Category Archives: Divorce

F.O.M.O.

I had a dream last night – all my friends, yes every single one, were invited to a big party … but I wasn’t!  I was the only one who hadn’t got an invite – and worse than that it was taking place next door so I could both hear and see all the frivolity!  It felt rubbish – and I was relieved to wake up with the knowledge it wasn’t real and my Christmas party invites were still on the mantelpiece.  Phew!

Fear of Missing Out Focus Mediation Blog

Sounds silly perhaps (didn’t feel it!) – but we live now in a world of FOMO … Fear Of Missing Out!  Social Media creeps into the home at every opportunity if you let it – and in so doing brings our friends’ happy pictures, anecdotes, one liners, ‘likes’ and so on into our home – a world that’s typically having a great time. That’s cool when you’re high in spirit but not so good when you feel like you’re in the washing machine on fast spin!

F.O.M.O. + Relationship Breakdown

The breakdown of a relationship, whether recent or past, can rev that spin to top notch – the really mean thing is that not only are you having to deal with a huge bag of emotions (cue the grief cycle..) but you also suddenly have to put your financial head on and, if you have children, become a chameleon to hide the hurt you feel and protect them and their emotions – that’s hard….

…and then there’s FOMO – a new angle on it that you haven’t felt before – house/cash/pension/income – how are you going to manage? – What if you are ‘fleeced’? – Where do you start? – What if you MISS OUT?  The panic questions are endless.  Okay – let’s just call it ‘Fear’!

F.O.M.O. & our children

FOMO doesn’t just apply to you though.  Children feel all sorts of emotions when their parents separate including self-blame and a desire to make sure everyone is OK – they can become the proverbial ‘piggy in the middle’ no matter how hard you may try to stop it happening, as this may be their perception – they have their own fear of missing out.  You can help them deal with this through the forging of a ‘parental alliance’.  It’s not always easy for parents to do; but if parents are unified then that aids a solid foundation for their children’s new life.

Mediation is great at keeping communication alive and aiding transparency.  It brings out real feelings in a protected setting and helps to prevent distortion and slow down the spin.  Fears are brought to the surface as are needs and ‘wants’ – they can be discussed, balanced, questioned and addressed, so allowing you to move forward – whether in relation to finances, children or both.  In so doing you are increasingly moving away from that starting point of fear, FOMO.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, 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 

Under my skin

Under My Skin Focus Mediation Blog

If you stood in my place and I in yours,

The things we each want most would be so clear.

This quarrel would turn out to have no cause:

We’d learn and understand each other’s fears.

I wouldn’t need to crumple, sob and shake;

Embarrass you with symptoms of distress:

You’d understand the points I want to make;

You’d feel the hurt I struggle to express.

And I, in turn, would save you all the sweat

Of patiently explaining, yet again,

Why logically, you’re much the better bet

And have been since the wretched fight began.

Why don’t we simply swap our points of view?
Can’t you inhabit me? and I’ll try you.

Caroline Friend

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Controlling Conflict on Divorce – Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall!

When someone fully grieves the death of a relationship, they will heal. It’s a process that takes time. It’s then possible to move forward and relinquish any conflict that has overwhelmed them. They control the conflict rather than the conflict controlling them. Accepting that you can’t control someone but you can control how you respond to them, is both liberating and empowering.

Conflict & Divorce Focus Mediation

Conflict can create positive change

Relational conflict can of course be destructive. However, it can also be a driving force that ends a relationship that doesn’t meet either parties’ needs. I know of a married couple who have not spoken a word to one another for 10 years! They are stuck in conflict. They have silenced the conflict but it still controls them and prevents them from living more meaningful lives.

Finances can trap couples in conflict

It can be very difficult for some separating couples (especially those with children) to move into separate homes before finances have been resolved. Funds may not stretch to paying an existing mortgage and renting a second home, or perhaps neither will agree to leave the family home. They are forced to live in a pressure cooker environment – tensions are constantly bubbling and communication is minimal and often negative.

