Category Archives: Family

Sole Custody & The Fear Those Words Provoke

I wish I could ban words like ‘sole custody’, ‘access’ and ‘visitation’ from conversations between separated parents. These outdated words can unnecessarily provoke fear and conflict between them. They are not conducive to an amicable co-parenting relationship as they evoke images of ownership and power imbalance. I hear parents say in response, ‘I have parental rights’. Actually they have parental responsibilities. A child has rights and as long as it’s safe, it’s their basic right to know both of their parents and to spend time with each of them. Parents have a duty to facilitate this.

Sole Custody and The Fear Those Words Provoke focus blog

Divorce Forums

Today I read a post from a mother on a divorce forum and it prompted me to write this blog. Her 8 year old son had returned home after spending a few days with his father. He told her that his father said that when a child turns 12, they decide who will have sole custody and at that point he could choose his father instead of his mother. The mother explained there was no court order in place and that his father had 3 days a week ‘access’ to him and she had 4. Communication wasn’t great, but they were civil. She said she was terrified that her son would choose his father and she would lose him. She was frantically researching the law to see if her son’s father was right and he could ‘take her son away from her’ in a few years. This was my response to the mother.

 Hi, I’m a lawyer mediator. I appreciate that it must be very frightening to feel that you could lose your son. However, please try not to panic or be frightened, as I don’t believe that will happen. Old fashioned words like ‘sole custody,’ provoke fear in parents and this can very easily translate into parental conflict. If both parents are involved in a child’s life, (you say your son spends time with each of you and that you are both loving parents), then it’s best to try not to think in terms of custody and access. Your son has a right to spend plentiful time with each of you. Therefore, thinking about how you can both practically achieve this, is a much more positive way of looking at things. Your son has two homes and for children with separated parents, that’s their normality. So whilst I completely understand why you fear you will lose your son, as he has two loving parents who want to be involved in his life, there’s no reason for that to happen. He needs you both & you each have an important role to play in helping him to thrive. Maybe his father doesn’t feel he spends enough time with him and that’s why he has been thinking in these terms. Or maybe he feels the amount of time is fine, but the arrangements don’t work as well as they could. Perhaps you could talk to him about this and how the conversation with your son made you feel. Ask him what prompted the conversation. Does he feel he isn’t as involved as he would like to be in decisions about your son? What’s his fear? Positional statements usually come from a place of fear. How can you improve your parental communication? Would a weekly phone call help to keep you both in the loop and build trust and understanding? When communication is limited it’s easy to assume what the other is thinking. When it comes to discussing this situation with your son, it would be helpful to speak to his father first so you are both on the same page. Reassure your son. In your position I might say; “you have a mummy and daddy who both love you very much. You enjoy spending time with each of us and we love spending time with you. You never have to choose between us as you have two parents and two homes and will always spend time with each of us. We will always be your family. As you get older, we can regularly look at how you share your time with us and what works best for you and for us. We can all figure it out together as we go along. We will always be your parents and we will always love you…”

Simplify Co-Parenting after Separation

When parents live together they work out how they can meet their child’s needs in a very practical way. ‘I am working Monday and Tuesday and so can you pick up from school both days?’ When couples separate, they often want a more structured arrangement so they can plan ahead and are assured that they will spend time with their child. It’s helpful to agree that there can be some flexibility, so the arrangements aren’t too rigid and can meet a child’s changing needs. When we throw unhelpful words into the mix, it changes the conversation and dynamics. It’s important to focus on what works best for you all and not to get hung up on terminology. Mediation can create a safe space to have these discussions. The mediator ensures discussions are fair and balanced and that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. Sometimes it just takes one or two sessions with an impartial mediator to enable parents to get back on track.  It’s not always easy to communicate with a co-parent and there will always be challenges and bumps in the road. However, in years to come, it is something your child will understand you worked hard at and they will be immensely grateful for your efforts.

