Category Archives: Divorce

Why should I forgive my ex?

You feel hurt, angry and confused. You want an amicable divorce or separation, but you don’t feel you know your ex anymore. What will they do next? Trust is a distant memory or has been seriously eroded. You struggle to communicate at all.  How on earth can you resolve child arrangements, housing needs, maintenance and pensions? It all feels insurmountable.

Issuing court proceedings for finances or child arrangements is likely to throw petrol on to the fire.  Sometimes it’s the only option – but those situations are rare. Giving evidence against each other and cross examination creates a war you have to win. Yet the reality is that there are seldom any winners. A judge must find fairness – fairness doesn’t manifest itself in the form of a huge victory for one against the other. How can it, when the Judge needs to consider meeting both your needs and the needs of the children? Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence. 84 family courts have closed or are closing at a rate of knots and legal aid is almost non-existent. The Ministry of Justice doesn’t want you there – they know it’s not the place for families. The MoJ and the judges know family mediated agreements have longevity and are more likely to be complied with. People are far more likely to stick to agreements they have made.

Why Should I Forgive my Ex

Many couples mediate – but why don’t more? Some fear their settlement will be less advantageous than a court imposed decision. That’s wrong – and even if you were to get a court decision slightly weighted in your favour, what about the legal fees? They are likely to be many thousands of pounds, which makes a big hole in any advantage. Some couples struggle to pick up the phone and arrange mediation, as they are too hurt and angry. They just can’t forgive and need to feel vindicated by the court. When an affair is involved or you just haven’t been treated well, this is often the driving force behind litigation. You can and should have legal advice throughout the mediation process – and your lawyer will tell you that it is well settled that behaving badly is not relevant to the division of finances or the children at court. So other than being able to avoid a painful, protracted and expensive court case, why else should you forgive your ex?

Your reward for forgiveness

  1. Forgiving your ex benefits you

Forgiveness is the key to moving forward – without it you will remain stuck. Forgiveness isn’t a selfless act – letting go of negative thoughts will allow you to feel more positive about your future.

  1. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning or tolerating bad behaviour

Letting go of resentment will make you feel more at peace and can help to stop you feeling your ex has any control over you. You can’t change how they behave but you can change how you respond to them and how you let it impact you.

  1. Stop waiting for an apology

Clients often tell me that they just need an apology or at least an acknowledgement that they have been wronged. As a mediator I have had the privilege of facilitating some genuine and well received apologies, not something that happens any other way.  Acknowledgment of feelings and hurt is a frequent component of mediation, which builds real understanding between separating couples. Interestingly, they seem to occur when the recipient and I least expect them! However, to heal you need to accept that you may never receive an apology and even If you do – you may find that it doesn’t feel as complete or sincere as you had hoped.

  1. Children suffer immeasurably from parental conflict

Children who experience prolonged parental conflict are less likely to meet educational and developmental milestones. They are also less likely as an adult to maintain a long term relationship with a spouse. Children blame themselves and can suffer from low self-esteem, which can adversely affect many aspects of their lives. Ask yourself – what do your children mostly see you both argue about? Is the answer ‘them’? If so to the children it’s simple – they are to blame! Forgive your ex so you can move forward and let your children flourish.

  1. Negative feelings can damage your physical health as well as your mental wellbeing

Negative emotions and reliving hurtful experiences can cause symptoms from headaches, fatigue and high blood pressure to back and neck problems and reduced immunity.  Holding on to negative feelings hurts you more than your ex.   

  1. Forgive or risk anger turning into bitterness

If you don’t release the negative emotions, they can turn to bitterness and this can feel toxic to those around you. You become unable to enjoy the things that used to make you happy – you see life through a bitter lens.

So how do you forgive an ex? 

  1. It’s ok to admit that your ex really hurt you

Acknowledging the hurt that was inflicted upon you is not a sign of weakness. Consider keeping a diary or writing letters to yourself and explore your feelings, hopes and wishes. The process can be cathartic. Committing the feelings to paper can be the first step to leaving them in your past. Set yourself some small goals; perhaps you will promise to walk the dog every day and get some fresh air and exercise.

  1. Decide not to live your life as a victim of your separation

Consider what the painful process has taught you. Are there any positives? In the early days they can be hard to find – but new beginnings are often disguised in painful endings. Jo Woods, often referred to as long suffering former wife of ‘Rolling Stone’ Ronnie Woods, recently spoke about her devastation when Ronnie had an affair and left her after 23 years of marriage. She said she eventually realised it was for the best. One day she had an epiphany whilst struggling to reach the summit of a mountain. At the peak she decided to forgive Ronnie as she realised that to do so would set her free. She is quoted as saying, “Ronnie, I forgive you. I’m not willing to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to be strong and I’m going to make the most of the rest of my days.’