Children and Conflict

I listen to children (with their parent’s consent) as part of my role as a mediator. A 10 year old girl told me the worst aspect of her parent’s separation under the same roof was that she worried her father wasn’t eating well. He was a poor cook and her mother had stopped making meals for him as ‘they hated each other.’ Family meals no longer included her father who ate microwave meals or takeaways. She would look at his empty chair at the table and try not to cry. Her parents were tearful when I fed this information back to them and it appeared to be a turning point in their conflict – their daughter’s feelings mattered more than their conflict. The conflict dissipated and they worked together in mediation to resolve finances and child arrangements. Imagine the same scenario and add litigation in to the mix – parents battling against one another in court and spending many thousands of pounds. How can that level of conflict not harm a child?

Reducing conflict

After parents separate, if the cycle of conflict continues then children will suffer emotional harm. It’s the conflict rather than the separation that causes them the most distress. Parents who try and convince themselves that their children are not suffering as they keep the conflict away from them, are often misleading themselves. Children are exceptionally perceptive and even if they don’t see conflict; they can feel it.

So how do people let go of their feelings of anger, frustration and resentment? How can they stop their ex from constantly occupying their thoughts?

  • Fake it until you make it. Always be polite and respectful to your ex and treat them as a polite stranger. Good behaviour is often mirrored and subsequently adopted.
  • Re-establish a new relationship by creating new boundaries. This will make you feel more secure – you may need help, as you can’t see from the inside what you are doing to perpetuate the problem. Agree not to discuss certain topics and respect each other’s space and privacy. This parenting alliance is critical for your children. If you love them enough you will work hard to succeed at this.
  • Remember you weren’t able to change your ex when you were together and so you won’t succeed now. However you can change how you respond. If you don’t respond with negative communication then the conflict cannot escalate – you can stop it by depriving it of air.
  • Ignore provocations – if you don’t rise to them they often stop. It takes two.
  • Pick your battles; don’t sweat the small stuff, the big picture is more important – and that means only holding your ground on important issues and always doing so in an adult way, rationally, & calmly – trying to engage the rational adult in the other person.
  • Always avoid eliciting an emotional response by saying something in an inflammatory way.
  • Stop trying to be right and trying to prove you are right. Don’t waste time trying to convince someone of something you can’t. Are you trying to make them see how stupid they are? Don’t! Focus on the actions not the person.
  • Don’t litigate unless you absolutely have to. It’s so tempting to take someone who has hurt you to court, you want to hurt them right? Make them comply? However, you may not get what you want and there are usually no winners in the courts. You may spend more than the value of your dispute if it is financial – not a good investment. Keep some control of your future. You wouldn’t delegate important family decisions to a stranger at any other time, so why now?
  • Consider therapy. Talking to a professional counsellor provides a sounding board and helps you process what has happened and move forward.
  • Listen more than you talk. Remember the old adage we have two ears and one mouth – try to understand the other person. Conflict is often born out of misunderstandings based on the wrong assumptions. No one is always right.
  • Remember mediation helps so many separating couples. Mediation is a safe space for difficult conversations. Without those conversations important decisions can’t be made and you remain stuck. Your mediator helps you focus on the problems that need to be resolved and you solve them. You can learn how to do this. They will have seen hundreds of couples in your situation and have a wealth of experience of helping couples build viable futures apart. Stand on their shoulders – and see over the horizon.

So if you are splitting up or have constant trouble with your ex – why not try mediation? You have nothing to lose except your problems. You can learn how to manage your post separation relationship (if you are to have one) better. What have you got to lose except a big head-ache and a lot of aggravation? What have you got to gain – settlement, closure, moving on to your separate futures apart.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Fight, Flight, Divorce and Magic Wands

Clients usually attend family mediation sessions face to face. They are asked to listen carefully to one another and to be open and honest. When people are in conflict their instinct is to fight and protect themselves or to flee; ‘the fight or flight response’ – click here for a short video explanation. When people feel they have to fight to protect something important to them, they become positional and compromise goes out of the window. They defend their position come what may – even when that stance is actually detrimental to them. Conflict often triggers defence mechanisms that are counter productive to resolution of dispute. This then denies people the opportunity to accept their separation and move forward in a positive way.

