child arrangements with the parents of a teenage boy. They were each adamant that he wanted to spend more time with them and not the other. He currently spent half his time with each. They wanted me to listen to him as they each believed he would tell me what they wanted to hear. What did he want them to know? He was happy with the current arrangements and enjoyed his time with each parent. However, each parent said he had told them he wanted to spend more of his time with them and not with the other. He didn’t think he had said that. He said they had each told him what he wanted and he didn’t feel able to tell them that they were wrong. They were so angry with each other that they had assumed he couldn’t possibly enjoy spending so much time with the other. 

Listening to children & making sure you are ok.

Both of the children I have referred to were fortunate that they were able to speak to an impartial adult who helped them to share their feelings with their parents. What happens to children who don’t have the same opportunity? They can experience guilt and shame when they are caught between conflicted parents. This can turn inward and lead to low self-esteem and in extreme cases self-hatred and blame. They can feel that their parents don’t listen to them and respect their feelings. They are at risk in some cases of future depression and even substance abuse or self harm.

If a parent is struggling to cope at such a difficult time then they need to seek support. Counselling can be extremely beneficial and so can talking to a caring and non judgemental friend. Family mediation helps parents to focus on the future and not dwell on the past. Communication can drastically improve as assumptions and misunderstandings can be cleared up and ground rules for future communication can be established. Children benefit enormously when parents can put aside their differences and co-parent without 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 

Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast

‘Daddydontuwalksofast’ is the twitter name of the co-founder of the group ‘Peace Not Pas‘, which says it supports, ‘shared parenting, equality for fathers and peace for alienated children who need to be raised by both parents.’ Focus Mediation recently exchanged tweets with them about co-parenting after separation.

What children wish divorced parents knew

I began thinking about the song Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast, which was a hit for Wayne Newton in 1972.

The love between the two of us was dying

And it got so bad I knew I had to leave

But halfway down that highway when I turned around I saw

My little daughter running after me Crying

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, slow down some ’cause you’re makin’ me run

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Now, it broke my heart to tell my little daughter

That her daddy had to run to catch a train

She had no way of knowin’ I was leavin’ home for good

I turned around and there she was again

As she said to me

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, slow down some ’cause you’re makin’ me run

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

If only for the sake of my sweet daughter

I just had to turn back home right there and then

And try to start a new life with the mother of my child

I couldn’t bear to hear those words again

She cried and said

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

(My daughter cried)

 

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, slow down some ’cause you’re makin’ me run

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, slow down some ’cause you’re makin’ me run

Oh, daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Songwriters: Geoffrey Stephens / Peter Callander

Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Powerful lyrics. What made the little girl’s dad turn around and return to a marriage he felt was hopeless? Did he realise in that moment just how much his daughter needed him in her life? It seems so. Today we understand that it’s not that simple – staying in an unhappy relationship for the sake of a child is unlikely to be in their best interests. Of course parents should try & work through their difference before separating. However, children suffer when there is prolonged parental conflict and sometimes it’s better if parents separate.

So, what does a child need from both of their separated parents? Does parental separation have to spell a poor emotional, physical or educational outcome? Edward Kruk PH. D, family mediator & author of The Equal Parent Presumption, has collated volumes of research in this area. He says a child needs 3 essential things to flourish;

  1. A voice – they need to be heard. They are not decision makers but what they say should not be disregarded.
  2. Children must be shielded from conflict and violence.
  3. Children need to spend substantial and meaningful time with each parent.

Determining who gets residence (a dated term), rather than working out how a child will spend time with each parent, often sustains and intensifies parental conflict. Litigation focuses on each parent’s deficits and shortcomings rather than what they each have to offer their child. Edward Kruk believes that if a legal system is based on the best interests of the child, it must be evidence based. He feels the evidence must consist in part on research and the viewpoint of children and young adults who have experienced their parent’s separation. He refers to a study of over 800 young adults (age 18 and 19) who experienced parental separation during their childhood. The overwhelming consensus was that the children wanted both parents in their life. He believes this is the type of evidence that should guide policy makers, professionals and Judges.

