Category Archives: Family

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.

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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

What children wish divorced parents knew

I am a family mediator and child consultant and trained to listen to children. I help children to talk about their wishes and feelings.  Direct Child Consultation can take place if both parents agree and the children are about 10 or over, depending on maturity. Giving children a voice (not to be confused with allowing them to make decisions) can empower and help children so they know their feelings are important to their parents. Children often find it easier to speak to an impartial professional, as they can worry about hurting their parent’s feelings.  I often ask adult clients who have experienced their parent’s separation as a child, what they wish their parent’s had known at that time. Here are some of the most common answers, both from adults and children;

What children wish divorced parents knew

What do you wish your parents had known that you didn’t tell them?

1. I love you both and that won’t ever change.

The divorce doesn’t make me love either of you any less. Please don’t make me choose between you. I can’t. I need you both.

2. I don’t want to hear negative things about the other parent; it hurts me.

When you criticise each other, you make me feel insecure and anxious. Please don’t criticise each other to me, or let me hear you criticising each other to anyone else. I feel protective of you both. I feel torn. I am part of both of you.

3. Tell me the truth, don’t lie to me; but don’t tell me all the details.

If we are moving home, I want to know so I can prepare. I don’t like things being sprung on me. It makes me feel unimportant and an ‘after thought’. However, please don’t make me a shoulder to cry on or your confidant for the divorce. Talk to your friends or even a therapist about the divorce. Nobody wants to hear intimate private information about their parents’ marriage; even as an adult.

4. Please don’t argue when I can see or hear.

I heard a lot of arguments when you lived together. I thought you separated so that you could stop upsetting each other. It hurts me that you still argue. Can’t you be civil for my sake? You don’t have to be friends, but I do need you to talk to each other about me. When you do I feel safe. What will happen at my graduation or wedding? I need you to be in the same room without an atmosphere and to support me.

Please don’t use me as a messenger and then get cross if I forget a message or get it wrong. Please don’t use me as a middle man to find out information about what the other is doing. It makes me feel used and that you have an ulterior motive for spending time with me.

5. Don’t try and buy my affection.

I want to spend time with you because I love you. I value your time, not what you can buy me. I don’t always need or want expensive gifts and trips. They sometimes make me feel uncomfortable. I want you. Even if I am angry with you and our relationship needs work, expensive presents won’t help.

6. When I’m upset or angry it’s not always because of the separation.

Not everything is your fault, my other parent’s fault, or because of the separation. Sometimes I feel moody, upset or angry and that’s just normal for my age.

7. Don’t try and make me part of an immediate new family with your new partner.

Don’t introduce me to someone unless it’s serious. Give me time to get to know the other person on my terms. Don’t force the issue. Make sure I still get to spend plenty of time alone with you. I may resent him/her if they are always with us. I see less of you than I did before and I don’t want to share all of our time with your new partner, it makes me feel I don’t count.

8. It can be hard to go between two homes and two parents sometimes.

That’s not because I don’t want to see you both. I need time to adjust each time I go to and fro.  It’s new to me and can feel strange. It’s made so much easier if you both talk to each other and are polite when I go from one parent to the other. Walking away from one parent and towards another can make me feel anxious, especially when you won’t talk to each other or if you argue.

9. I need emotional permission to love you both.

I’m perceptive and pick up on nuances; so even if you don’t say you don’t want me to see my other parent, or that you are angry with them, I will still know. I worry about making you unhappy. When I don’t feel guilty about spending time with each parent, I feel safe and happy. Knowing it’s ok to mention them, makes me feel relaxed and secure.

10. Be there to listen when I need you, but don’t push me to talk about my feelings.

Listen to me and let me know you are there if I want to talk about my feelings. If I feel unable to talk to you about something, don’t pressure me. Let me know its ok to speak to another safe adult; including my other parent, a teacher, a family member or a family friend. Don’t make me feel disloyal for doing so. Sometimes I don’t tell you things as I don’t want to hurt you – I know you are having a tough time too.

The Child Maintenance Service – suggestions for reform

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

Child Maintenance Service

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

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

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

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

A Safe Place to Talk?

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

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live.

The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’.

Mediation can only help those who want it to work. Could this be you? You would come for an individual meeting with the mediator to start with, so she can hear about your personal circumstances and your objectives. Then you have joint sessions with your ex-partner, where the mediator helps you discuss your issues and (we hope!) brings you to a conclusion which she will write up for you.

