Category Archives: Family

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 

 

Finances on Divorce – Winner takes all?

It’s sad to note the number of divorcing couples who still believe that they must battle in court over finances. The driving force is usually fear or anger:

Finances on Divorce Focus Mediation Blog

  • I need a solicitor or barrister who will roll their sleeves up and fight to secure me what’s fair.
  • I have been treated so badly I will take them to court and show them I won’t be walked over. I want them to be punished.
  • Mediation is for amicable couples. We can’t agree so mediation is pointless.
  • I can’t mediate – they will walk all over me. They are manipulative and will convince a mediator that they should receive far more than me.
  • The finances are too complicated for mediation – it’s got to go to court.

The reality is that they will invest tens of thousands of pounds in litigation that often involves huge delay and escalates conflict – destroying hope of a future co-parenting relationship. In a recently reported case, a Judge despaired that a wealthy couple with children had been involved since 2011 in litigation that had been “bitterly contested, highly acrimonious and extremely expensive”. He said the litigation had all but exhausted the parties’ liquid capital and he was left to focus on future income only as there were no longer assets to share.

A gamble that won’t pay off.

I saw a divorcing client recently regarding child arrangements as finances were being litigated at court. They’d already spent £75,000 each in legal fees and were only at first hearing. The marital assets were 1 million. Her solicitor said the costs would at least double by final hearing. So the assets in dispute would dwindle to £700,000 (or less). The starting point for sharing the original assets was 50/50 – so £500,000 each. Now the starting point would be £350,000 each. The client said she would have settled for £550,000 but her ex refused. Now if a court awarded her £550,000, she would receive 78.5% of the assets – a tall order. Pre-litigation, £550,000 had been 55% of the assets. The method employed by each to provide them with a share they felt was fair and met their needs, would cost them approximately 30% of their joint assets.

Why wasn’t court a last resort?

Why hadn’t they used Alternative Dispute Resolution (it’s cheaper, quicker and actually promotes improved communication); Mediation, collaborative law, MedArb, or Arbitration? The client was worried that her ex, an accomplished businessman, would ‘out manoeuvre’ her in mediation. Mediators are trained to bridge power imbalances and ensure everyone fully understands the assets and options available. Litigation was the least likely vehicle to provide a satisfactory outcome – they had each gambled on winning at court and the other losing. That was the only way the numbers would add up as there was no longer enough money in the pot. There was a flaw in the plan – the court looks for fairness and its objective is to meet the parties’ needs. There is seldom a winner and loser, just two dissatisfied people.

Finances resolved in just a day.

At Focus we offer family mediation sessions spread out over a period of weeks – solicitors can advise alongside the process so clients are supported.  We also specialise in a one day civil mediation model. It costs £1000 each and our most experienced dual trained mediators facilitate resolution of finances in a day. It works. Solicitors attend and advise clients throughout the day and proposals are later that day made binding. It saves countless thousands and many tears.  Surely that’s a much safer investment in meeting needs? Gambling at court means risking hard earned assets for a victory that will probably never be theirs.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Mediation – your questions answered

What is Family Mediation?

An impartial mediator helps couples agree all arrangements for separation – whether regarding children, property, finance or pensions.

Mediations Questions Answered Focus Mediation Blog

Is Mediation compulsory?

No. Since April 2014 it’s compulsory (there are exemptions) to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court regarding family finances or child arrangements. There is no obligation to mediate thereafter, but many choose to do so after hearing about the benefits of mediation and the associated costs and potential delays at court.

I know my ex will refuse to attend a MIAM…

Mediation is voluntary and your ex can’t be forced to attend a MIAM or to mediate. However, clients who believe their ex won’t attend are often surprised when after speaking to a mediator, they agree to do so. Even if mediation does not proceed, our lawyer mediators provide considerable information at MIAM (including an info pack), and clients tell us this is very helpful. Mediators are trained listeners and clients benefit from feeling heard and understood. The process helps people to consider what they need to prioritise so they can positively move forward.

Do I choose between instructing a solicitor or a mediator?