Co-Parenting

A study from Stockholm University in November 2015 looked at the psychological wellbeing of 4,684 children. It found that children who lived with just one parent had higher levels of psychological complaint than children who spent plentiful time within the household of each parent. The children who shared 35% of their time, or more, with each parent, had better outcomes. Psychological complaints increased significantly however when those co-parents were in conflict.

For co-parenting to work there must be a reduction in conflict and increased parental cooperation. Therefore, when parents are unable to co-parent, professionals need to focus on what stands in the way of that parental alliance and consider how the parents can constructively move forward. Pitting them against one another in court is not the answer. Conflict usually escalates and the children suffer. Removing blame from the divorce process also needs to happen urgently. What a poor foundation to build a parental alliance on.

Labels – Custody, Residence, Primary Carer

Moving away from labels such as custody or residence, stops parents becoming positional and losing sight of their child’s overriding needs. When parents talk about who will have custody or residence, it invariably escalates fear and increases conflict. When we discuss how a child will share their time with parents, and how they will together co-parent that child, discussions are often more fruitful. When parents live together they don’t calculate the percentage of time each will spend with their child or argue about custody. Instead, they consider the practical need to provide care for their child and how this can be achieved in the time they each have available. Why do we widely depart from that method after separation or assume one parent must now take a much lesser role in their upbringing? A child needs both parents and each must put aside their differences to fulfil their role as a parent.

A friend was married at the weekend and her separated parents sat together at the top table and got along extremely well. I commented about this and she said she felt the huge effort they had made over the years to work at their co-parenting relationship felt like a gift. A gift indeed but something every child has the right to receive. Being a good parent extends to working hard to make sure your child never hears anything negative about the other parent, spends plenty of time with them and knows that they have your emotional permission to love them. That’s not always easy, but anything worth having takes effort and sacrifice. To me that’s real parental love.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations; Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

 

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

Ok it’s my turn to write the blog and all I can think about is the wretched squirrels! They have now penetrated two squirrel-proof bird-feeders in the garden. They can undo wire bags ties holding the lid down, they can chew through the string tying it down. When they failed to undo the safety pin holding the lid down, (my genius solution) they simply jiggled the whole thing until they broke the bottom and got the nuts that way. Squirrels one, Mary zero.

Squirrels Focus Mediation Blog

So I bought another squirrel proof birdfeeder. This one was really clever and I watched smugly as they attacked it in every way imaginable. The top screwed into the bottom – they could not undo that screw and separate the top and bottom, it had a very long thread, they could not get the nuts. The birds came, the tits (blue, great and coal), gold finches, the robin, sparrows, even a lesser spotted woodpecker. The crows gave up. The squirrels didn’t. I watched them come back again and again until one morning the top of the squirrel proof bird feeder was hanging there and the bottom and all the nuts in it, was on the ground. At least the bottom was, the nuts had gone. Squirrels two, Mary zero.

So how did they do it? The only answer must be they worked out they had to unscrew the top from the bottom and like acrobats in a circus they made that top spin around so unscrewing the top. I have this picture of them, tails behind in the wind, spinning around with the feeder lid until – Success! The feeder top is unscrewed and it splits in two and the prize of nuts is revealed on the ground, along with the bottom of the bird-feeder.