Quote by Jo Woods from the Daily Mail

The Child Maintenance Service – suggestions for reform

We are not talking about the majority of non-resident parents, who mostly pay all they should pay and often more. We are talking about those parents who are determined to avoid supporting their children, even when they could easily afford to do so.  They see the avoidance of supporting their children as a type of game – or a battle, perhaps because they want to do the other parent down, to ‘win,’ even though as a result their offspring suffer. We saw this in the recent case of the pensioner father with over £5m in assets who avoids supporting his son by depressing his income. He does this by not earning or drawing from his pension funds or paying support from his capital.

Child Maintenance Service

There are sadly too many such cases. The self-employed working for cash and under-declaring their income to HMRC may pay little child support on the low income the tax authorities are aware of. Worse still are those who don’t work and live off substantial capital investments and gains. They may pay virtually nothing to support their children and be millionaires. The tax-payer props up their families with tax credits and universal credit. Unfair.

Judge Mostyn is calling for reform. The government say it is too complicated to make it fair for everyone. Yet there are some simple options as follows:

  1. Capital gains inside and over the exempt amount for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) must be declared on your tax returns. This could be added to income and child maintenance could be levied on it. If not in all circumstances, in cases where maintenance of less than a certain amount is being paid
  2. Child maintenance could be payable from unearned income such as rent and dividends, interest and the rest of it. It’s already payable on pension incomes – but some people avoid drawing their pension income to avoid paying child maintenance, so
  3. In circumstances where no child maintenance or very little is being paid, it should be ordered as a percentage of the capital value of the liable parent’s pensions. 3% would arguably be right.

If the parent responsible for supporting their child won’t co-operate, then there must be penalties that benefit the child. So in the event of non-disclosure and failure to co-operate then there should be power to order an attachment of a pension fund or other asset, such as a bank account. Much of the requisite information will be on such wealthy parents’ tax returns. Many of them would not defraud HMRC – this being a criminal offence for which they could be jailed. We also need a public information exercise. Not supporting your children is unacceptable and anti-social. Society and children deserve better.

Gingerbread & Mostyn J call for urgent reform so parental capital is taken into account by CMS

Mr Justice Mostyn has again called for urgent child maintenance reform. He is frustrated that some asset rich non-resident parents pay nothing or as little as £7 per week child maintenance. Since the child maintenance reforms 5 years ago, a non-resident parent’s assets are no longer taken into account when calculating child maintenance as only taxable income is included. The result is that in a significant minority of cases, there is a loophole that allows a wealthy non-resident parent to avoid taking appropriate financial responsibility for their child.

Green v Adams May 2017 EWFC 24

Green v Adams May [2017] EWFC 24

In May 2017, Mostyn J heard an already heavily litigated case between unmarried parents. The mother who was on a low part time income and in receipt of tax credits, made an application for singular items of capital provision for her 16 year old son under Schedule 1, to the Children Act, 1989.He awarded lump sums amounting to £20,600 to cover current capital needs of the son (car for mum, laptop, trips…) His father, 65, owned properties valued at over £5,000,000, had substantial savings and a pension fund of £1,350,000. He had already taken a pension tax free lump sum of £450,000 in the tax year 2011/2012. Father’s child maintenance payments were based on his state pension as that was his only income for the purposes of the Child Maintenance Service’s (CMS) calculator.  He lived with his elderly parents as their carer and in n return they ‘kept’ him. Mostyn J questioned at what point he would receive an income from his pension ( Mostyn J calculated it to be £70,000 per annum). Father said he had to wait until he was 67.

Mostyn J felt he was evasive and could receive the pension income immediately if desired. Under current child maintenance rules, the court can only award periodical payments under schedule 1 to ‘top up’ child maintenance payments if the CMS has awarded a resident parent the highest child maintenance award. As this wasn’t the case, and as mother had not been married to father, her only option was to apply under schedule 1 for singular items of capital expenditure. Mostyn J said ‘for reasons which I cannot fathom the assets ground of variation has been removed from this latest regime. Therefore, it is possible, as in this case, for a father to live on his capital, which may be very substantial indeed, and to pay no child support at all.’ He went on to say that he felt the ‘parsimonious approach’ to the support of his son was little short of scandalous. He called for the urgent reinstatement of the old rules to take into account a parent’s assets.