No, a mediator can give you helpful legal information but they can’t advise you about what’s in your best interests as they must remain impartial. Your solicitor will advise you and is often a great support. Isn’t that double the expense? No, mediation works very well alongside legal advice. The advice often reduces the number of mediation sessions as you feel confident about what options and proposals you can agree to. Many clients like us to send a record of session to their solicitor so they are kept up to speed. In financial cases your solicitor will help make mediated proposals legal binding. Mediation and legal advice is a fraction of the cost of legal fees for litigation.

How can I make sure in a financial case that I get all the information I need about assets?

Our lawyer mediators are well accustomed to ensuring that the legal process of ‘disclosure’ is completed properly. They will help you understand your whole situation. The standard of disclosure is no less in mediation than court – plus you can ask each other questions face to face about any anomalies.

How will I know what the options are? 

Our lawyer mediators give first class legal information in a neutral way about complex cases involving pensions, businesses, companies, tax and similar issues. They will help you explore all available options.

What if my ex if more vocal or forceful in mediation?

Mediators are trained to cope with power imbalances. They ensure both of you are heard and the process is designed to maintain a safe environment and a fair balance between you, as well as ensure you both understand all the financial information.

Will I get the best deal possible or can that only be achieved in court? 

The best deal is really what suits you and your family. The mediator will help you generate and explore options. If you attend court you may find that any ‘win’ (which can never be guaranteed) is lost due to the   legal costs in securing it. The court aims to meet the needs of separated families and so there are rarely clear winners.

We have already started proceedings. Does that matter? 

Mediation is a useful aid to resolving disputes at any stage, whether before or after proceedings have started. Court proceedings are frequently resolved by agreement. Mediation is a great aid to that end.

How long does it take?

Each session lasts about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, and it usually takes between 1 and 5 sessions to resolve the issues. The number of sessions depends on the range of issues and the complexity of your affairs. The introductory session lasts about an hour.

Are proposals in mediation binding?

No, not in conventional family mediation, but you take the proposals to your solicitor for a binding Court Order or Separation Deed if that is needed in your case. Children’s arrangements don’t have to be made binding, but we could draw up a co-parenting plan, which you can sign if you wish.

In 1 Day Family Mediation, your solicitors are there at the end, not all day, to make your agreement binding.

Is the mediation process hard?

Yes, sometimes it can be difficult, but it is usually easier than the alternative of Court proceedings. Separation is painful, and sorting things out is not always easy, but it has to be done. It is a type of facilitated DIY divorce and separation.

Is it quick?

Mediation is usually as quick as clients want, with sessions arranged at weekly intervals if you wish or even in one long session if everyone is prepared (“1 Day Mediation”). However, it may take time to assemble the necessary information and sometimes you may benefit from a period of reflection between sessions. A mediated outcome will almost always be achieved before your case could proceed to a Court hearing.

Is mediation always appropriate?

Not always. Both parties have to want to take part in mediation – it is voluntary. Also, if there is heavy domestic violence, it may not be possible to mediate. The mediator will make a careful risk assessment.

I don’t want to meet my ex – do I have to?

We can offer shuttle mediation, with you in separate rooms, in appropriate cases. We would talk to you about the implications of this.

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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

A positive message for children during a breakup

Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

children-breakup-hutterstock_483300238

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard.

The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

http://voicesinthemiddle.org.uk – a website for children whose parents are separating/ divorcing

http://www.resolution.org.uk/site_content_files/files/separation_and_divorce_helping_parents_to_help_children_2.pdf

http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/resources/my-child-is-worried-about/divorce-separation/how-to-help-children-adapt.html

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Truth, Half Truths, Lies and Illusions

Getting at the Truth

Family mediators help clients achieve full and frank financial disclosure when mediating financial settlements and it is the client’s responsibility to disclose fully and honestly.  Mediators are not obliged to examine the documents forensically; the agreement to mediate says so. Mostly this is not a problem, as the couple knows what their assets are. Sometimes issues arise as to the value of a business, shares in private unlisted companies, share options – a plethora of complex issues on which even family lawyers will bring in experts. Well, family mediators can bring in experts as well. If they either still are or were family lawyers, then they should know their way around all this comfortably. However, if someone is lying or failing to disclose all the assets, then mediation will have to stop until disclosure has been compelled, probably via court proceedings when the judge can order disclosure and then mediation may be re-commenced. If necessary some cases may go to trial in the hope that cross examination at trial will expose the truth. If a case settles with assets remaining hidden, then the settlement can be overturned.