So what conceivable lesson is there for mediators or conflict resolution in this story of my squirrels (who are by the way enormous – fat, like overfed cats). Several actually, and anyway it’s a good story. So here are my conclusions – learned from my squirrels:

  • Never give up. However unlikely something is to work, it just may – and even really intractable disputes can be resolved if you get the right squirrel with enough persistence (did I say squirrel? – I meant mediator)
  • Just because it’s described itself as squirrel-proof it doesn’t mean it is. Just because something is described as impossible for mediation, because the parties are too far apart, or too conflicted or the dispute is intractable – doesn’t mean it is. Indeed the more emotional and irrational the dispute the more mediation has to offer, as it deals with emotions and wades into the non-legal area of feelings and beliefs the law cannot solve
  • Check the assumptions. I thought that I had squirrel-proof bird-feeders – how wrong was that? There are so many possibilities we cannot see. It took the squirrels to find them out. I expect a mediator could have done it – if they were small and light and liked nuts enough. That rules me out, too fat!
  • Someone, somewhere once said that a prisoner thinks more on his release than his jailor does on keeping him captive. That is also the case with people in conflict, which is a type of prison. The answers to our mediations are often there right under everyone’s noses. Mediators as facilitators are well placed to spot these possibilities; it is what we are trained to do – to be open, alert and tuned in – a bit like squirrels. Just as everyone else is ready to give up, there is the mediator, bright eyed and bushy tailed . . . whizzing about resolving the dispute.

By the way, all advice regarding squirrels gratefully received.

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 

Divorce & A Seven Year Switch

Have you watched the reality series ‘Seven Year Switch’? Four couples on the brink of divorce swap partners (on a platonic basis) for two weeks. Each new couple stays in a villa in an exotic location. A relationship therapist paired the new couples together choosing partners that he felt could learn from one another.

Divorce and A Seven Year Switch

I’ve watched 3 episodes and whilst there’s some unnecessary attempts to provoke reactions for the camera, everyone involved appears to have begun to gain insight into how their past behaviour has impacted their relationship. When a relationship is in difficulty people often react to one another rather than taking a step back and considering the bigger picture. It’s hard to do so as emotions and commitments get in the way. The time away from their partners, jobs and children has facilitated introspection. The therapist allowed time for the new couples to build friendship and trust – as the tasks that followed were challenging. Each needed to feel safe and supported before they could honestly examine their own behaviour. People often feel powerless in a difficult relationship and struggle to accept that their behaviour can change the dynamics.

Previous conflict revisited

Scripts of previous arguments with their long term spouse were provided and re-enacted. The reactions of their new partner caused them to consider whether their behaviour had been unreasonable. Could they have handled the disagreement better? Did they show their spouse sufficient respect? The saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ has a ring of truth to long term relationships and sometimes friendships. Over time we feel comfortable and relax – we are no longer on our best behaviour. This can make us feel closer to someone as we can be ourselves – but boundaries can become blurred. We can sometimes treat strangers better than we treat those we love. Unacceptable behaviour may be tolerated and become the norm. When one man read out the derogatory names he had regularly called his wife, his new partner was visibly shocked. He initially tried to justify his behaviour and said he had been provoked. However, his new partner helped him to understand that he must take responsibility for his own actions and that he had treated his wife with little respect.

Another wife said her husband was immature and an underachiever and she didn’t know if she wanted to stay with him. She read the transcript and saw she had continually fired orders at him and criticised whatever he did. She began to consider how it might feel to be on the receiving end of such behaviour. She understood that she needed to encourage him and not put him down.

Lessons learnt

The lesson I think they will all take away from the experience is that they had each stopped listening well to their long-term partners. They had not shown each other sufficient respect or compassion. They were enjoying their new friendships because they were treating each other with kindness, respect and they were listening well. We are all guilty of taking partners, friends or family for granted at times. The people in this experiment were fortunate – before their respective behaviour caused the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage they were able to understand and appreciate that a relationship requires continuous effort. If we don’t listen and treat one another with respect then a relationship will inevitably flounder.

Communicating as separated parents

Mediators facilitate improved communication between separated partners. Sometimes clients experience sadness that they are communicating better than they did when they were in a relationship. We don’t set out to save relationships but mediation does improve parental communication and this benefits children enormously. It’s not the separation that can cause a child long term emotional damage, but prolonged parental conflict. If parents can learn to communicate well for their children’s sake, then their children will thrive and feel safe.

