Category Archives: Face to Face Mediation

Co-Parenting after Separation 2019

The fundamental principle, when dealing with cases involving children, is that their welfare is paramount and their best interests must come first.

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Sometimes parents dealing with their own emotions forget their children may also be suffering. Their lives will change and it isn’t always appreciated how much an impact a separation can have on a child. If their parents are in constant conflict it will hurt and upset them. This can lead to anxiety and depression. A child can be burdened by parental conflict and an acrimonious separation can affect their schooling, peer relationships and their emotional well-being, even into adulthood.

What do children need?

To:

  • be loved and supported.
  • feel safe and secure.
  • have routine and stability.
  • have a relationship with both parents.
  • see their parents communicating and co-operating.
  • have their wishes and feelings considered.
  • have a voice –to be heard.

How can mediation help separating couples make arrangements for their children?

A mediator can assist by helping parents to discuss how to care for their children and how to communicate with about those arrangements.

The first decision to be made is where the children are to live and if they are to have a principle home or an arrangement for shared care. Whichever arrangement is chosen, details will need to be discussed, so that the children can spend time with each parent. The mediator and parents will concentrate on establishing a structure for the children to spend time with both parents, with some flexibility. If the children are old enough and want to have a say – this is possible in mediation.

Reasonable notice should always given for any changes to the agreed routine. The key to successful co-parenting is good communication between the parents. Mediation helps you work out what form of communication will suit you best.

A Focus mediator will take parents through the various arrangements that may apply. Weekends, what is to happen during school holidays (Easter, Summer and the three half terms). It is important arrangements for Christmas are decided on and this can be very difficult, also what is to happen when special occasions arise that might affect the children’s planned routine.

How can a child have a voice in mediation?

Focus Mediation offers Direct Consultation with children, with specially trained DBS checked mediators, if both parents and the children agree to this. The children will meet with the mediator to discuss their wishes and feelings and the mediator will relay back to the parents what the child wants to say. This often helps a child who is worried about speaking to their parents directly.

Co-Parenting Plans

Once decisions have been made about the arrangements for children a Co-Parenting Plan can be prepared by your mediator, setting out details of all issues referred to above. This document sets out the arrangements that parents intend to follow with their children.

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

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

A Safe Place to Talk? – 2019

Has talking to each other become impossible? Are the things you’ve got to sort out too difficult? Does it feel as if there’s a brick wall between you that you can’t bring down?

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live. The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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Focus mediators are trained and practised in addressing any power imbalances. They are completely neutral: they don’t take sides. Most importantly, they are non-judgemental. Nothing shocks them. The mediator keeps you focussed on the plans you need to make for your future, rather than dwelling on the past. She uses her wealth of experience to help you both knock down that wall and build a future.

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’. Mediation can only help those who want it to work and are willing to set aside their old habits, under the mediator’s guidance. The mediator has a right to end the mediation if she feels the process is being abused.

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

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

Anger – A Mediator Point of View

The other day, a man arrived at mediation so angry he could hardly speak. He certainly wasn’t making eye contact. He slammed his papers onto the desk and shifted impatiently in his chair. I asked him what was up. He was angry at having to be here, furious about the money he was spending and spitting nails at what seemed to him to be a completely pointless exercise: working through the financial disclosure “when we both know what we’ve got and that it isn’t going to be enough”.

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My first reaction was the wrong one. I got defensive. Pointed out that he voluntarily agreed to come, and that the hourly rate was reasonable and less than that charged by most solicitors. “That doesn’t stop this whole thing being a complete waste of time”; “But we haven’t even started yet, how do you know that?” I was stupidly letting my professional ego get in the way of a much better approach.

I continued in an unhelpful, rather smug vein by showing them both the flow-chart they had seen in their introductory meeting: it explains why disclosure has to be done, whether you are using mediation or solicitors: without it, no-one can help you negotiate a settlement.

He was still smouldering. We had a few more tetchy exchanges. Finally, finally!, I remembered that this wasn’t how to deal with anger.

I said to him that he still seemed cross. I asked him what about. “Everything”.

And who are you angry with: me? – (politely)No.

Her? – (reluctantly) No.

Who, then? – (ruefully) Myself.

Ah!. Now we could go somewhere with it. I sympathised with him with them bothsaying I could see what a difficult situation they were in, how upsetting it was and how understandable his anger was. I listed all the unfortunate aspects of their case, and told them I could see exactly why they might be feeling hopeless about it.

I also told them that they were amazingly brave to opt for mediation; to choose to work this thing out together, face to face; and that I really hoped I could help. I told them we would be dealing with facts and figures rather than messy emotions; that we would focus on the wayforward rather than on the path that had led them here. I said I would do everything I could to help them reach a solution so that they could draw a line and move on.

I am pleased to say, we worked hard all morning and reached a set of proposals that were eventually converted into a consent order. It had turned out to be simpler than they thought – and they wrote to thank me at the end.

Moral? Anger usually stems from a feeling that you have been misread or wrong-footed, and it is often expressed about something other than the root cause. It seeks to win power over a person or situation, so a defensive, self-righteous response only fuels it. Accepting, analysing and understanding it is a better way forward, whether you are in the mediator’s chair or at home. Good luck!