Truth Lies Illusions and a mediator's role Focus Mediation Blog

Illusions, Misconceptions and Wishful Thinking – Challenging and Reality Testing

The first stage of any family financial mediation is to identify then value the assets. Only then can options for a deal be evaluated in the full financial context. Then the couple’s respective beliefs and feelings about who should have what overlay their approach to who should have what. They may believe one should have less because something or other was ‘their fault’ or that they should have more because the other wasted money drinking or gambling or because they must look after the children. People’s very understandable deeply held beliefs and feelings may or may not have any influence over the eventual outcome, however strongly felt. To move two implacable opponents from irreconcilable poles to a deal will take some effort. Yet it is what the mediator is tasked to do.

Necessarily therefore, some of a mediator’s main tools are extremely uncomfortable – even occasionally painful. Challenging and reality testing beliefs, arguments and options for settlement can fall into the ‘Ouch’ category, as does delivering unwelcome but essential legal information that a client may not want to hear. Some examples may help:

Mediator: ‘Ok Mrs X – I’m hearing you saying you will take over the mortgage if you have the house – but how can you release Mr X from the mortgage – the mortgage is over £300,000 and you are a part-time carer, surely it cannot be done? Where will Mr X live?’

Client A: ‘We’ve agreed whose having the pensions and whose having the children – she’s having the children and I’m having the pensions . . ‘

Mediator: ‘ . . but those issues are dealt with separately and the pension sharing issue is only looked at in the context of the overall assets, the children aren’t relevant to that.’

Client B ‘I know we are married – but I want a settlement based on co-habitation law, not divorce law.’

Mediator: ‘Well you’re either married or not and if you are married those are the laws that apply  . . .‘

OK – so here’s the nub of it – the more effective, knowledgeable and honest your mediator is, the more uncomfortable your mediation may be.  An effective mediator knows it is her task ‘to boldly go’ to the ravines you have been papering over – with a view to sorting them out properly. It’s no help if you let people pursue hopeless, impractical and unfair options for settlement, as they won’t work and it will fall apart after you have spent money on the mediation, which helps no one. So yes, it is the mediator’s job to help you reality-check your proposed settlement, to make sure it will work. Sometimes that busts illusions, but that was always going to happen and the sooner the better for all concerned, even if there is the odd ‘Ouch!’

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Good on ya Australia!

Same-sex marriage will become legal in Australia after a historic bill was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday. Almost unanimously MP’s voted to change the current Marriage Act after their Senate also reached the same decision. There were celebrations in Parliament and across Australia. This had been a hard fought campaign by the LGBT community and its supporters. The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball said “What a day for love, for equality, for respect, Australia has done it.” In Just a few days’ time their Governor General will approve the bill – paving the way to it becoming law.

Good on Ya Australia Focus Mediation

Why does it matter – isn’t marriage less popular than ever?

But isn’t marriage just a piece of paper? Does it really matter? More heterosexual couples live together without marrying than ever before. So why is it so important? In one word – Acceptance. We all need to be accepted for who we are. I believe yesterday’s decision will make life a lot easier for many gay couples, their children and extended family. It will be harder to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation. However it’s the ripple effect that will have the most impact on society. When the Law says something is fair and just then society tends to accept that view over time. A child born today will never experience anything other than marriage equality in Australia. They will grow up knowing that same sex couples can marry just as heterosexuals can and Australian Law says that’s fair and just.

I know a £10 POM

I have an interest in yesterday’s decision. My maternal Uncle (now in his 80s), was a £10 Pom and left England for new beginnings at the tender age of 16. He met and married the love of his life, worked hard and raised a loving family. I have met many of my Australian relatives – there’s a lot of them! Other than the fact that they support Arsenal, they are some of the best people you could hope to meet and far more relaxed and gregarious than their more formal English ‘relos’.