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 Powerless Parent

As a family solicitor and now  family mediator, a number of separated parents told me they  felt powerless. It’s often men but also women. Historically children stayed with mum as dad worked fulltime outside the home. Now both parents may work or either sex stays at home whilst the higher wage earner works full time. It’s the parent that works full time that more often  feels powerless.

The Powerless Parent Focus Mediatiuon Blog

Custody, Residence and  Access…

Family Law makers have  moved away from terms such as custody, residence and access, and for good reason.  These terms can prevent parents from seeing the bigger picture. Motivated by the fear of losing their child, they believe they need a court order for  ‘custody/residence’ of their child upon separation.  They may believe it’s too hard to make joint decisions and with an order they can make unilateral decisions about their child.  If the other parent has parental responsibility (as is usually the case) then they should still play an important  role  in decision making about education, health and religion, amongst other issues, and so this presumption is wrong.

The family court has a ‘no order principle’. This means it takes the view that it’s often best for there not to be an order in respect of a child. An order will only be made if it believes it’s necessary and in the child’s best interests. The court appreciates that parents are more likely to stick to arrangements that they have made together than an order imposed on them by a Judge. That’s why litigants must first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) before they can issue an application for what is now known as a Child Arrangement Order. In a nutshell,  it’s usually best for parents to work things out together outside of the court room. They know their child best and can make arrangements that best suit their family.  They are still their child’s family; even if they are separated and live apart.

Child Arrangement Orders

A Child Arrangement Order focuses on how a child will spend their  time with each parent. A parent is a co-parent regardless of how many nights the child stays with them. The child may spend time in each household and so it’s important that each house feels like  home to them . A parent who works full time and spends less time caring for their child than the other parent, may  still be referred to as the non-resident parent. They often  feel that the time they spend with their child is on the other parent’s terms. So how can we improve things? Well as you’d expect, I believe and have experienced that mediation can really improve parental communication and ease this situation. Separated parents need to work at their new co-parenting relationship. They must transition from a couple to co-parents. It’s an understatement to say that this is tough and requires determination and patience. Feelings of hurt and anger don’t just disappear when a decision to separate is made. When issues such as where you will live and how you will support yourself are thrown into the mix, emotions run high. We also grieve for the relationship and must work through a series of emotions until we reach acceptance and can focus on a more positive future.

How can a powerless parent regain some control.

When separating parents attend mediation, they may not have communicated for some time. Some say that any conversation inevitably turns into an argument. A mediator helps parents to listen better and acknowledge each others fears and concerns. When we feel vulnerable or threatened we often become distant or defensive. However, that stance rarely serves us well. There’s often a point when I see the relief on each of the parents faces when the fog of anger and hurt is lifted and they appreciate that deep down the person they once knew and trusted is still there. They see that the person who they feel has  hurt them is someone they can begin to trust again as a co-parent – even if they are unable to trust them as a spouse. There is a basis for co-parenting.

Children learn from their parents’ behaviour – how we treat the other parent is how they will learn to treat others and potentially their future partners. They are half mum and half dad – when we criticise one parent we criticise the child. If we make a child choose then they may not choose us as when they become an adult. So how can the powerless parent regain control?  By communicating better with the other parent, by  showing vulnerability and being honest and open. There’s no short cut to a good co-parenting relationship –  it takes time, effort and patience.  We must love our child more than we dislike  each other.  In theory that sounds easy but it’s much harder in practice. It’s vital to respect that a child has a right to know and love both parents and that as a parent it’s our duty to ensure that’s 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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Finances on Divorce – Winner takes all?

It’s sad to note the number of divorcing couples who still believe that they must battle in court over finances. The driving force is usually fear or anger:

Finances on Divorce Focus Mediation Blog

  • I need a solicitor or barrister who will roll their sleeves up and fight to secure me what’s fair.
  • I have been treated so badly I will take them to court and show them I won’t be walked over. I want them to be punished.
  • Mediation is for amicable couples. We can’t agree so mediation is pointless.
  • I can’t mediate – they will walk all over me. They are manipulative and will convince a mediator that they should receive far more than me.
  • The finances are too complicated for mediation – it’s got to go to court.