If you have been talking about the children, the document she writes will be a Parenting Plan. This is a voluntary set of proposals that does not need ratification by the court; the hope is that, because you have both agreed the arrangements, you will stick to them. However, it is possible to ask for an “open” Parenting Plan which you could then file at court and ask the Judge to seal it. Not all courts will do this, but some people feel it is a step they want to try.

If you have been discussing finances, the mediator will record your figures in an Open Financial Statement and your agreement in a Memorandum of Understanding, which the lawyers will turn into a Consent Order.

This is where your lawyers are invaluable: before your divorce is made final, there has to be an Order recording your financial settlement, and the mediator cannot produce that. The beauty of presenting the lawyers with a Memorandum of Understanding from the mediator is that it cuts out further correspondence and therefore reduces costs.

Whatever the work, you can be sure the mediator will not take sides, will not judge anyone’s behaviour and will focus you on constructive discussion.  It might be just what you need.

Relationships: how to build successful, lasting connections

Life really is all about human connections; forming them, maintaining them, ending or losing them. Personal connections give meaning and purpose to our lives. For some, making and keeping connections comes far more naturally than it does for others. But why is this? It’s easier to understand in relation to extremes of personality, i.e. very shy or gregarious people. But why do some people appear to form friendships and relationships with ease and for others their relationships are plagued with insecurities and self doubt? A friend sent me a link to a fascinating Ted Talk; The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Brené Brown is a researcher and therapist who set out to research human connections. Brené collates people’s experiences, tries to make sense of them and then shares them with a wider audience. She says that the ability to feel connected is a neurobiological need in all of us and it’s fundamentally why we are here. She began her research by asking people about love, belonging and connections. However, when she asked people about love they told her about their heartbreak, when she asked about belonging they told her excruciating stories about being excluded and when asked about connection, they told her about their experiences of disconnection.

She began to identify time and time again that something unravelled or prevented these connection. She identified that this saboteur was ‘shame’ and that the more difficulty people have in articulating their feelings of shame, the more likely they feel shame very deeply. To never experience shame would mean a person is likely to be defined as a sociopath. We have all felt at one time or another that we have not been ‘worthy’ or ‘good enough’. She said this was often underpinned by an excruciating level of vulnerability. To make a true connection with another person we have to be ‘seen’. We have to expose ourselves and be open and honest. She decided to spend the next year deconstructing shame and vulnerability.

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Self-confidence, insecurity and their impact on relations

However it took her 6 years to get to grips with her research and make sense of people’s experiences. With volumes of stories and data, she felt that she now understood shame and vulnerability and that it came down to this; some people feel worthy of love and friendship and some don’t. The worthy feel like they belong. Then there are others who struggle to feel good enough and worthy enough of love and belonging. That was the major difference between the two groups. She says in essence, what keeps some out of connection is their fear that they aren’t worthy of connection.

So what did she find that ‘worthy’ people have in common? She says people with a deep sense of worth are a ‘wholehearted’ type of person. They have the courage to be imperfect, to believe that who they are, warts and all, is good enough. They have compassion for themselves; their inner voice is kind and not overtly critical. They are then able to extend that compassion to others as they have initially applied it to themselves. This reminded me of the analogy of a parent in an aeroplane cabin losing oxygen. To help their children they must first help themselves by ensuring they can breathe and function; they must prioritise placing the oxygen mask on themselves. We can’t be authentically kind to others if we don’t first show compassion to ourselves.

Making strong and lasting connections

To make strong and lasting connections we have to let go of what we think we should be and embrace what we are. Without this level of truthfulness, positive connection can not exist. The ‘worthy’ people aren’t afraid to embrace their vulnerability – they feel it is a necessary part of life. The part I found the most revealing is that the group who struggled with a sense of self worth spoke about vulnerability in terms of it being excruciating and painful. Those who felt worthy of connection saw vulnerability as a necessary part of connection. They were able to reach out to others and make themselves vulnerable – they could initiate conversation with a stranger not knowing for sure the other person’s response, they could ask someone on a date without being certain that the person would say yes.