Fight Flight Divorce and Magic Wands Focus Mediation Blog

Mediators and magic wands

A mediator doesn’t have a magic wand – if only! We help conflicted people to stop dwelling on the past and to concentrate on their future. We enable them in turn to each express and listen to their needs and concerns. Conflict usually arises out of miscommunication or a lack of communication. When there’s no communication at all it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions. Understanding others and in turn being understood is a basic human need. The best way to understand someone is to listen to them. When conflicted people communicate, they often don’t feel safe enough to fully listen. Instead they may try to shout each other down or formulate a defensive reply. Mediators create a safe and neutral environment. It’s their role to make sure the communication is fair and balanced. If one person struggles to express themselves or doesn’t feel heard, the mediator will ask questions to help everyone in the room to better understand how that person is feeling. They will reflect back what they have heard or summarise to ensure they have fully understood.

A case study – a separated husband and wife

A client attended his first joint mediation session in full ‘fight or flight’ mode. He angrily told his wife that he would make sure she became penniless if she tried to take his children away from him. He said he would enter her home whenever he wanted to and see them and she couldn’t stop him. If she tried he would stop child and spousal maintenance – even if it resulted in a Judge sending him to prison. I was shocked and had not expected this. I meet clients separately prior to any joint session to understand their concerns and identify issues. When I met him he was very sad about the demise of his marriage. However, he told me that his wife was a good mother and he wanted to remain amicable for the sake of the children. I needed to find out what had happened between then and now.  He was clearly fighting to protect something sacred to him – his relationship with his children. I spoke to him alone. He said he hadn’t seen his children that weekend as agreed as his wife had said that they were unwell. He didn’t know if she was telling the truth. He had told her he would come to her home and spend the day with the children. She had said no and a huge argument ensued.

Before they could continue with the joint mediation session, he clearly needed sufficient time to calm down from his stress response to his fear of losing his children. He couldn’t listen to his wife when he was that anxious. I made him a hot drink and gave him the time he needed for his heart beat to regulate and his breathing to return to normal. I also acknowledged how painful it was for him to no longer live with his children.

When he re-entered the room with his wife he apologised to her. He felt calmer and I encouraged him to open up and tell her about his fears surrounding child arrangements. He was able to show genuine vulnerability instead of lashing out and making threats. His wife reassured him that she would never harm his relationship with the children and that she knew that the children needed him just as much as they needed her. She said she needed to establish new personal boundaries now they had separated and that she didn’t feel comfortable at this stage with his spending a whole day in her home. He said that when she didn’t let him come to her home, he began thinking about fathers who lose contact with their children and he began to panic. In the past he had always been there to comfort the children when they were ill. His wife was able to hear and appreciate how difficult it had been for him. He began to understand she needed her own space at home. They went on to make child arrangements that they were both comfortable with and which worked well for the children. If the conflict had been given more space to escalate then it would have undoubtly caused more harm to the parents and their children.

Why does mediation work?

So simply put – mediation is a safe space for people to drop their guard and open up to one another. It’s at times awkward, emotionally draining and it requires courage and commitment. However, it’s tried, tested and it works. Separated couples have often stopped listening to each other or trying to understand or be understood. Mediation helps people to understand each other better. Only when we begin to understand how someone else feels, can we begin to help them understand how we feel. Mediators separate the people from the problems. We help people to stop blaming one another and we enable them both to together focus on finding possible solutions that work for each of them. So despite the lack of magic wands in mediation, when mediation works (and it often does) the simplicity of clients understanding each other and feeling understood as a means of resolving conflict, actually feels rather magical.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

The Bottom of the Rollercoaster – and what happens next in life

Sometimes in life we suddenly see something and realise that until that moment we have not understood it at all. I had one of those moments when someone described the rollercoaster of grief – because that is what the pain of separation can feel like. This image describes the emotional journey people take through grief – starting with denial and shock, fear and confusion, through anger and blame, shame and anxiety to the depression and helplessness of the low point of it all. This is arguably the worst point, as there is sorrow without the distractions of blame and anger. It is a time of realisation and coming to terms with the new reality, even for someone who wanted the relationship to end, as there is still change and loss. It can be hard. What people don’t always realise when they are in this dark place is that there are more stages to come on their journey. The stage of dialogue and bargaining eventually arrive and then acceptance and a plan for a new future. They can and will go on; they will have a life to live and a future.

