Category Archives: Divorce

“Power parting”

According to a certain magazine, the divorce euphemism ‘conscious uncoupling’, made popular by actor Gwynneth Paltrow during her separation from musician Chris Martin, has been cast aside by today’s disengaging celebrity couples in favour of the more dynamic ‘power parting’.  Over here in reality, the leader of our crumbling family courts system has proposed a similar notion to help stop the family justice system’s continuing slide into overburdened chaos.

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the courts in England & Wales, has written that he would like to see a swift administrative split between the process of divorce and the process of making a financial claim after divorce.  He indicates that he feels the government’s centralisation of divorce processing has led to significant problems with the number and allocation of finance and property disputes, and as a result the administrative and practical burden on the family courts has increased at a time when the system is already stretched.

Sir James would also like to see the family financial court forms and processes simplified, so no matter what kind of application someone needs to make in law, there’s one form and one procedure. As the courts are inundated with a flood of people seeking complicated financial orders without legal advice or assistance, simplifying the process will mean less time is taken in court amending application forms, drawing out the specific problems needing solutions, and explaining in detail what those solutions might be.  He would like to see a network of expert financial remedies courts set up to deal with relationship-based money claims.

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These proposals make good sense. However, this is all tinkering around the edges of a fractured system.  We are in a position where financial claims after divorce and separation are taking many months to get to a first directions appointment, increasing costs exponentially for those with lawyers, and exacerbating pressure and stress for everyone involved – including, in many cases, for children.

Mediation is also unquestionably a tough process, but it provides a sensible and practical alternative to court for former partners who need to sort out what happens next in financial and property terms.  Rather than waiting for months to start to get things sorted out, you can get an appointment in the next couple of weeks and start making decisions that will move you toward resolution.  Rather that spending money on solicitors’ letters to your ex, you can spend it on using your solicitors to support the mediation process when you choose: to ensure you know what’s in your interests and what’s fair, and to assist you in making your own decisions. You remain in control in mediation, in contrast to a court process that can make you feel that everything is sliding away from you.  An impartial and specially-trained third party mediator can help you talk together with your ex in a businesslike way, to find solutions that are fair and work for both of you and any children.

If you don’t fancy court proceedings to sort things out with your ex – and few people do, knowing the current constraints of and pressures on the system – remember, you have choices. Mediation with a specialist lawyer mediator who understands law and finance, and can give you sensible information to help you make the decisions that are right for you, really is worth investigating.

Welcome Failure – an Essential Ingredient of Success!

 

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Successful people are usually well acquainted with failure. This is simply because successful people are triers, experimenters, optimists and they don’t give up easily. They’re not afraid of being first, of falling flat on their faces, making people laugh or crow. It might just work and that’s enough to get us going and keep us going.

Swept along by an idea, we become excited, enthusiastic and before we know it we have jumped. We have embarked on whatever seemingly madcap scheme we are convinced is brilliant.

Our friends and family may roll their eyes, smile at us fondly, get exasperated, infuriated or plain bored. ‘Oh, she’s off again, fasten your seat belts!’

Yet the world needs agents for change, otherwise nothing improves, nothing is learned – we stultify. So here are my tips for getting over your fear of failure and making your (little or big) mark on the world:

  1. Give it a go! You have a dream, an idea, a passion and it might just work – give it a go! Don’t let fear of failure stop you. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Yes, sometimes you’ll fail, it’ll hurt, you may feel silly, but if you never try anything in case you may fail you’ll never succeed either. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin.
  2. If you want your children, friends and work colleagues to succeed – then you must make it safe to fail. Tell them to try, it doesn’t matter. If people are to win it must be safe to lose.
  3. Competition is tough. There’s often someone better, faster, cleverer, but that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction of your personal best. The satisfaction of just having climbed Everest is amazing. However, even if you had to stop 1000 metres from the summit because you had altitude sickness – you have still climbed Everest. You have had that experience and that is not failure.
  4. Laugh! Laugh lots, at yourself, your weaknesses and failures. If you laugh it doesn’t hurt so much and guess what? Other people don’t laugh at you. You may think they will, but they won’t. They secretly admire your courage and they won’t laugh, I promise.
  5. You fear snide comments, ridicule and loss of face. I know this is tough, you’d feel diminished, humiliated, embarrassed and stupid. Well don’t! Such behaviour says far more about the attacker than it does about you. People hearing them will not like them, they will fear and avoid them. The sympathy will be with you.
  6. Everyone loves a down-to-earth trier. Especially us Brits! Think Eddie the Eagle, or the cheers for the man who comes last in the marathon. It’s the taking part, the massive effort we admire. As for failure, we all fear it and admire those who brave it to try.
  7. Detach your sense of identity from your endeavour. Then you can give something your all and not be extinguished if you fail. You have tried your best and failed by whatever measure you were using. You’re still a brave, strong, positive power in the world. That gets a big tick and is not a failure of you. Your failed endeavour is just something you tried that didn’t work out.