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

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

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

Separating well

In the early stages of a separation, you can feel like you’re in a vortex: everything is swirling around, uncertain, and it’s difficult to find anything to grab on to and steady yourself.  Here are 10 things that our experience has taught us can hel

1. Put children first

If you have children, their needs should be the guiding factor while you are going through the separation.  A lot of people might take this to mean you shouldn’t separate at all, but the research is clear: it’s not separation or divorce that harms children; it’s being exposed to conflict.  The very best thing you can do for them is not to argue in front of them.  If you let their needs guide your decisions during this difficult time, you will generally be doing the right thing. 

2. Read up

Helpful resources include websites such as The Parent Connection https://theparentconnection.org.uk and the Couple Connection https://thecoupleconnection.net , both from relationship charity One Plus One, that give ideas for better communication in difficult circumstances.  The Resolution website http://www.resolution.org.uk  is an excellent source of legal information and guidance. Relate https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/self-help-tools/book-shop  have done an excellent series of books about managing the process of separation in a positive way.  Separating Well

3. Get advice

The law surrounding separation and divorce is not necessarily what you might think.  For example, it might come as a shock to people separating out of unmarried relationships that simply cohabiting with someone, no matter for how long, confers no legal rights as such: the concept of the ‘common law’ wife/husband is a myth. The law about separating out finances or property on divorce might also come as a surprise, particularly the fact that it doesn’t matter who has done what to end the marriage in 99% of cases – it’s nearly always the financial needs of family members that matter most.

4. See a therapist/counsellor

Often when a relationship is in trouble people consider seeing a counsellor, or therapist, in an attempt to ‘save’ it.   In our experience, it can also be helpful to see one together during the process of breaking up. A good couples’ therapist can facilitate you both to process any anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion in a safe space and in a constructive way that means it is less likely to spill over into the rest of your lives, or in front of any children.  A therapist can also help you work out how you will talk to any children about your separation, and think through possibilities for the future.

Many people also find that it is helpful to see a therapist on their own, separately, to work through some of the intense feelings that are inevitable. You can get a referral to a therapist via your GP, although you may find there is a waiting list.  Alternatively, you can find a good private therapist in your area via the BACP website http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk , and seeing a counsellor needn’t be costly.  Having a safe space to process complex emotions can be helpful to stop them from impinging on other areas of your life.

5. Give and take space

It’s really important to give your estranged partner or spouse space during a break-up, but often this is more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you’re still sharing the same home. Fear, suspicion or anxiety can make it difficult to keep things in perspective, but being aware of how you’re feeling can make it easier to recognise when you need to take a break.  When the pressure’s on, it’s so important to take space for yourself, and to force yourself to do things that you enjoy or that make you feel better, whether it’s going for a run, spending an evening out with friends, or anything else.

6. Be businesslike – work out the best way to communicate – project manage

You and your partner or spouse will have to continue communicating throughout your separation, particularly if you share children, pets or a living space. If early on you can take the time to work out how best you can do this to minimise stress, disruption and misunderstandings, you may save yourself a lot of trouble later.  (As family mediators, this is one of the first things we look at with the aim of reducing further stress.)  For some people, it’s main communication by email and by text in emergencies; for others, it’s limited emergency phone calls and weekly meetings about plans.  Whatever you choose, if you can remain businesslike and communicate with your former partner as if he/she were a work colleague on a project, you will make headway with arrangements much more quickly.

7. Choose carefully whom you listen to

Friends and family can be a lifeline during divorce and separation.  They love you, they want to support you and they are unquestionably on your side. However, this means that they may not always be the best source of advice or guidance about present and future dealings with your estranged spouse or partner. Divorce is not unusual and people will carry their own baggage from their own separation, or their parents’, or a friend’s.  Although delivered with the best of intentions, it is important to be aware that other people’s perspectives and experiences may not always be helpful to you – objective advice from a solicitor, or a counsellor to whom you can chat without fear of judgment, can help provide some distance.

8. Don’t worry about the divorce

The actual legal process of divorce often weighs heavily on the mind of married couples who separate. In fact, this is generally one of the smallest issues.  Legally, it matters not who divorces whom and why; the process is now done entirely on paper in most cases, and you will not need to see a judge to get a divorce unless there is something very unusual about your case.  In most cases, a mediator can help the two of you work out the formalities of divorce very quickly, leaving more space to focus on financial and children issues.

9. Seek consensus about future arrangements: litigation is a last resort

The court is, generally, the least appropriate place to work out arrangements for a family’s future after separation or divorce. Sometimes it can’t be avoided.  Most of the time, taking a practical and child-centred approach to arrangements for children’s care, and a commercial approach to matters of finance and property means that you can avoid court.  Collaborative law, mediation, negotiating through solicitors, and arbitration are all sensible options for sorting things out without going near a court.  A good legally-qualified mediator, such as those working with Focus, will save you time, money and stress while helping you keep control over your future financial arrangements.