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

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

The Blame Game in Mediation

I mediated a family case recently and whilst no two cases are the same, it involved the type of issues that I regularly encounter. Janet had felt unhappy and lonely in her marriage for some years. She raised this with John and suggested couple counselling. John felt that they just needed to spend more time together as a couple and not just as parents. They carried on for a couple of years and then something made Janet decide that they couldn’t continue (she was diagnosed with a serious illness). This completely changed her outlook on life and she said that life wasn’t a dress rehearsal. She felt they couldn’t make each other happy anymore and she wanted a divorce. John was distraught. He suggested couple counselling and Janet said no. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t willing to try and save a long and mainly happy relationship. Janet got angry – she had begged him to work on their marriage for years and he had refused. She said she had accepted a long time ago that their relationship was over and now there was no going back.

the blame game in mediation

The Divorce Grief Process

When I met them for separate intake assessment meetings, they both elaborated on their feelings. Janet had felt lonely and isolated in their marriage. She felt John dismissed her concerns and shut her down.  She attended counselling on her own and realised it was their relationship and lack of communicating that made her feel depressed. John said that he was fighting for survival at work. They had a crippling mortgage and his company would let anyone go who didn’t reach targets. He said he tried to talk to her about his work issues but she dismissed him. He had also felt lonely within the marriage for some time. When they came together for their first joint mediation session, Janet had already spent many months grieving for their relationship. She had worked through emotions including denial, anger and depression. She was close to acceptance and had a desire to move forward. John was seriously playing catch-up. He was reeling and felt a mixture of shock, hurt and angr. Like many newly separated couples, they were living separately within the same household. This is often because couples can’t afford two homes or they receive legal advice that leaving will weaken their financial claims. Couples live in a pressure cooker – emotions can & will boil over at any time. John couldn’t understand how Janet was so calm and accepting when he was in so much pain. Didn’t she care? Couldn’t she see his world was crashing down around him? The reality was that she was at a very different stage of their separation journey, as they hadn’t started it together.

This couple were suffering from the inevitable stresses and strains of separation. However, they had the fortitude to use mediation and avoid spending tens of thousands of pounds on a court battle to determine finances.  They both wanted to retain control of their families’ future. They explained they needed closure – everyone was suffering. They couldn’t continue to live in a constant state of flux within the same household.

A Glimmer of Hope

The first joint session is often the first time couples have actively listened to one another for days, months or even years. Why? Because these difficult discussions usually end up in an argument or one person walks away. A mediator is like a referee – they make sure the conversations are fair and they create a safe space for difficult but essential discussions to take place. I liken it to cleaning out a cupboard; the mediator enables each to identify their concerns and discuss their worries. It feels messy, but until difficult subjects are identified and addressed, it’s impossible to begin reorganising and create some semblance of order. We discuss what they each need to move forward and we clear up misunderstanding. When we don’t communicate well, all that there is left to do is to assume. This exchange, whilst highly emotional, is often a relief to both. They see that it is possible to work through the issues that have arisen from their separation. They together focus on the problems and try and find solutions they can both live with. They discuss the children and it’s again a huge relief to share information about them. They often mirror each other’s concerns. We discuss ground rules to make it more manageable for them to live together under the same roof.

Then we discuss formalising the separation. The mediator explains that to divorce without waiting 2 years, one must blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. They discuss who will be blamed and what examples of unreasonable behaviour will be relied upon. As a mediator my heart sinks at this point. I’ve worked with the couple to enable better communication. I’ve also encouraged them to focus on the future and separate themselves from the problems they need to resolve – this removes blame and negativity.  Then we all take a huge step backwards and start looking at blame, past mistakes and hurts. Couples are fragile and blaming one another to secure a divorce is destructive.  Yet the law insists one of them must do so.

Let’s Stop Playing the Blame Game

Janet & John were doing everything they could to put the needs of their children first and to move forward as co-parents.  However, now one had to start throwing mud at the other to secure a divorce. The positivity in the mediation session began to dissipate. Children suffer far more from parental conflict than divorce itself. So why do we still have such an antiquated divorce process that actively encourages conflict between parents, instead of minimising it? Fortunately, many clients are able to overcome this huge bump in the road (Janet and John did), but why should they have to? The law needs to change so children and couples no longer suffer. To those who say removing blame will make divorce too easy, I say that’s hugely insulting to the couples I work with on a daily basis, who are experiencing one of life’s greatest traumas. It’s not about making it easier for people to give up on marriage.  It’s about helping those who have made the difficult decision to divorce, to do so in the most painless and child friendly way possible.