They recognised the need to lay themselves open in order to receive something back that was worth the risk. They felt it was fundamental to human interaction to be vulnerable; to give their heart to another not knowing if it would be nurtured. Brené’s training had taught her to control and predict. Her research had unearthed the polar opposite. To make authentic connections we can’t control and predict; we must be free to live a life with openness and vulnerability. Brené found it hard to accept that the birthplace of happiness and creativity lay in embracing our own vulnerability.

Feeling vulnerable

Many of us numb our vulnerability. We live in a vulnerable world and feel we need to protect ourselves; laying our souls bare does not feel the way to do that. So as a society we try and numb fear, shame, grief, hurt etc. by self medicating. We are a nation of over eaters, over spenders, binge drinkers and drug takers. We protect ourselves by not revealing our true selves to others. We put up barriers and defences. However, we can’t choose what emotions to numb and inadvertently we also numb our capacity for joy and happiness. It’s a vicious cycle. We then lack purpose and feel vulnerable and the numbing cycle begins again.

She says to combat this we strive for the following;

  • We make the uncertain certain. There’s no room for discussion; I’m right, you are wrong! I have to be right; I’m trying to survive here! It becomes vital. There’s no discussion and the more frightened we become the more important it is to be certain.
  • We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an affect on people and have an impact on their lives, both positive and negative.
  • We blame; she defines blaming as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.

Accepting our flaws

How do we combat this? What’s the path to feeling secure and comfortable in our own skin? How can we feel worthy of the connections that many of us crave but self sabotage? Brené says we must embrace our vulnerability and let our true selves be seen. We must show love and compassion; even though there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. To stop and feel grateful for the good times, instead of fearing they will end or something or someone will stop you feeling that way. Finally, the most important part is to believe we are enough. If we truly believe we are enough then we treat ourselves and others around us with kindness and compassion.

Why mediation is effective in solving conflict

As a Family mediator I work with divorcing and separating couples every day. They are suffering a huge trauma akin to bereavement. They are hurting and often feel rejected by their ex-partner. They may try to rationalise why their relationship broke down and why their partner stopped finding them ‘worthy’ of their love and compassion. They feel they have been wounded and must protect themselves. The last thing they feel capable of doing at this time is to show vulnerability as they fear it is a sign of weakness. They can not see how they can trust their ex with that level of honesty.

I am not a therapist. It is not my role to explore in detail these emotions. However, what I have found is that mediation sessions can often help people to find purpose again and to individually move forward in a positive way. A colleague once described a mediator’s role in similar terms to these; ‘we help to tease and untangle the entwined roots of previously shared lives, so they can each replant their roots and begin to grow and flourish again’.

Helping litigants stop the blame game

We help people to move away from blaming one another as blame doesn’t help. We don’t take sides and we are completely impartial. Sometimes I feel that the fact I am initially a stranger to my clients is one of my most valuable commodities. They can trust that I have no investment in the decisions they make. My objective is to facilitate positive discussion between them. I help them to communicate and move forward. My job can be the most frustrating and rewarding role in equal measures. Why? Because inevitably if separating couples agree to engage in mediation, they will usually have to face one another and be open and honest. This makes them feel vulnerable.

Mediation saves hurt feelings (and costs)

So people who I know would benefit from mediation walk away and spend thousands upon thousands of pounds in the adversarial court system. It prolongs and intensifies their trauma, can destroy any goodwill or hope of civility and is devastating to children who just want mum and dad to get along. However, when people do engage in mediation and commit to the process, (sadly that’s often after they’ve been through the court system and have experienced first hand how damaging it can be), the results are remarkably positive. Not only do they reach proposals that allow them each move forward, but their communication usually improves, respect for one another can increase and they receive a sense of closure that they might never otherwise find.

If you would like to learn more about mediation please call our accredited  mediators for an informal chat on 01908 410508

A brief history of mediation

Mediation in the UK came to the fore in the 1990s but it has been recognised as a form of Dispute Resolution since ancient civilisation and has developed and evolved over time. The practice of mediation began in Ancient Greece. In Roman times mediators were referred to as mediums, conciliators and interlocutors.

Many philosophers have acknowledged the importance of mediation. For example, Confucius adhered to the concept of ‘harmony and co-operation’ and ‘no litigation’: the need to produce an outcome by negotiation, understanding and agreement, with an emphasis on compromise.