ROLLER_41.14_EMAIL 100516-page-001

In summary, when couples separate they – and indeed their children – experience grief, as they are living through loss. This is best described as a rollercoaster of emotions and the traditional processes that have evolved through the decades to ‘help’ couples resolve their differences are wholly unsuited to actually resolving anything. This is because they are adversarial and tend to promote discord and holding on to extreme positions. Court proceedings may feel deeply attractive to the angry blaming person, as they offer an apparently legitimate outlet for their fury. By contrast mediation is an opportunity to listen, to try and understand each other, be mutually respectful and compromise. If you’re mad as fire, this will be unappealing. I’ve lost count of the number of clients when hearing about mediation and what it can achieve, say firmly: ‘Well that won’t work. My ex is very unreasonable. There’s no point in even trying to sort it out.’

But here’s the thing, no one ever said to me that they wouldn’t mediate because they were unreasonable. And here’s another thought – people do arrive at the stage of being ready to bargain and talk. They will want to sort it out and move on. It happens. It may be in the middle of court proceedings, it may be some other time, but when you get to that point, suddenly all the fighting and messing about seems utterly pointless, a complete waste of time and money. That is a great time to mediate, because mediation is fast and effective and you will get where you need to be surprisingly quickly. Everything can be sorted out, agreed and put behind you, you can move on from the conflict of the past and through dialogue and bargaining to acceptance and to a new and brighter future. You will have come up the other side of the rollercoaster and will be able to look back with relief on the journey you have accomplished – and be glad it is behind you. Nothing is so focused on getting you both to that point as mediation. Think about it.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Pensions in divorce mediation – raspberries, apples & a pot of pips!

Pensions are often the most important assets to consider on divorce – and can easily be the most valuable. Separating couples are understandably worried that they:

  • Won’t understand
  • Won’t have enough
  • Won’t be competent to make good choices

The good news is all our mediators dealing with financial cases on divorce are lawyers and familiar with all types of pensions, some have a nerdish fascination with pensions – and all can help you understand them better. Having enough pensions is a different problem!

OK – let’s take an intelligible overview. Imagine pensions are all fruits and have different intrinsic qualities and values per kilo. For kilo read per £1.

pension blog

Raspberries: Usually the most expensive pensions are final salary, sometimes also called defined benefit.  It helps to know the terms – as I think people shut down when they hear a lot of unfamiliar language and actually it sounds worse than it is. Pensions are not rocket science!  Anyway, defined benefit pensions give top quality pension income that continues for your lifetime and increases with inflation or latterly the cost of living. They may be based on your final salary or more recently your career average income. However long you live you keep getting the money – these pensions give you the right to an income for life.  These are usually the best fruit to have and they are getting rarer for younger people, who often cannot join these schemes, which are mostly now frozen.  This means closed to new members and gradually winding down over time and replaced with cheaper pensions.  Some people are members of several pension schemes in their job – the older being the most generous and valuable, and the most recent the least valuable, as affordability issues have forced changes to schemes that are cheaper to run. The level of pension income reflects the number of years you have worked and contributed to the pension scheme, the terms of the scheme and rate of accrual.

Your raspberries can be unfunded promises payable from future taxation like the Police Pension or the NHS or may be funded with investments – which may or may not be enough to meet the pension’s promises – more about this below.

Granny Smiths – the apples of pensions: These are the most common pensions and they are sometimes called money purchase and also defined contribution, but it’s the same thing. These pensions are basically a pot of money invested in the stock-market, government bonds and even sometimes property, but they are all based on money and this means they go up and down in value. You can also run out of money – it won’t necessarily last for your lifetime – you should pace the withdrawal cautiously if you don’t want to run out of money. The level of pension income depends on the amount of money in your scheme and how much you take out. If you took out a twentieth of the value each year, you’d probably run out of money, depending on your age at retirement, when you die and the investment returns on the pension fund and charges.

Some pensions are a pot of pips: OK I knew that would grab you! So some pensions are underfunded – this means that the funds that were set aside to pay out on these promises are not enough to pay the promised pension benefits.  Some of these underfunded schemes are working hard to get up to scratch and pay out in full – and some can’t do that and instead pass into the government’s Payment Protection Fund (PPF). The PPF will pay out less than the original pension promises – but at least you get something and there are special rules about this. Sort of a sack of potatoes really, not as good as the raspberries you were expecting!