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

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

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating – Part 3

In part 1 & 2 of my blog about decision-making when you split up, I looked at how instinctive decision-making can lead you astray and at how slower more rational decision-making can modify decisions made intuitively.  If you haven’t seen part 1 & 2, you may want to read them, as they are full of insights.

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating Part 3 Focus Mediation Blog

Following part 1, I wanted to recount the ways in which mediators have helped separating couples in very common post separation crises, by helping them out of impossible situations using mediation techniques, to illustrate how mediation works. Another very common situation follows.

Frequently when couples split up they cannot afford the costs of their two households, there just isn’t enough income. This usually results in one of the following scenarios or a combination of them:

  • The ex with the higher income, let’s assume it is Jack, stops paying everything to fund his new home and life.
  • Jill then has a massive financial crisis, as she is unable to pay her bills and live. She applies for benefits if she can; their relationship deteriorates hugely.
  • Or Jack might get into debt trying to meet all the outgoings then Jill might argue it’s nothing to do with her, it’s post separation debt caused by his reckless lifestyle with his new girlfriend, if there is one.
  • Other variations include progressive reduction in payments over time as Jack tries to live within his income and limit mounting debt, as he does this it may well be Jill who gets into debt.
  • If there are children the parent they live with most of the time may apply to the Child Maintenance Service for an assessment and also expensive collection, this may well result in an assessment that is less than they need or expected, but at least it is something.
  • If it’s less then this may cause the payments to be further reduced.
  • In the worst cases this may also spill over into fighting over children.

Such couples are very frightened and come to mediation feeling angry and blaming. Instinctively they know the other person is to blame, because they have stopped paying/are spending all the money/ don’t care how they live. So here’s how we deal with this in mediation.

First we check out their incomes from all sources and what they might get if they can increase what’s coming in, if that is possible. We give them detailed spreadsheets to record their current outgoings of every type, so they can see what they need to live in the situation they are in. This may well be an interim budget, designed to last until they move into permanent accommodation that costs less. This means as they begin to understand the other person is in an impossible situation as well as them. The facts of the figures speak for themselves. Arguing isn’t going to help, they realise it needs sorting out.

It’s often necessary to make big changes to enable people to stabilise their spending within available income. The mediator helps them work out what needs to happen and time-table the changes, for example moving house after children have finished exams, with an interim higher level of maintenance reducing once the final settlement can be achieved. A bit like the game of ‘Pick-a-Stick,’ piece by piece we gently dismantle the wobbling financial edifice of the present to construct something workable for the immediate and longer term future.

It’s certainly the case that in these mediations that start with a catastrophe or emergency of some sort, the couples really don’t want to mediate and think it won’t work. They are pleasantly surprised when mediation does work, which is why I’m writing this series of blogs. Mediation is for people who can’t agree.

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

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating – Part 2

In my first blog about decision-making when you split up, I looked at how instinctive decision-making can lead you astray and at how slower more rational decision-making can modify decisions made intuitively.  If you haven’t seen the first blog here it is – you may want to read it, as it is full of insights.

How and Why part 2 focus mediation blog

Fast intuitive thinking and slower more rational thinking are both utilised in mediation with a mediator helping couples get on the right track.  Mediation helps people let go of their instinctive fighting and blaming and start using slower constructive thinking to get where they need to be. Here are some more examples from real life as to how this works.

In several mediations over the years, spouses who were terrified of the financial consequences of the break-up of their marriages, variously transferred all, most or half of joint savings from accounts in which large sums of family money were saved. This is not an uncommon reaction to the panic that can occur in the early stages of a split. ‘Supposing the other spouse takes it? They cheated/left/cannot be trusted – I need to be sure I’ve got some security/it’s my money/whatever’. This can get things off to a very expensive start with potentially a court application for an order the money is repaid and then people find themselves seemingly locked into litigation over everything. Toxic, expensive, distressing frightening. Fortunately there are solicitors who think first of mediation – who make emergency referrals to mediation, not emergency applications to court. This is mostly how these cases came to mediation.

