Category Archives: Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How and Why part 2 focus mediation blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instincts can lead you astray

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

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

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

An example of how mediation helped one couple make better decisions

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

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

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

Co-Parenting after Separation

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

co-parenting

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

What do children need?

To:

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can a child have a voice in mediation?

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

Co-Parenting Plans

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

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

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

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

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

Divorce or Separated Focus Mediation Blog

Fake it until you make it

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

Will you attend your adult child’s wedding?

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

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

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

Jacket Pockets

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

jacket pockets focus mediation blog

Examples include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticks, Stones, Names & Children

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

sticks and stones words and children focus mediation blog.png

How do children deal with badmouthing?

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

Children are parent pleasers

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

Listening to children & making sure you are ok.

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

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

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

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

Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast

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

What children wish divorced parents knew

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

The love between the two of us was dying

And it got so bad I knew I had to leave

But halfway down that highway when I turned around I saw

My little daughter running after me Crying

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Now, it broke my heart to tell my little daughter

That her daddy had to run to catch a train

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

I turned around and there she was again

As she said to me

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

If only for the sake of my sweet daughter

I just had to turn back home right there and then

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

I couldn’t bear to hear those words again

She cried and said

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

(My daughter cried)

 

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Daddy, don’t you walk so fast

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

Oh, daddy, don’t you walk so fast

Songwriters: Geoffrey Stephens / Peter Callander

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

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

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

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

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

Co-Parenting

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

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

Labels – Custody, Residence, Primary Carer

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

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

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

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

 

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 

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