10. Remember everyone has their own truth about why a relationship broke down – don’t let this stand in the way of your future

As mediators, we work with couples to stop arguments about who did what in the past from getting in the way of making arrangements for the future.  It isn’t necessary that each of you should have the same view about what caused the relationship to end.  Our job is to help you to focus on what happens next and to enable you to move forward with a workable plan.  We’ve helped thousands of separating couples do exactly this; give us a call on 01908 231132 if you’d like to have a chat about how we might be able to help you too.

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

Online Mediation

In family disputes or anything more complicated than a simple disagreement over a refund or similar – remote electronic mediation creates barriers to communication and meeting your mediator face to face is infinitely better. Online may save on rent, time and travel, but when it results in a poorer understanding, then it is a false economy.

Communication critically engages a wide range of senses and exchanges, many non-verbal, some unconscious and instinctive. We are still studying human interactions; they are so complex and multi-dimensional.  Misunderstandings and conflict are frequently caused by miscommunication and miscuing. One of the mediator’s main tasks is interpreting and managing communication and interpersonal exchanges.  Digital exchanges are inevitably limited and not as effective.  Face-to-face, people can read nuances of expression, voice and body language.  Focus mediators think savings from online or Skype MIAMs or mediation are a false economy and we do not recommend choosing online mediation if it could take place in person.

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Whilst we sometimes conduct MIAMs or mediate online – we are clear about its limitations. Clients find it more difficult to tune in and technology can be a tricky distraction. Nonetheless, sometimes there may be good reasons to work online, despite its problems, so Focus mediators will do online MIAMs in the following circumstances:

  • You have had a face to face MIAMs or your mediation broke down and your FM1 certificate has expired (a form signed by a mediator confirming to the court you can issue proceedings as you have attended a MIAM); we can do a remote MIAMs and re-issue the court form
  • One of you lives at a distance and the only feasible way to mediate is electronically – this is a joint decision following a practical analysis of your situation

Anyone who wants or needs their FM1 to go to court will of course get it. A court application may often be needed, e.g. to force the engagement of the other party in any process to sort out a dispute.  However, you can also consider with the mediator how mediation might help later in the shadow of the court time-table, so ending costly and lengthy litigation. A proper MIAM gives you vital information and insights to help you – why bypass that?

Our Philosophy

Focus mediators are specialists and mediation is what we do, so we have a wealth of experience of resolving conflict at our fingertips. We offer online MIAMs to some of our clients where this is appropriate.  We know the best way to help most separating couples is to help them to mediate in a way they can manage and sort out their problems fast in mediation. Court is expensive and slow.  It is a destination of last resort for most families.

A Focus Mediation MIAMs is thorough. We will listen carefully to you and get an understanding of your problems from your perspective – and if you want/need to go to court, then we shall give you the FM1 form to make your application.  We shall explain the various options to you thoroughly, so you have a clear understanding of the full range of non-nuclear options for resolution, including during court proceedings, so if you’re litigating you don’t end up feeling you’re on a runaway train with no way out until trial. If you are going to mediate you will be given a welcome pack full of resources relevant to your situation, so you can get off to a flying start in your first session of mediation. All this for £100 + VAT or £150 + VAT if you come to a joint MIAM. Why go online if you don’t have to do so, how can it be better?

Online Mediation – why we believe in face-to-face mediation

We know poor communication is at the heart of misunderstandings and causes conflict. Understanding and managing this conflict is vital to mediation and resolving disputes.  Digital communication impedes what mediators do, making it impossible to use many mediation techniques.  Face-to-face, people can read nuances of expression, voice and body language.  Trying to establish a rapport with someone online significantly hampers understanding, interpreting dynamics and in the mediator’s case assessment and explanations are harder. We think savings from online mediation or MIAMs are a false economy and the concept is flawed.

Whilst online mediation and assessment for mediation can work for simple complaints and disputes – such as faulty goods, agreeing a refund and simply providing a neutral post-box for communication between disputants to resolve something simple. Most cases are not that simple and need the full range of mediation interpersonal skills. Occasionally, the only way to sort things out may be via Skype – if people are in different countries, for example. However, it is much harder and if a meeting is possible, why would you not mediate in person and have those advantages?

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Frequently people think they are arguing about a specific issue or point of law. More often the root of the problem is emotional, fear and mistrust. In family cases, with their complex dynamics – remote electronic mediation is a poor substitute for meeting your mediator. Whilst it can reduce costs (specifically rent, time and travel) you are less likely to find it satisfactory.  It is less likely to work. So when it is important to sort something out – why ask your mediator to try and do it with one arm tied behind their back and a patch over one eye, if not both? It’s like going to the gym and sitting in the changing room with your coat on, refusing to meet your coach except via a screen. Why would you?

Focus mediators will offer online mediation in limited circumstances – not because we can’t do it, because we can and we have helped clients online when they are abroad, or a long way away, but it is not ideal. We don’t advise to use online mediation because it does not help people access what they most need, which is our full and present attention to them and their problems – and how best to resolve them face to face.  Then all senses, instincts and intuitions can be engaged and documents can be explained and handed over, with notes made during a conversation where two minds can meet without difficulty.

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