In each case we were able to deal speedily with the situation, listening carefully to each person’s agonising story. Sometimes they mediated together, sometimes separately, but in each case they realised they were each frightened of the same thing, of losing out, of being done down by the other person. We mediated safe holding positions, ground rules and with mediations sessions following swiftly on each other they were able to avoid extra court hearings and settle matters. The instinct to take the money in the first place had been flawed, but in mediation people found a way to retrieve an impossible situation, stop panicking and use rational, practical thinking to work out what to do, facilitated by a mediator.

It’s certainly the case that in these mediations that start with a catastrophe or emergency of some sort, the couples really don’t want to mediate and think it won’t work. They are pleasantly surprised when mediation does work, which is why I’m writing this series of blogs. Mediation is for people who can’t agree.

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 

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating – Part 1

It’s a big decision, splitting up and that’s just the start of a plethora of other decisions that have to be made as a consequence. However, it’s not just you making the decisions, but your Soon To Be Ex has to agree with you, and that’s where it gets even more complicated.

How & Why Our Decisions Lead Us Astray When Separating PART 1 Focus Mediation Blog

Instincts can lead you astray

I used to think my ‘gut instincts’ were infallible. Now I’ve read a bit about human thinking and decision-making I’m not so sure.  Fast thinking is intuitive; it literally jumps to a conclusion.  Slow thinking is more rational, taking into account a lot more information. If a decision is important then get it right. Log your instinctive decision – but check it against the opinion you have after taking time to think everything through properly, because sometimes we make mistakes when we decide things too fast and after reflecting we change our minds. This is a good thing, as it results in better decision-making. I’ve lost count of the number of times this happens in mediation – and in life generally.

I do understand – you may feel you simply can’t trust your STBX – after all you had good reason to end it, so they are bound to do you down, as then they’ll win, right?  Or – if they ended it, well, they’re obviously untrustworthy aren’t they? You may think they’re lying about the money or the children or both. You need your lawyer to protect you, to catch them out, prove you’re right and to help you get what you want? How could you possibly meet them face-to-face and mediate your way out of this mess? Impossible! No! It’s better to take arms against a sea of troubles!

Hang on a minute – mediators know how to help couples in just this situation, it’s what they do. You can have separate meetings with your mediator first and don’t have to be in the same room with your ex. Mediators help you move through the initial panic and mistrust to get at the heart of your problems quickly, which is re-assuring. Your ex may have broken faith with you at an intimate level, which hurts terribly, but they are probably just as anxious as you about the children and the money. Lawyer mediators can help you both with lots of legal information you need to have and they help you work out your options and what to do for the best.   The focus is on solving the problems of where you’ll live and how to afford everything that’s needed, on pensions and the rest of it, not fighting over everything. Older children can be included in the mediation if you and they want – and this can help everyone feel better able to make collaborative decisions which feel better and are made faster. You spend less money on the process of resolution, which in mediation is at shared cost, and so you have more left for your family’s needs.

An example of how mediation helped one couple make better decisions

In one mediation a mother was broken hearted and furious at her husband for leaving her and she simply could not face their children spending time with him with his new partner. As time passed this became untenable, as they knew the woman and quite liked her. Mum’s instincts were completely understandable – if unsustainable in the longer term. Gradually she came to realise this and although it hurt, in mediation she suddenly and unexpectedly asked the father if he and his new partner would take the children to watch a firework display. She could not watch the children on her own in the dark, but the two of them could. This turned around the whole atmosphere between them, set up a different dynamic and many other solutions with regards to their children and finances settlement suddenly fell into place. This shows how initial instinctive decisions can be wrong and how mediation can help people move on emotionally and unlock their thinking rational brain in a constructive way.  A simple (if hard) concession changed everything.  Like a domino rally other issues fell into place and rational decision-making took over with everything being settled in a problem-solving way.