The reality is that they will invest tens of thousands of pounds in litigation that often involves huge delay and escalates conflict – destroying hope of a future co-parenting relationship. In a recently reported case, a Judge despaired that a wealthy couple with children had been involved since 2011 in litigation that had been “bitterly contested, highly acrimonious and extremely expensive”. He said the litigation had all but exhausted the parties’ liquid capital and he was left to focus on future income only as there were no longer assets to share.

A gamble that won’t pay off.

I saw a divorcing client recently regarding child arrangements as finances were being litigated at court. They’d already spent £75,000 each in legal fees and were only at first hearing. The marital assets were 1 million. Her solicitor said the costs would at least double by final hearing. So the assets in dispute would dwindle to £700,000 (or less). The starting point for sharing the original assets was 50/50 – so £500,000 each. Now the starting point would be £350,000 each. The client said she would have settled for £550,000 but her ex refused. Now if a court awarded her £550,000, she would receive 78.5% of the assets – a tall order. Pre-litigation, £550,000 had been 55% of the assets. The method employed by each to provide them with a share they felt was fair and met their needs, would cost them approximately 30% of their joint assets.

Why wasn’t court a last resort?

Why hadn’t they used Alternative Dispute Resolution (it’s cheaper, quicker and actually promotes improved communication); Mediation, collaborative law, MedArb, or Arbitration? The client was worried that her ex, an accomplished businessman, would ‘out manoeuvre’ her in mediation. Mediators are trained to bridge power imbalances and ensure everyone fully understands the assets and options available. Litigation was the least likely vehicle to provide a satisfactory outcome – they had each gambled on winning at court and the other losing. That was the only way the numbers would add up as there was no longer enough money in the pot. There was a flaw in the plan – the court looks for fairness and its objective is to meet the parties’ needs. There is seldom a winner and loser, just two dissatisfied people.

Finances resolved in just a day.

At Focus we offer family mediation sessions spread out over a period of weeks – solicitors can advise alongside the process so clients are supported.  We also specialise in a one day civil mediation model. It costs £1000 each and our most experienced dual trained mediators facilitate resolution of finances in a day. It works. Solicitors attend and advise clients throughout the day and proposals are later that day made binding. It saves countless thousands and many tears.  Surely that’s a much safer investment in meeting needs? Gambling at court means risking hard earned assets for a victory that will probably never be theirs.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Housing crisis

Last week, despite the bone-aching cold of the Beast from the East and in the start of a snow storm, I turned out to protest against the adoption of a Local Plan by Cherwell District Council which would approve the building of 4,500 homes on Oxford’s Green Belt, around Kidlington, Gosford, Begbroke and Yarnton.

Housing Crisis Focus Mediation Oxford

In my day job as a mediator, I help people look at how two homes can be squeezed out of limited resources when a relationship breaks down. Given that 42% of marriages end in divorce, the need to re-house is affecting almost half the families in Britain. So should I be pleased that 4,500 houses will be on the market for divorcing couples in Oxford?

No! and here’s why:

  • These houses won’t go anywhere towards meeting the true housing need as most of them won’t be affordable; they will probably go to house London commuters.
  • Oxford city is dumping its housing crisis on its surrounding villages. It is prioritising employment over housing by creating offices, restaurants and shopping centres on land which could be for housing e.g. Oxpens, parts of Westgate. But employment figures in Oxford are high compared to the rest of the country: unemployment is not an issue, lack of affordable housing is. Oxford city should sort this out.
  • The impact on the villages will be disastrous in terms of traffic build-up. There are a huge number of other developments proposed north of the city, and the accumulated volume of traffic will bring the A40, A34 and A44 to a standstill twice a day. Also consider the resulting air pollution.
  • The villages will be subsumed in a seamless sprawl of development; Oxford’s character as a city with pleasant surrounds will be lost for ever. There are no exceptional circumstances proved to justify building here; we are committing a crime against future generations, who will lose the vital breathing space and character-defining landscape of the Green Belt.
  • The Golf Course should not be built over: it is a valuable resource for local and much wider community in many ways; it raises funds for charity; it is a site of great bio diversity; the alternative site at Frieze Farm is wholly unsuitable; and who will fund the cost of relocation @ £10m?

