Category Archives: Family

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

Miscuing one another – what’s that?

People miscue one another every-day; mediators are no exception. I did it this morning with my 8 years’ old son. He really didn’t want to go to school. I think I displayed super human levels of patience and understanding for about 2 hours! Then my patience ran dry as we were late and I was seriously frustrated. My tone changed and I got angry.

I told him to hurry up and that his behaviour was terrible. It escalated and he was crying and refusing to move and I was now shouting. If I had hoped that this would be more successful than my previous cajoling then I was very much mistaken. He was more adamant than ever that he wasn’t going to school and I couldn’t make him. I was determined he was!  We were in deadlock. As he’s eight I was able to frog march him to the car, but felt awful as he was sobbing.  I couldn’t calm him down and he went into school upset. Strong arm tactics won’t work at all between adults and weren’t very effective for me with my son either.

My cajoling didn’t work with my son, but losing my temper made the situation a million times worse. What did I expect? My son could not see I was upset or angry and stop and rationalise his fears about school, he was far too agitated himself. So sadly I triggered the wrong response and set myself up for failure: this is what miscuing really is.

I have another personal example I sometimes give clients. My husband used to ‘forget’ to take the bins out every week- a job I struggled with as they are really heavy.  For months I’d nag him to do it and he’d invariably forget and I’d be angry. Nothing changed. I decided to take my own advice and improve our communication. Using sentences starting with “I feel” rather than “you… never take the bins out…” I told him how I felt. I told him the bins were too heavy for me to carry, I invariably dropped rubbish out of them and made a mess and I was often running late as our youngest is struggling with school etc.

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He nodded and said ok. The next day he did it. I acknowledged his effort and thanked him when I got home. He then apologised and said he genuinely used to forget to take the bins out as he leaves very early and didn’t realise how much it would help me if he did it. He’s never forgotten them since. I thought he had heard all the reasons I needed his help and just didn’t care. However, the way I had asked him meant he just couldn’t hear me properly; he just heard my criticism and anger.  So, the saying, “it’s not what you ask, but how you ask”, really resonates with me.

I often hear clients miscuing one another in mediation, especially when the topics they are discussing are very emotive and important to them. And it’s proven that when people separate their emotions can be as powerful as those experienced during a bereavement.  It’s so hard to remain calm and logical; especially if you feel your ex is standing in the way of you seeing your children, or is hurting them or preventing you from moving on.  Miscuing can make you feel you can’t win whatever you say your ex will always hear it wrongly.

However, you can control how you communicate with your ex, and you can also control your response. You can also phrase things in such a way that your ex is more likely to find them acceptable. Always be polite and avoid personal attacks. Try smiling. No, I’m not kidding! One couple told me how awful hand over was at contact time. The wife said the husband scowled and tried to intimidate her.

The husband said the wife hated him so much she wouldn’t look at him and treated him with contempt. I broke the encounters down. I asked what was the first thing they each saw? The wife said she didn’t even look – she knew her ex would be staring at her and trying to make her feel bad. The husband said he saw her looking the other way and it made him angry she didn’t even think he was worth looking at. They were both miscuing one another.

I suggested next time they made eye contact and said ‘Hello’. They needed to let their son know they could be civil. That genuinely was the start of them understanding each other better and being able to co-parent their son. They needed to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and they both persevered because they loved their son. He was so much happier and felt more secure when they were getting along. They realised they each loved their son far more than they disliked one another.

Mediation is not an easy option. It can feel uncomfortable. However, mediation helps improve communication and reduces the frequency of ex-partners misunderstanding one another. It gives children what they need and want the most; parents who can and do put them first.

 

Separation and divorce end a couple’s relationship – but what about the ongoing importance of the separated family for their children?

The importance of the family is perhaps something we all take for granted and under-value – until it is not there. What we know is that we all thrive better and fulfil our individual potential within a family unit where we can be nurtured, valued and supported. Children need to have secure attachments during their formative years and this is a fundamental and irreplaceable basic need. Sadly, when parents separate and are in conflict, are facing uncertainty and may be afraid of the future, they can lose sight of their children’s most basic needs.

Essentially after separation children usually have two homes where they need to belong and feel valued. Whilst children may spend more time in one home than the other, both homes are equally important. Parents may no longer be able to live together – but they still need to be able to operate as a functioning family albeit under two separate rooves.

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Achieving this can be tricky – but mediation provides the opportunity to come to terms with the new reality and process information and plan. Your whole life can be thrown into the air like a pack of cards – so you don’t know which way up they will land. If there are children, the family may be separated and living apart – possibly some distance apart, with the children moving between two homes. The assets and income will need to go twice as far and friends and family may be divided too. The most basic foundations of several lives will change.

At a time like this, people need a calm supportive environment to process what is happening to enable them to move forward and to limit any further damage to them, their family and assets. Fighting tends to protract matters and be both emotionally destructive and expensive. Mediation offers the opportunity to the whole family to be supported in renegotiating their relationships to create a separated but functioning family with different boundaries.  The mediator helps you retain control of the decision-making process – and plan for your separate futures kindly and constructively.