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 

Co-Parenting after Separation

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

co-parenting

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 

Divorced or separated? Will your child want you at their wedding?

I regularly mediate child arrangements between parents who have very limited communication or none at all. They often ask for help working out a schedule setting out how their child will share time with each of them. As a very new trainee mediator, I co-mediated child arrangements with a very experienced mediator. I used printed calendars to help the parents plan child arrangements for the next year. They both seemed very relieved when it was resolved. The supervising mediator thanked me and took over the remainder of the session. As I watched her interventions, the penny dropped – I had only tackled the surface issues. There was absolutely no longevity in what I had done.  The parents did not have the tools to vary the arrangements when they became outdated. The parents needed much more than someone to draw up a timetable for them. I had simply stuck a plaster over a weeping cut. If I didn’t facilitate the healing of the wound, the plaster would come off and they would be back to square one. That’s what court orders often do and that’s why parents can bounce back and forth to court for years. The cause of the issues between them are ignored. Separated parents have suffered a huge trauma and need time to grieve the loss of their relationship, family unit and their planned future. When we separate without children, we can often walk away. We don’t have to communicate if we don’t want to and so it’s easier to heal. However, parents don’t have that option. They don’t have the luxury of licking their wounds completely in private and avoiding one another. Their children need them to co-parent so they can feel safe and secure. However that’s very hard to do when each parent may be feeling exceptionally hurt or angry.

Divorce or Separated Focus Mediation Blog

Fake it until you make it

I learnt quickly from that first mediation session that parents will rarely say ‘please help us to improve our parental communication.’ They focus on the problems that the lack of communication has caused and ask for help with those issues. Mediation is an ideal place to have difficult but necessary conversations so parents can move forward. It draws a line in the sand and both parents at the same time commit to change. I once told my young son to ‘fake it until he made it’ when he told me he didn’t get on with a child that everyone else liked. It wasn’t bad advice. He was probably making it clear to the other child that he didn’t like him and that led to the child responding in a similar vain. It didn’t matter who had started it but by being polite to the child, my son began to improve and repair their relationship. A parent once said that they initially treated their co-parenting relationship as a business arrangement – the business of raising their child. They treated one another like colleagues and then in time they began to trust one another again. It’s about transitioning from spouses to exes and then to co-parents.

Will you attend your adult child’s wedding?

A bride to be told me that she was getting married but each parent had a problem with the other attending. What a sad situation for her. Even if both did attend, she said she would worry about them on the day. Her fiancé’s parents were on good terms and were going to sit at the top table together, but she couldn’t imagine how she could ask her parents to do the same.  I ask parents to imagine the future and how they can sow seeds now to make it better for their children. The reality is that if they want to share events such as a child’s wedding or a grandchild’s birthday party, then they have to put in the hard work now. To a child their parents will always be their family whether they are together or not. Therefore, it really does make sense to invest in their future by working on your co-parenting relationship now. Then your child never has to choose between parents or worry about how awkward it would feel to have both parents at their wedding.

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 

Jacket Pockets

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

jacket pockets focus mediation blog

Examples include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticks, Stones, Names & Children

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

sticks and stones words and children focus mediation blog.png

How do children deal with badmouthing?

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

Children are parent pleasers

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

Listening to children & making sure you are ok.

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

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

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

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

Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast

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

What children wish divorced parents knew

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

The love between the two of us was dying

And it got so bad I knew I had to leave

But halfway down that highway when I turned around I saw

My little daughter running after me Crying

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Now, it broke my heart to tell my little daughter

That her daddy had to run to catch a train

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

I turned around and there she was again

As she said to me

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

If only for the sake of my sweet daughter

I just had to turn back home right there and then

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

I couldn’t bear to hear those words again

She cried and said

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

(My daughter cried)

 

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Oh, daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Songwriters: Geoffrey Stephens / Peter Callander

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Parenting

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

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

Labels – Custody, Residence, Primary Carer

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

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

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

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

 

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