Ok so I expect you’re wondering in what ways I have tried and failed. You want me to come clean so you can judge by what authority and personal knowledge I can say success and failure are two sides of the same coin. I should own up to my own successes and failures, and not mind too much if you point and laugh. Well actually I don’t. Mind, I mean.

I suppose it has been said by others that I’m a successful family lawyer and mediator, so I should not feel too squeamish about repeating that (though I do, feel squeamish that is). Several years ago, I realised family law could do with some improvement, so in the 1990s I became a mediator, set up Focus Mediation in 1999, which has grown and grown so that my main work has become mediation.

It turned out that it was the right decision and a big success for me – despite all those people who told me mediation would never catch on and was a waste of time. I followed my heart and ignored them. If I didn’t try I wouldn’t know would I?

I wrote a novel about one family’s divorce. By any normal external measures such as how many  books has it sold, it has failed, because it hasn’t sold many copies really and has not yet been turned into a film (Yes, I know, in my dreams). However, many people have read it and raved about it and some clients found their way to me because of it.

My understanding of the psychology of family break-down and how best to manage it has grown. Can you hear how I’m thinking about this? By external book-world measures I have failed – I have not got a best-seller on my hands, but all is not lost, some good has definitely come of it.

Then there was my campaign on Change.org. It called for the court rule that says costs must be proportionate to the value of cases to be made to work – sadly this rule is often ignored. As a result we end up with cases like the dispute over £4,000 worth of drain repairs which ran up £300,000 of legal costs.

I was asking for a compulsory referral point to mediation when legal costs reach 20% of case value – to help people do a deal without having to establish the evidence, the truth, the legalities or the rights and wrongs.

This campaign didn’t attract the attention I was hoping for despite being featured on several media. It fascinates me how often the obvious and commonsensical falls on deaf ears. But, despite this, I’m right out there in front shouting ‘It’s glaring – just give it a go, sometime it’s worth upsetting the status quo. Anyway it can’t succeed if you don’t try it – and failure is always an option when you try something new.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mediation Myths and Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The benefits of mediating with Focus Mediation at Euston?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archer v Titchener

The nation has been gripped by the Rob & Helen’s saga in the Archers!

One interesting aspect which did not grab the headlines was baby Jack’s name. Rob wishes to call him “Gideon Titchener”. Theoretically there is nothing stopping Rob calling the baby “Gideon”.  However a court may well find it emotionally harmful to the child to have different names.

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Rob could make an application to the court for permission to change the child’s name formally to “Gideon”. The court would consider all relevant factors such as his name which appears on his birth certificate as “Jack Archer”, the circumstances surrounding his conception and the fact his half-brother is called Archer. Whether the parties are married is relevant, but divorce must be on the agenda.

It is rare that you can say decisively what you think a court would do but it seems highly unlikely in these circumstances that a court would give Rob permission to change “Jack’s” name.

It seems there is a lot in a name.

No one listening? Then stop shouting, you might get heard

Communication is complex. It is much more than words. Communication comprises a range of related activities, including, speech, facial expression, body language and most importantly of all, the subtext of the total communication package and critically what you do, as actions speak louder than a thousand words.

An example will help. If someone is shouting aggressively and waving their arms, this is likely to induce a panic reaction in the listener. In that state that they experience a rush of adrenaline which suspends their ability to process information and programmes them to fight, flee or freeze, the classic survival response.

 The person shouting has generated the opposite response from that intended. If they had spoken quietly without aggression, the panic response would not have overwhelmed their listener and the meaning of the words could have been satisfactorily conveyed. Literally, you might say ‘If you shout I can’t hear you!’

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‘Gorilla Family Moment’, photo taken by Pascal Walschots

Couples who are separating frequently say they cannot talk, can only communicate by email or text and seem inevitably to fight. Their conflict is so high it breaks out over anything and everything. One of the mediator’s tasks is to break this habit, if only for long enough to help the couple agree their settlement or what to do about their children.

So if you want to be heard and understood, talk quietly and not aggressively, listen thoughtfully to any response – and respond to it respectfully in a co-operative spirit and you might be heard and you might even start to communicate. True, exerting self-control is out of fashion, sometimes it’s even perceived as a weakness by a society which sees ‘chest thumping’ responses as a strength. But such an approach should be rediscovered – as it might be the only way to solve some problems which have remained painfully unresolved. Then you can both move on in a constructive way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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