This is a simple rather jokey introduction to pensions – but there seems to be an unalterable rule that people very rarely have enough pensions to meet their retirement needs – and most people put off doing much about this until rather late in the day. At least we can reassure you that we can help you understand your pensions and options – even if we can’t do anything about putting more in the pot!

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Co-parenting

Warring parents make peace

I mediated child arrangements between a mother and father – I’ll call them Jill and John. John hadn’t seen his 4-year-old son for 7 weeks. He said he had never experienced such emotional pain. He was agitated when I saw him alone at the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) and even more so at the first joint mediation session with Jill. Jill was clearly distressed too, she suffered from anxiety and her panic attacks had escalated since the conflict between them.

I saw them apart for the first mediation session and I went between them working out what had gone wrong – but without them meeting. Jill feared a panic attack if they came face to face. During their shuttle mediation, I was able to identify issues and concerns and helped them get some insights into the conflict and how they played a part in it. They began to see each other’s perspective and to think about what they needed from each other to move forward. I was relaying their thoughts, fears and feelings – to create a shared understanding. Sometimes this type of mediation helps ease anxious clients into face to face mediation and in some cases it’s the only way to mediate.

Co parenting focus mediation blog

Background                                                                                                                                                       

Both clients were tearful at the joint session and worried about the effect their conflict was having on their son Sam. He was clingy and unhappy at school – not his usual confident self. John had asked his solicitor to apply to court for a child arrangement order – he didn’t think mediation would help and he worried it would just cause delay, he wanted a judge to tell Jill she had to let him see Sam – he wanted a court order.  His solicitor urged him to try one session before issuing court proceedings. These parents had hurt each other very much and were no longer able to speak. John used to collect his son every Friday from school and then he would bring him back to Jill’s home on a Saturday evening, but communication had deteriorated and each had a long list of examples when the other had been insensitive, selfish, controlling or hurtful. As is often the way, their accusations against one another were almost a mirror image. They were both feeling similar hurts and fears.

After a particularly unpleasant altercation about Sam, each issued ultimatums and John refused to return Sam to Jill, who said she could no longer trust John, and so she insisted contact took place in her home or at a Contact Centre. John wouldn’t agree to this and thought Jill was deliberately trying to damage his relationship with his son. Jill told me this was a temporary arrangement in a crisis so John would have to listen to her, but John was too angry to hear or accept this. Communication after this degenerated to angry text messages. “I’ll take you to court.” texted John “Go on – do it!” came the response.  John feared court was his only option – yet neither wanted to go to court.

Joint mediation session with Jill & John

After separate Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) we started the joint mediation session in separate rooms. Each was willing to listen and be flexible – whilst being convinced the other would not and that they were wasting their time. I encouraged them to listen carefully to one another and to put their son’s needs first. I fed back what each was saying to the other in a calm way, which meant they could get the sense of what the other was saying instead of reacting in a panicky way to the other’s fury.  Anger simply escalates conflict so no one can understand what the other person is saying, as they are too flooded with emotion to hear. Their concerns when voiced by me seemed understandable. I was using mediation skills to improve communication, looking towards the future and not dwelling on the past – as it can’t be changed and people don’t agree what happened.

Mediators translate issues into understandable language. For example in a work place two colleagues had fallen out.  Ben said Sally was a slob and had turned their shared office into a dump. I’d focus on what Ben needed from Sally so they could share an office more harmoniously. I would reword what Ben said, removing personal insults, so Sally could understand Ben needed a tidy environment to work and I’d identify clearly understandable and specific problems, so Sally knew exactly what to do.  She would need to know Ben didn’t dislike her personally – but it was her dirty mugs in the kitchen and smelly food in the fridge that drove Ben mad. Then she could put that right and not feel rejected as a person. By removing the criticism and name calling the mediator re-focuses on needs, removes judgement and opens up a route to a more positive future.  Mediating some jointly formulated ground rules about the issues that were causing trouble would help.  As both parties have shaped these rules and agreed to them they are far more likely to keep to them than if they’ve been demanded and they feel ‘told’ and ‘bullied.’