Facebook is often the bane of a mediator’s life as it is can be used as a weapon in relationship breakdown. However, for my family it’s a window into our Australian relative’s lives. We get to see photos of the family gatherings and to see what a strong and loving family my Uncle created. My Cousin Elizabeth has 4 children; 3 boys and 1 girl. She and her husband are very family orientated and delighted in watching each of their boys form relationships and subsequently marry the women they loved. Elizabeth told me how sad she felt for her daughter who had also met the love of her life – as they were the same sex they couldn’t marry in Australia. I was outraged on their behalf, I hadn’t realised they couldn’t! What message did that give them and others? Surely it told them that their union was wrong as it couldn’t be acknowledged in law. So they flew to New York and they got married. The photos were beautiful and everyone was very happy for them – but they were denied choice. If they wanted to elope then good for them – but they should also have had the choice to marry in Australia.

Equality at last

Fast forward to life after yesterday’s decision and I understand they plan to have a marriage blessing with all their loved ones in Australia, now that they are allowed to be married in their homeland. They knew their friends and family loved and accepted them but now they know that the Australian legislature accepts them too. If my octogenarian Uncle can accept that the granddaughter he adores happens to love a woman, then so can the rest of Australian society. I say that with the greatest of respect to my Uncle who grew up in a world where same sex relationships were not common place. He has been fully accepting as he wants his granddaughter to be happy and her love for her wife has demonstrated to him that ‘love is love’. They have a small baby and that baby will grow up now in a much more accepting Australia because of yesterday’s monumental decision. Good on ya Australia! You won’t regret treating your citizens equally -only good can come from that.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Confessions of a mediator

This isn’t the first blog in which I’ve held my hands up and admitted that I don’t always manage to practice what I preach! I doubt it will be the last. So hear comes another confession…

Confessions of a mediator Focus Mediation

My children M (age 9) and H (age 12), have always squabbled. Nothing unusual there – children bicker. However, in the last few months it’s really escalated. It’s progressed from; ‘mum he’s humming, mum he’s turned the T.V over, Mum he’s looking through the car window on my side of the car’ (I kid you not!) to ‘mum he pinched me, mum he pushed me, mum he’s trying to kick me…’ It’s got physical. The pushing and shoving is mutual but the rest is H to M. He has always been a gentle soul. M reminds me of a boisterous puppy and idolises his brother. H is behaving like a teenager a whole year earlier than expected! He is growing in confidence and trying to push boundaries to find out who he is. He can get frustrated and angry with his little brother. M gets upset as he can’t understand why his big brother doesn’t want to be his friend anymore. I’ve tried to explain to H how his younger brother feels and I have asked him to be kinder. It didn’t work. He believes I always take M’s side – evidenced by the fact I just did it again.

The brotherly conflict peaked

It culminated last week in a physical fight during a trip to the woods. We were with their friends and parents. M slapped H across the face leaving an angry red mark. M’s friends all agreed that H had been teasing him and had tripped him over. M’s friends laughed when he slapped his brother – I think partly from complete shock and also because this group of 9 year olds though H deserved it. So H has a very sore face and felt humiliated and M felt proud of himself for finally retaliating after months of provocation. The younger children received a telling off from their parents for laughing. I took the boys home whilst thinking that I couldn’t remember feeling more out of my depth as a mother.

Lecturing children and getting nowhere fast

I told M he should have called me over and not taken actions into his own hands. I told H off for taunting him and provoking him. I reminded them that they should support each other and be a friend to one another. I banned them from their gaming console (the most effective punishment in my armour) until they managed to behave better towards one another. Both felt hard done by and I wondered (naively) whether it might be a bonding experience. No such luck – they spent the rest of the day blaming each other for their plight.

A mediator who didn’t listen – a sackable offence!

I sat and contemplated the irony of a mediator who helps resolve conflict at work but who couldn’t manage it with her own children. Unfortunately I was missing some vital mediation ingredients – I was far from impartial and I had too much of a vested interest in the outcome. However, there was something I could do; I could actually start listening to my two boys who were both feeling unheard and frustrated.

I reflected on my past conversations with each of the boys and realised that I had been ‘talking at them’ for a while. I had forgotten to hear them. Listening carefully is how you gather information about what your child is thinking and feeling. Without listening any relationship will flounder. I had been too wrapped up in trying to maintain discipline and fix the problem. Listening effectively builds strong relationships and shows respect. Listening is always the first step in solving problems.