Action since Mostyn J’s call for urgent child maintenance reform

Conservative MP David Burrows on behalf of the mother raised the issue in parliament and proposed a bill to ensure that assets were taken into account in future. He said, ‘the boy should not be made to pay the price of low child maintenance contributions simply because the father has a clever accountant who can help to hide his assets.’ Gingerbread, a charity which promotes equality of single parents has produced a report ‘children deserve more; challenging child maintenance avoidance’. Click here for the full report.  The report states that the child maintenance service’s loophole denies children the financial support they deserve. It explains that the CMS is supposed to calculate and when necessary enforce the payments that children need. However, the reforms have instead prioritised administrative convenience over all other concerns. It believes the system lets resident parents down. In particular, it is critical of the decision to base the child maintenance calculation on gross taxable earnings or profits as reported to the HMRC. It highlighted how paying parents with often considerable assets can end up paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration. In other cases, self-employed parents are able to get away with under-reporting their income in order to reduce their payments. It argues that the CSA was not fit for purpose and nor is the CMS. It said, ‘Parents who believe they are receiving less than their children are entitled to frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS, or being kept in the dark about their options. Since the calculation is based on HRMC information, single  parents often find themselves being passed back and forth between the two organisations, with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation.’

Gingerbread Director of Policy Dalia Ben-Galim went further and said, ‘Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires. But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.’ Gingerbread is calling for the government to set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion, including far greater co-ordination between the CMS and HMRC when assessing incomes and greater support for parents who wish to challenge assessments.

Green v Adams August [2017] EWFC 52

The case returned before Mostyn J regarding consequential issues arising from the principle judgement.  Mostyn J again bemoaned the abolition of the assets ground of variation and urged the government to consider its reinstatement. He said he had read with interest the Gingerbread report.  He said the report recorded that the CMS had explained that, compared to the CSA, the scope of income which could be captured by a possible variation had been widened to include almost all sources of gross income identified in the self-assessment process. The author of the report he said rightly pointed out that this was a non-sequitur because the assets ground of variation was focussed on people who arrange their affairs so that they do not have any income but who rather live on their capital. He said the relevant minister then said that the CMS doesn’t attempt to provide a unique, bespoke solution in respect of the care of each child, as it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to do so. Mostyn J argued that the scheme should strive to provide solutions in every case and that ‘justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of managerial efficiency. Ease of administration surely does not furnish an objectively reasonable justification for a process that allows a multi-millionaire father to get away with paying child support for his son of a mere £7 per week.’ He concluded that if the ground is not reinstated that he could foresee more cases seeking singular awards of capital and the family court taking an ever more expansive view of what constitutes singular expenditure.

We wait to see what happens next. However, Mostyn J is clear that without CMS reform the courts may look for ways to provide more generous capital awards to remedy the unfairness some children and their resident parent face.

Why mediation?

The National Audit Office Report into Family Mediation in 2007, found that mediation was better for families than litigation and was also faster and cheaper than court proceedings:

National Audit Office Report into Family Mediation 2007 (download here)

“Mediation is faster, cheaper and less adversarial than the courts – it is the duty of legal advisers to tell clients about mediation, but they have a financial disincentive to do so and many bypass it.” N.A.O. 2007.

1/3 clients interviewed by the NAO had not been told about mediation by lawyers – of which 40% said they would have tried it.

Mediated legal aid case                                                       Non mediated legal aid case

£754                                                Average Cost                  £1682

110 Days                                        Duration                         435 Days

Why Mediation NAO

The N.A.O. concluded the Legal Services Commission should promote mediation. In 2014, the government introduced the compulsory Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting, which had to be undertaken prior to issuing court proceedings for ALL applicants to the family courts.  MIAMs are intended to help separating families hear how they can resolve their arrangements in mediation before applying to court. Many people then choose to mediate.

The purpose of MIAMs (to help people avoid the stress, costs and delays of litigation), is being eroded by MIAMs being bypassed wholesale. The courts are failing to enforce the requirement for the MIAM, even though many people attending a MIAM will mediate. Now MIAMs are being subverted into token online processes that do little to fulfil their original purpose of a very worthwhile pre-issue safety net.

The market bias towards court proceedings is faltering and more disputants are coming direct to mediation. They realise that fighting may feel best but it rarely is best. For those who still think they will get a better result at court. The fact is that the reverse is mostly true because:

  • In property and financial cases couples often spend more than the value of the difference between them in costs. If the net assets are worth £500,000 and there is a starting point of equal division – and you are likely to spend £20-25,000 each getting to trial – so a tenth of your joint assets on litigation, when only a tenth might be at issue! Money you need to house your family has gone. Mediation fees are likely to be under a tenth of legal costs and mediation is FAST.
  • In children cases, litigation turns parents into opponents in an adversarial process which damages their ability to co-parent effectively
  • In civil cases people routinely spend more than their cases is worth on costs, e.g. £300,000 costs over a £4,000 dispute over drains in a garden! There is no pre-proceedings requirement to see a mediator in civil litigation, consequently a tiny number of civil cases mediate an agreement, despite costs and time savings

Focus mediators are accredited, experienced and mediation is what we do – day in day out. There are different types of mediation and different ways of working, because one size does not fit all cases. Come and meet us and help us understand your situation and dispute thoroughly – then we can consider together potential routes, timing and options to help you settle matters.

“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.

mediation (1)

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.