Back to Jill and John; both said they had tried very hard at first to remain amicable for the sake of their son. We began exploring the issues and discussing what had worked in the past and what hadn’t worked so well. Then something happened halfway through the session which completely changed the dynamics. Jill asked John to come into her mediation room, so they could speak face to face. Jill was worried they wouldn’t get the agreement Sam so badly needed in separate rooms. They needed to be able to be able to talk to co-parent him – and she wanted me to help them to do that. I reminded her we could stop for a break or even to end the mediation at any time. John realised what a huge concession this was and he softened. He saw a light at the end of the tunnel – maybe mediation could help them move forward and co-parent again?  When they met in the same room he thanked Jill and then made a spontaneous and heartfelt apology. He said he was sorry for his part in what had gone wrong and then Jill said she had also made mistakes and they both accepted responsibility for their part in the conflict. This was a very positive start and a huge turning point.

Sometimes it just takes one person to show vulnerability or to be sorry to create the movement in mediation necessary for change. They began to talk and wondered how they had let the situation escalate. Why hadn’t they sat down and thrashed this out earlier on? They were both genuinely bewildered to start with – but then realised they were both too afraid and angry to back down. When a breakthrough occurs –which it often does in mediation – the solutions seem so simple and obvious. However, often couples stuck in conflict need some outside help from an impartial professional before they are able to understand and end the circular nature of their conflict. Mediation takes place in a safe and neutral environment – the mediator is truly impartial and does not take sides. Couples can signal hope of change by agreeing to attend.  They are helped to resolve problems and issues and to end their conflict instead of perpetuating it in a stuck way.

Jill and John had more work to do in mediation. However, they left the session with an arrangement for their son to see John very soon. They communicated with a newfound respect for one another and a determination not to fall back into old negative patterns of communication. They started to work towards creating new boundaries and shared understandings of how they could build a parenting alliance that they could work within safely and which would benefit Sam hugely. Realistically, this was never going to happen by accident – how could it? Mediation was the only way they could achieve this. I love my work and John and Jill went home smiling and relieved.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

The worst aspect of divorce

Mediators ask clients at Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) how they are feeling and coping after a separation. It’s vital that a mediator listens carefully and hears (separately) from each client about their concerns, fears and hopes, so they can manage the process effectively and facilitate discussions to generate possible solutions. If a client feels that their ex doesn’t listen to them fully or monopolises conversations, then that’s important information for the mediator. The mediator is trained to ensure that discussions in mediation are fair and balanced. They aren’t referees. I liken the role to a music conductor – they provide focus, direction and balance.

Worst Aspects of Divorce

Clients & their greatest fear

So what do clients fear most from divorce? From my experience (family solicitor and now full-time family mediator) they fear loss and the uncertainty that separation creates. Couples never have complete certainty over their future. However they have constants that create a level of security. These constants include their home, relationship, income, future pensions and possibly savings. Plans for the future are now up in the air and the ‘safe’ foundations are shaken or lost.

A separation is often initiated by one party. The person left behind may feel resentful that their ex made a unilateral decision that created uncertainty and hardship. Communication is poor and co-parenting is very difficult. The partner who ends the relationship may feel frustrated and believe their ex is stalling and trying to thwart their plans to move forward. At this point, separating couples are often expected to resolve issues concerning co-parenting, housing and income – it all feels a bit overwhelming. An initial appointment with a solicitor can provide much-needed support. Your solicitor is on your side and can give you advice about what’s in your best interest, but how do you separate finances and child arrangements with your ex?  The solicitor has provided a buoyancy aid – but what if your ex won’t agree to what you have been advised is a fair settlement? Your solicitor may suggest family mediation, but it’s voluntary and means sitting down and talking to your ex (perhaps the last thing you feel like doing).  What if you don’t get what you are entitled to that way?  For some people going to court can feel a safer bet. You can present evidence to a Judge and surely they will see that you haven’t been treated fairly and that you need the settlement you want? It may also feel cathartic to channel your anger and frustration in to a court battle. It’s understandable some people think ‘I will show him’, or ‘I won’t let her get away with this’. However, court cases are expensive and seldom give the litigant what they want. Costs and emotions can snowball out of control you may spend more on the litigation than you were arguing about.  It’s hard to be objective and in the long-term many couples regret litigating.