Drawing a line in the sand and opening my ears

I spoke to the boys individually and listened well. The longest conversation was with H. His feelings flooded out and amongst the things he told me (much of which must remain private) he said that it hurt him that I often gave in to M for a quiet life and just expected him to accept it. He felt that I always took M’s side and that I was quick to assume he was in the wrong. He felt M had picked up on this and was using it to his advantage. He gave plenty of examples and he had valid points. I checked I’d understand what he said and then I held my hands up. I explained he’s the oldest and therefore the Guinee pig – I’m learning as I go and I don’t always get this adult stuff right! For months I had asked him to be kinder to his brother but he didn’t seem to have any empathy towards him. Now that I had listened well, H told me that he knew he hadn’t been kind to M and he wanted to make amends. Over the next few days I watched the shift in their relationship. There was an immediate and obvious improvement. They began to enjoy each other’s company again. It became clear again to H how much his younger brother looked up to Him.

Kids ganging up on me – the equilibrium had been restored

M did something wrong a few days later and I told him off. H stuck up for him and told me I was being a bit harsh. He put his arm around his little brother and told him it would be alright. They will continue to squabble – I know that. However, I think the two of them (for now) are back on track again.

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

Don’t call my marriage a failure!

I recently met Sue (name changed) whilst on holiday. Sue had been married for 25 years and divorced for 3. She told me she detests the term ‘failed marriage’ and gets very angry if anyone insinuates her marriage was a failure. In her opinion her marriage hadn’t failed – it had actually been very successful. They had grown up together and shared many firsts. They met at 17 and married 2 years later. They purchased their first home together, raised two children, built a successful family business and supported each other through Sue’s cancer and the death of their respective fathers. That in her book didn’t constitute failure. They had been a good team and their children had been raised in a loving and nurturing home. They had their ups and downs – but she said who doesn’t! Sue said she still believes in the institution of marriage and entered the marriage believing it was a commitment for life. However, people change and it wasn’t to last.

marriage failure

Sue said that she had enjoyed some very supportive friendships over the years but that she isn’t close or even in touch with all of her friends now. One close friend, who had children the same age as Sue, had emigrated. Contact had over time reduced to birthdays and Christmas cards. Sue said she loved her friend and asked whether I considered the friendship a failure. I said no and that friendships ebb and flow.  However, I said we don’t contract to spend the rest of our life with a friend and so friendship couldn’t be compared to marriage in that sense. ‘True’ she said ‘but people change and want different things from life.’ She felt that as a married couple they had made a very difficult but brave decision to ‘set each other free’. They didn’t bring the best out of each other. They had different hopes for their future and very different interests. A third party wasn’t involved. They didn’t known when they married how much they would change as people over the years. They simply had little in common except for their children and shared history. They holidayed together during the marriage but he liked cycling and walking holidays and Sue wanted to sit by a swimming pool and read. At home he liked nights in and she liked socialising with friends. His home was his sanctuary and she liked friends to visit her there. Sue said she had been divorced for 3 years and her ex now had a new partner and was very happy. The formation of her husband’s new relationship hadn’t been easy for her to observe, but she still didn’t regret their decision. She also pointed out that if the marriage had ended due to the death of either spouse, that the union would have been celebrated and viewed as a long and happy marriage. She didn’t feel ready to share her life with anyone else but hoped her future would involve a new relationship.

Sue said they had managed to remain friends. It hadn’t been easy at first and they both had needed space and time to heal. However they were now able to spend time together with their children and it wasn’t awkward. Clearly Sue didn’t see the end of her marriage as a failure. Neither did I. Of course marriage should not be entered into lightly or viewed as a temporary arrangement. However, realistically not all marriages last a lifetime. Perhaps whether or not a marriage is viewed as a failure shouldn’t be determined by it’s length but by it’s successes and how well it ends. When someone has enjoyed a long and illustrious career but is no longer able to perform due to ill health, we don’t judge success on how well they performed at the end. We look at the career as a whole and commend achievements attained over the years. Sue chose to focus on the successes her marriage produced and the happy memories. I admire her positive mindset.

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

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