The protest had no effect and the Plan was approved.

Maybe with my mediator hat on, I’m hoping this will provide housing options for my clients. With my woolly hat on, however, I am sad and dispirited that this is how local government is allowed to ruin our environment.

Caroline Friend, Family Lawyer Mediator, Oxford. http://www.focus-mediation.co.uk/contact-us/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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Butting Heads & Finding Oil

A crucial rule in mediation is ‘don’t argue over positions’. Most people engage in positional bargaining when they negotiate – ‘I won’t pay a penny more than £100’, ‘Sack my lazy colleague or I resign’, ‘You must be home by 9pm or you’re grounded’. The trouble with positions is that we are so busy defending them that we lose sight of what it is we actually need. Does our original position serve us well? Does it meet our needs and adequately resolve all of the issues? It’s hard to back down from a position and save face and so often people continue defending it come what may. Roger Fisher & William Ury wrote the acclaimed book ‘Getting to yes – negotiating an agreement without giving in’. Within it they reported real life situations when positional negotiations escalated conflict. In the following example, it almost caused bloodshed!

Butting Heads and finding oil focus mediation blog

Farmers v National Oil Company of Iraq

After the fall of the Sadam Hussein regime, displaced farmers pooled their limited funds and leased farming land and invested in planting one large crop. However, the National Oil Company subsequently discovered there was oil under the land. They served the farmers with notice to leave immediately. The farmers refused. The Company threatened them with the police, but they wouldn’t budge. The army was called in and the farmers acquired guns and said they would fight to stay. At this late stage a newly trained negotiator asked if he could intervene. He asked the farmers when their crop would be ready to harvest. They said in 6 weeks and that the harvest was all they had left in the world. He asked if they would be prepared to leave after the harvest and they said yes. He asked the Company when they intended to extract oil. Not for 3 years they said but they needed to carry out tests prior to that. He asked whether the harvest would impact this. The answer was no. In fact the Company also had no objections to the farmers farming a small piece of unused land in the future, providing they vacated the remainder of the land after the harvest. Further, they had always intended to offer the farmers well paid work on the oil project and accommodation. However, the conflict escalated too quickly to even raise the matter.

The mediator averted bloodshed by enabling the two groups to consider what mattered most to them and what didn’t. He was the only person who had thought to ask them questions about what they needed and what they could barter with. The concessions made by each side helped create peace but their respective objectives were also well met. The farmers could harvest their crop, grow further small crops and obtain well paid work & accommodation with the Company. The Company could carry out their checks on the land in the knowledge that the farmers would vacate it and they would have a ready made workforce. It was a win/win solution and a peaceful solution was negotiated. Principled negotiations often leads to objectives being met and improved communication and respect.

When couples separate they often become positional because they feel hurt, unheard or fearful about their future. They hold their position so they don’t get trampled over. As Fisher and Ury illustrated, a mediator can enable people to move away from their positions and focus on their needs. Only then can their needs be appropriately met. People often believe it’s impossible to resolve their particular issues – they have already tried hard and are stuck. However, as traumatic as divorce and separation is, their path is often well trod and an impartial mediator can help them to look at the bigger picture and focus on the future. The mediator will have experienced similar issues before and will have a wealth of experience to bring to the table. A mediator will ensure concerns are identified and carefully listen to each party. It’s then that there is often enough movement for positive change.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

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