Many clients tell me their biggest fear is their uncertain future. If couples can resolve issues amicably then that’s ideal, and their solicitors can help make the arrangements binding. Court proceedings are a huge gamble – there’s no certainty – although you can expect relations to deteriorate further (not ok if you have children together) and the litigation costs are often disproportionate to any gain.   Court timescales are also inconsistent – but consistently long! Don’t expect a quick solution via litigation. The Judge will try to find fairness and meet everyone’s needs as far as is realistically possible  – there is actually unlikely to be a winner and a loser and that’s what litigants hope for; ‘I want to win and be proven right.’

If you mediate you will usually have to face one another (although mediation in separate rooms is possible in certain circumstances). It’s not fun and the sessions aren’t something I think anyone looks forward to. However, you will save time and money, the process is quick, and efficient and you will retain some control over important decisions about your future. If you don’t agree to something in mediation then it can’t happen. Clients often tell me that mediation can’t proceed as they can’t agree with their ex. I tell them that mediation is a process for people who can’t agree. As long as you are prepared to listen and appreciate that you can’t impose decisions on the other person, then mediation can often help. It’s very practical and future focused. We gather information about your finances; including capital, income and expenditure needs. We consider housing needs and between sessions you will be given homework to progress well at next session. This is likely to include checking your mortgage capacity and any suitable available housing. It then becomes clear what you both need and we consider how both your needs can be met. Sometimes we find that something that’s important to one person is less important to the other – a trade-off can then occur.

Mediation is a proven and effective way to help people move forward and find some security for their future. Your solicitor can advise and support you in-between sessions and you won’t lose their support. They can then help you to make your decisions legally binding.

Call us on 01908 231132 for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at www.focus-mediation.co.uk. Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

My job as a mediator has taught me to…

Listen actively! My mediation training has inadvertently improved my relationships with friends and family. I can’t mediate between friends or family as without impartiality it’s hopeless! However, it has shown me that active listening is far more powerful than any other social skill. It has an astonishing effect on people, simply because they’re not used to feeling understood.

My Role Taught Me To

Before I trained as a mediator I thought I was a good listener. However, research shows most people are not good listeners and actually disregard between 75% – 90% of what has been said to them.  A good mediator must listen ‘actively’. This means concentrating fully on what the speaker says, including studying their body language and their tone, asking questions to clarify and gain a complete understanding. The mediator will often summarise what has been said to show the speaker they have heard and check they’ve got it right. The speaker may correct them if they have misunderstood – and it provides the speaker an opportunity to hear and reflect on what they have said. This makes the client really feel heard and understood by the mediator, which builds trust and rapport between them. Mostly people are too busy formulating their response to listen fully. It’s often why couples argue; ‘You aren’t really listening to me, you didn’t hear what I said – and you didn’t care what I said or felt’.

I haven’t always listened well

I am a good active listener in my role as a mediator, it’s integral to the work and a professional skill. However, with friends and family I still don’t always listen actively enough. Almost all of us could improve our relationships and communication if we understood how to listen actively to friends and family.

Sometimes emotions can get in the way of me listening properly. I may have been too angry, excited, frustrated or too rushed to listen actively. Most of us want to help friends and family. When they are suffering we want to ease their pain. Of course I have listened to their concerns and fears – but I simply didn’t comprehend just how powerful and healing it can be to just feel heard. I didn’t understand that listening was enough – I wanted to give them more. When someone shares their innermost feelings with you, it is of course both a privilege and a responsibility. In the past I tried to find a way to fix their problems or I would share my own problems to try and empathise. As an experienced mediator I now understand that people need to feel heard more than anything else. If someone has suffered a bereavement you can’t speed up their healing process and take their pain away. When they share their grief with you they need to know that you understand what they are going through and that you empathise with them. Acknowledging how they feel helps them to feel supported and to know that they aren’t alone.

A client who felt helpless

A father told me how helpless he felt. He had separated years ago from his daughter’s mother who had mental health issues. Sometimes she wouldn’t take her medication and her behaviour would become erratic. She would isolate herself and her teenage daughter from people who genuinely cared and could help them. This father applied for residence, but his daughter wanted to stay with her mother and told the court this. This father really wanted to help his daughter. He felt hopeless and that there was nothing he could do to help his daughter unless she lived with him – because he was trying to fix the problems. He described conversations he had had with her and it was apparent to me that he hadn’t actively listened to her.  Unintentionally he had not been as supportive as he could have been. He was so preoccupied with trying to help, he couldn’t see she just wanted to confide in him and to feel he heard her and supported her. He had been shocked during the residence proceedings to find out that she didn’t want to live with him. He had assumed so much without asking his daughter what she wanted. She was a teenager and the court had respected her wish to stay with her mother. He could best support her by letting her know he was always there for her and that he would always listen to her. If she wanted more help she could tell him.