Moreover, this form of conflict resolution has been widely practised and recognised throughout time by Buddhists, Quakers, the Christian church, Judaism, and followers of Islam to name but a few. It has been used to negotiate during wars and diplomatic events.

In the Middle Ages the clergy would mediate between criminals, who had been given sanctuary, and the authorities. More recently, the USA (1947) and the UK (1896) respectively established a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and passed the UK Conciliation Act to address conflicts in industry. In the 1990s, Australia has used mediation to address future native title rights.

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Today, mediation is practised in several countries/ continents including Europe, China, Japan, Africa, the USA, Asia and Australia. There is a particularly strong mediation ethic and culture in Eastern countries. China, for example, has the largest and most comprehensive mediation system in the world. Its aim is to create order in all areas of life based on its values and traditions.

Mediation and dispute resolution has a place in a variety of  areas where there is conflict including:

Family Life:

Divorce and Separation  

Finances and arrangements for children

Care for the elderly

Probate and Inheritance

The Workplace:

Grievances between employees and/or employers

Commercial:

Contract disputes in business

Landlord and Tenants

Medical negligence

Civil:

Neighbour disputes

Housing Associations

In Schools:

Pupils and their peers and teachers

Through the threads of time mediation and dispute resolution have played an important role in almost every aspect of daily life enduring the test of time and evolving into a modern practice.

Focus Mediation can help you with both Family and Civil mediation. Please call us on 01908 410508 for further information.

Mediation Myths and Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage and Civil Partnership

Once upon a time there used to be marriage, the relationship until death of a man and a woman. I’ll not trouble you with the legal and social ramifications, they are well known to all. There never was such a thing as Common Law Marriage, which is a myth, I mention that in passing in case anyone out there still isn’t aware of this fact, because a surprising number of people still labour under the illusion it exists.

Then civil partnerships were created so same sex couples could have all the legal rights and responsibilities, protections and tax benefits of marriage – but without being actually married. The government of the day felt marriage for same sex couples was too contentious – it might upset too many people. So we had civil partnerships and marriage.

However, times move on and social attitudes change – and same sex couples were never going to accept being unable to marry – it seemed they were being discriminated against, as they felt they were treated differently from heterosexual couples as they could not ‘marry.’ Some religious groups campaigned against being forced to offer religious marriage to gay couples, as being an infringement of their right to religious freedom and so a breach of their human rights. Meanwhile gay couples campaigned to be able to marry, saying they were being discriminated against.

So, some might say inevitably, the next move was to legislate to permit gay couples to marry and on 13 March 2014 The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force. Same sex marriage was legalised. Now of course hetero-sexual couples want the right to have civil partnerships – and the government of the day has a problem of its own making on its hands – and may have to legislate basically to allow everyone to do anything they like – which is what we should have done in the first place. We would have done so already if anyone had listened to me at the time they passed the Marriage Act for gay couples.

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We have now with three appeal court judges basically saying the government is breaching heterosexual couples’ human rights not allowing them to have civil partnerships.  

It’s all caused by problems of definition and straight line thinking. Is anyone aware of the difference between a civil partnership and a civil wedding in a Registry Office? No, neither am I. That’s because there isn’t one – the legal effect of these relationships is identical. The problem exists in the words alone. What is so fascinating is the vehemence generated by the use of the words ‘marriage’ or ‘civil partnership’ and the supposed baggage attaching to one and not the other, intrinsically regarded as desirable or not – depending on your point of view.  The fact is the legal consequences for marriage and civil weddings or marriages (whether conducted at Registry Offices or non-religious venues) and civil partnerships are identical – save in one respect and that relates to the grounds for a petition for dissolution in relation to adultery for gay couples, on which I do not propose elaborating. Perhaps I’m missing something, but if the consequences and legal effects of these legal relationships are identical why are we worried about the wording?

So given all the palaver over The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act – and the current intransigence concerning any possible infringements of any human right, it was predictable there would be similar ructions from heterosexual couples wanting to enter into civil partnerships. I think people will always want what they can’t have – it is part of the human condition. What we could and should have done a few years ago is avoid all this with the simple expedient of the following law:

“In future all couples whether the same or opposite sexes, can marry or enter into civil marriages or civil partnerships and the legal consequences of all these legal partnerships will be the same and the words  marriage, civil partnership and civil marriage can all be used interchangeably.” End of.  

Anyone agree with me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

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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