In the past he had been highly critical of his daughter’s mother to her. We discussed how that could have a negative impact on his relationship with his daughter. He confirmed it already had – she had stopped discussing her mother with him as she was protective of her. He needed to stop judging and fixing and just be there to listen. Listening is what truly connects us. Talking is a repetition of what we already know – however when we listen we may learn something new. We have two ears and one mouth – if we could try to listen twice as much as we speak, the world would be a better place.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

The Costs of Childcare

The Costs of Childcare combined with the inadequacies of the child maintenance calculator can result in unfairness.

The cost of childcare is massive. For a full-time worker with a one year old it may be £1,300 or even more a month, every month, even when you’re on holiday – to keep that vital nursery place. That makes an impossible hole in most incomes – especially if you are paying tax, NICs, the cost of commuting and a few hundred a month off a student loan. There may be virtually nothing left. You may not be able to afford to work. But then you may have to work to pay the bills. You may be working for a net nothing to keep your job open, so when child care reduces you still have it. No wonder young people are delaying having children, opting out or just having one. They cannot square the circle – and it is not because they waste money. They have less disposable income than their parents and grandparents.

Childcare costs

If you add a separation into the mix – with both parents struggling to work and keep two homes going, the situation can be dire. Let’s imagine a typical scenario. The father is working full-time and paying child maintenance. He also has some child-related costs when the children are with him.  Mum is working 16+ hours a week, caring for the children, getting tax credits and child benefit and just surviving. If she is on a very low income she will get 70% of the work related child care costs paid by additional tax credits. Once she earns too much for that she must pay them herself. Say it is £4.75 an hour per child and there are 2 or three children – she may not earn enough to pay that, she may be worse off. At any rate after the cut off points her tax credits are reduced by 41p in  every pound she earns – plus so far as child tax credit is concerned by 20% income tax and her NICs. She is working very hard to stay still and in some cases to go back-wards, depending on the costs of child care.

It is not uncommon when mediating with separating couples to find that the child support does not even cover the costs of the primary carer’s child care costs, without which she cannot work at all. They are effectively a mortgage on that parent’s income, like tax. Yet she’s supposed to work isn’t she? Government policy is directed towards that end. The cost of childcare falls on the parent with whom the children live.  That is usually the parent with the lowest income. Take the following example:


Primary Carer           Income per calendar month , separated family,     Other Parent Op,
 typically mother       2 children living mainly with mum                            typically father


£916                               Net earned income, he £60,000 gross;                     £3,548
she £11,000, assumes no student loans

£149                               Child benefit 2 children

-£508                              Child Tax Credit, assumes no
Working Tax Credit

£1,573                            Total before child maintenance                                  £3548

+£632                             Child maintenance calculated by CMS                   -£632
(assumes no other children in OP’s new home and
1-2 nights pw overnight stays, maintenance could
be a lot less

 £2,205                          Total after maintenance                                                  £2916

-£650                             Less costs of childcare                                                            –

£1,555                           Net income to live                                                              £2,916


It can work the other way – in some cases after paying child maintenance the non-resident parent may struggle to meet their own costs and the primary carer can be in a much better position. The problem we have is this one size fits all child maintenance calculator combined with a refusal to look behind that at the net effect in each case. In mediation we look at the net effect of everything and consider together in a problem solving way how to address the issues. Time and again the father in the above scenario will say how silly the result is and has no hesitation is offering to pay all or some of the childcare costs; they are his children after all. Problems mostly arise when parents have got used to thinking adversarially and in terms of how much/little can they get/ get away with. It has become a battle between them in which they have forgotten the real issue – which is how to meet their children’s needs. This is one of the many strengths of mediation compared to the legal route. It is based on interest-based negotiation with a focus on solutions that work for you both and where your children’s needs are central.

Call us on 01908 231132 or info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk