Category Archives: Mediation

Divorcing? 5 things you should know

  1. Divorce is a trauma and you are experiencing severe grief.

It’s important to understand that divorce grief is extremely painful but normal. You need to be patient with yourself. Most people take about two years to work their way through the grief process. 

Divorcing 5 things you should know

  1. Court proceedings often add fuel to the fire.

It’s hard to think calmly and logically when it feels like your world is crumbling around you. Scared and angry people may believe they must hire an aggressive solicitor who will fight for them. If both sides take this view and argue over every issue, then legal fees can soon mount up to tens of thousands of pounds each. Court should be an absolute last resort as it’s expensive, involves lengthy delays and is adversarial. There are other methods of dispute resolution that are far more fit for purpose and include: mediation (with or without solicitors present), medarb (a hybrid of mediation and arbitration), arbitration (you instruct a private judge to decide the issues you can’t resolve – it’s cheaper and much quicker than court) and collaborative law (you instruct a specially trained lawyer who will work with your ex spouse’s lawyer to reach a settlement). Do your research – the most expensive option is not always the best.

  1. You do have control over your future.

Clients often feel they have no control over their future. That’s not true. You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you respond. Good behaviour is often mirrored over time. When one person puts their weapons down, the other often follows their lead. It is possible to draw a line in the sand and move forward constructively. Don’t relinquish control over your future just because you can’t agree. Options such as mediation and collaborative law, allow you to make important decisions rather than a Judge imposing them on you.

  1. Remember to your children you are still a family.

When you split from a partner and don’t have children, you never have to see them again – if that’s what you want. It makes healing easier, but that ‘luxury’ doesn’t exist for parents. It’s the parental conflict or inability to communicate that hurts a child more than the actual divorce. To a child their parents are both their family whether they live together or apart. Visualise what your child will thank you for handling well when they are 21. Consider their graduation, birth of their child or their wedding. They will want both parents there – think about the long-term bigger picture. Communication will be difficult and strained initially but parents must move from exes to co-parents if children are to feel safe and secure.

  1. Know that you won’t always feel this bad.

The grief can feel all consuming and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When life feels overwhelming it’s important to take baby steps. Take one day at a time. Talk to friends and family. Consider therapy – non-judgemental listening is powerful. Make time for yourself – even if that just means a long bath or a walk. Focus on the future not the past – you can’t change the past, but you can experience a more peaceful future.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

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

Divorce Forums & The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

A father on a divorce forum posted a family photograph of himself, his two children and his ex-wife. Everyone looked relaxed and happy. He said the photograph represented a significant milestone. He and his ex-wife separated 2.5 years ago and for most of that time their relationship had been very strained and volatile.

Divorce Forums

During the first year of separation there had been accusations and blame. Each felt they had been badly treated and they struggled to communicate. Both believed the other had ‘changed’ and not for the better. They had each experienced feelings of anger, hurt and resentment. Year two involved each striving for peace and an end to the conflict. However there were numerous misunderstandings and frustrations. After that they agreed that it was just too draining and that they would ‘parallel parent’. Parallel parenting is an arrangement in which separated parents disengage from each other and limit direct contact. Communication is minimal and indirect. Over time they realised that this arrangement upset the children. The children felt torn between them and apprehensive about even mentioning the other parent. Slowly over the last 6 months, they began to communicate about the children again via email or text message and this progressed to weekly telephone calls. Communication continued to improve and they attended a joint parents’ evening at their eldest son’s request – he had found the separate appointments ‘embarrassing’. They spoke to each other at handover and both noticed how much the children enjoyed observing this interaction. They had slowly moved from exes to co-parents. To their children it was simple; their family consisted of mum, dad and a sibling – regardless of the fact that their parents were separated.

When parents separate they have to work their way through the grieving cycle. Often they are at different stages and this can escalate hurt feelings and miscommunication. Family mediation can assist parents when they struggle to make important decisions about their family. Rather than relinquish control and ask a Judge to make decisions for them, a Mediator can facilitate the necessary conversations that focus on the future and not the past that can’t be changed.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

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

 

Mediating Finances upon Divorce – Too Good to be True?

Clients often attend their Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting ‘MIAM’, wondering what mediation is really about. Some worry it’s about reconciliation at a time when they know the relationship has broken down – it isn’t. Other’s worry it’s a soft option and that only expensive litigation can get them the settlement they need. Mediation is anything but fluffy; it requires commitment and full and frank financial disclosure. It can be uncomfortable and challenging. However, it’s also quick, cost efficient and clients retain control of their own future.

Mediating Finances upon Divorce

Mediation is too good to be true…

A client told me that mediation sounded too good to be true. She asked why everyone isn’t doing it if it can save tens of thousands of pounds and avoid a long and often bitter court battle. Many separating couples feel that court is the only way forward as communication may be non-existent or extremely tense and they can’t agree. However that’s actually when mediation is often required and can assist. The next question is often, ‘Won’t I end up with a less favourable settlement if I don’t fight it out in court?’ Investing tens of thousands of pounds in a court process, doesn’t mean that it is the right process or the most advantageous. The courts are experiencing greater delays than ever before & a Judge, (when you finally get in front of one), is looking for fairness and how best to meet needs. It’s not about finding a winner. However to make litigation financially worthwhile clients often need to win. I encountered a couple with one asset of £500,000. One wanted a £300,000/£200,000 split and the other wanted £250,000 each. This was a particularly ugly court battle, but prior to their final hearing, each had borrowed £100,000 from their respective parents to finances the litigation. As this money had to be repaid, they had effectively reduced their £500,000 asset to £300,000. That litigation was clearly fuelled by anger and hurt. It’s very hard to walk away from a court battle when so much time, energy and money are invested

So just because you invest heavily in litigation, it doesn’t mean it’s a wise investment.

Focus Mediation was set up by Mary Banham-Hall, a highly experienced Family Lawyer. Long before mediation became popular, Mary felt that there was a better way to resolve family issues arising from separation or divorce. Our lawyer mediators know the law and we have huge collective experience representing spouses in financial proceedings. We know what’s practical and realistic and what past clients have achieved. Mediation allows clients to retain control over important decisions about their future. We fully support and encourage legal advice from solicitors. It helps clients to confidently make decisions in mediation so  their solicitor can then make the proposals binding.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

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

Stop the Madness! The Court Proportionality Rule must work – once joint costs reach 20% of case value litigants must mediate. Support reform of our dysfunctional justice system – Part 3 of a 3 part blog.

Parts 1 & 2 – The Civil Proceedings Rules (CPR) and the Family Proceedings Rules (FPR) govern the operation of litigation and the courts and how lawyers, litigants and judges run cases. There is already a rule saying that costs must be proportionate to case value, but whilst judges beg people to settle their cases and stop wasting money – litigants think they can’t because no one tells them how this can be done.  People do not know how successful mediation is at settling disputes and so don’t use mediation, even though it works. No one tells them how successful it is, because they are intent on the Law, the litigation, its procedures and getting the ‘right result’. Mediation is the invisible elephant in our justice system. It is gently waiting, able and willing to help people make peaceful settlements – but the environment in which it lives is stifling it and so litigants suffer.

The Right Rites Part 3 Focus Mediation Blog

Countless cases go through the courts with costs mounting to stupefying levels. Examples include:

  • A dispute between neighbours over drain repairs worth £4,000 in a garden, where costs exceeded £300,000 and became existential with the fight continuing over costs and who lost their house to pay.
  • The divorce case over £3m of assets where the costs were £930,000 – wholly disproportionate when mostly people are arguing over 10-20% of their assets.
  • Countless divorces where the costs exceed 20% of the assets so people have less for housing and costs exceeded the value of the difference between them. Why?
  • Numerous cases where the costs are £30,000 and the case settles in mediation with no money changing hands or a smaller payment.
  • A dispute we mediated between two flat owners over noise – sound-proofing between the flats cost about £3,000, they were about to go to trial with total costs of £64,000 – the judge directed mediation and they settled with a Focus mediator with one person buying the other flat (the judge could not have ordered this).

I could go on all day – you get the picture. I looked at the Civil Litigation statistics for 2015 and calculated less than 4% of all defended cases were mediated, the rest litigated with no intervention to try and settle them. When people issue court proceedings they expect to engage a functional system and have no idea of the costs and delays they will face or how broken our system is. The legal process is narrowly focused on establishing the facts/truth then applying the Law (statute as interpreted by case law) to the facts and KERCHING – the ‘Right Answer!’ In reality it doesn’t work, because the truth and facts are debateable and establishing them prohibitively expensive and the Law is often unclear with much ‘On the one hand this and on the other hand that . . . ‘

What happens when parties get desperate for litigation to end?

There comes a time when the parties are getting desperate for litigation to end. They see the it stretching into their future life like cancer, they want it to stop – but how?  This is where in a functional dispute resolution system there must be alternatives to trial, escape hatches from the madness – and this should be mediation. We know mediation works. It deals with every aspect of the dispute, especially those emotional conflict drivers that fuel litigation and which the legal system ignores as irrelevant. Legally irrelevant they may be – but for many people emotional conflict drivers are the real reason for fighting at court.

We need to make the Proportionality Rule mean something understandable so it works. When joint costs reach 20% of case value judges must automatically refer cases to mediation, so people can have help settling their dispute with a conflict resolution expert.  Where the case value is unclear the judge must simply refer to mediation before costs get out of hand. This has the added attraction of costing the tax-payer nothing and diverting and settling huge volumes of litigation. Justice as it works at the moment is the medicine that is killing the patient. We need a workable, fast and humane alternative – and mediation is the answer.

What conceivable reason is there for not trying to settle litigation before it has cost more than it’s worth? Stop the Madness – make the Proportionality Rule work with an automatic referral to mediation when joint costs reach 20% of case value.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

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

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

The Right Rites – Part 2 of 3

Part 1 – Rites of passage are important. We celebrate marriage, birth and death with rituals and gatherings; weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, leaving parties & naming ceremonies. The list is endless. We mark these important milestones because we feel it is important to do so. It is a part of being human; it is part of who we are.

The Right Rites Part 2 of a 3 part blog

There is no recognised rite of passage for separation and divorce. Yet the grief experienced on such separation can be every bit as painful as on death, possibly worse, as ending a relationship is a choice implying someone is at fault, but you don’t usually choose to die. The ending of a relationship says something additional, shared life is over by choice, there may be some blame in this. This extra dimension elicits extra painful emotions and often conflict.

Separation and the Grieving Cycle

The grieving cycle involves a journey through denial, anger, blame and often depression before acceptance can be achieved and people can move on. It takes time and couples travel at different speeds and get there at different times. Frequently one of them (or both) are so angry that they experience powerful instincts to fight their new enemy, to hurt them back, to try and get more for themselves, to try and lose less.  In this fragile state they may rush into aggressive litigation and find themselves stuck on that path. Such instincts are powerful, can take over and make rational thinking impossible and lead to poor decision-making. To understand this better we will look at some common wrong rites which are really ritualised revenge, which is often experienced on separation. Ways of getting someone back, of striking at your nearly ex:

  • A furious mother may stop children seeing their father, running him down, turning them against him. This hurts the children badly.
  • An angry father may stop paying the mortgage on the family home or supporting his family. This causes terrible anxiety and insecurity.
  • There may be an emotional explosion, the police may be called, an injunction sought, with an exclusion from the home.
  • Someone might issue court proceedings to ‘take their ex to the cleaners;’ have a ritualised fight via fierce letters and court.
  • Many threats and angry exchanges take place escalating the conflict which rapidly acquires a life of its own.

These activities are common, instinctive rites of passage and are frequently motivated by displaced grief. They are completely illogical and keep people stuck in fighting mode over everything and nothing.  People think it’s what you do in this situation. You must fight for what’s yours or you’ll lose out. Yet fighting is destructive and expensive in every possible way and does not produce good solutions.  The release of anger through court and similar rites of passage may feel cathartic – but it does not produce good solutions, just pain and more anger. And revenge. Often fighting costs more of the value of the difference between people – which is truly mad, yet these legalistic processes do nothing to deal with the underlying problem and so get hi-jacked for an emotional journey that is irrelevant to the legal process. 

A Better Way

Once people have worked through their worst grief – especially if they have received some counselling or steep legal bills – they often regret the path they have set and wish to change direction. This is where mediation can help – as it is an opportunity jointly to decide to take a different more constructive route together at the same time, to set new ground rules as a separated couple, create a new and better shared expectation for the future. Fraught couples can experience a different, creative and positive focus, a new rite of passage, without fighting. It is never too late to mediate. It’s never too late for an outbreak of sanity. We need to make the court rule that says ‘costs must be proportionate to the value of a case’ actually work. All it takes is for judges everywhere to refer all cases to mediation where the joint costs are close to or exceed 20% of the case value. Huge numbers of cases will then settle instead of lumbering on to trial with people thinking there is no way out of their litigation. See my next blog on this ‘Stop the Madness!’

The way things end is important, we remember endings forever along with how everything began. Choose a decent ending you won’t regret and be ashamed of. Choose mediation, whatever stage you’re at, because it helps.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

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

 

 

 

Crime and Punishment – Part 1 of 3

We grow up understanding that when we do wrong we must face the consequences, pay the price, take our medicine. We know if we commit serious crimes we will go to prison and that less serious crimes are also punished with fines, suspended sentences, community service orders and tagging. People don’t believe you should be able to do wrong and get away with it. However, what about ‘wrongs’ that are not crimes, not illegal but which hurt very much? What about abandoning your partner? What about committing adultery, desertion, cruelty and other unreasonable behaviour?

Crime and Punishment Part 1 of a 3 part blog focus mediation

There is quite rightly a movement to take the blame out of divorce and make it into an administrative process where no allegations of fault can be made. This has to be right as it is well settled law that the reasons a marriage ended does not affect arrangements for time with the children (unless the behaviour distresses them) or the financial settlement. The only exceptions are if it falls into a vanishingly rare category of cases where the behaviour is so unreasonable it would be inequitable to disregard it. For most purposes that means forget it, ordinary unreasonable behaviour won’t suffice. You probably need fraudulent financial conduct, forged signatures, and making off with the money – most ordinary divorces come nowhere near the level of conduct required. Having a secret affair and even a hidden child is not relevant conduct. Emotional ‘crimes’ are less likely to count than financial crimes, where there is room for the view that the person who reduces the matrimonial pot should pay the price for that.

An Ex Getting Away with Murder

There is no doubt that some people faced with the end of their relationship get very stuck on the reasons it ended. They may find it impossible to accept that their ex had an affair and that’s just what happens. They may strongly believe their ex must suffer a penalty, albeit not a true crime in the sense of behaviour that is charged, proven then punished through the criminal courts. We do not stone people to death for adultery. For the ‘innocent party’ this can feel hugely wrong and unfair. They see their ex ‘Getting away with murder’ so to speak. They believe s/he should suffer, pay the price and that price is that they should have less money or time with the children and they as the innocent party should have more money, an exclusive relationship with their children. . whatever. Of course this is not how it works. Children need a relationship with both parents and should not have to choose. Also, you are not rewarded with a more generous divorce settlement because your ex had an affair or was in some other way ‘at fault’. Yet still that feeling of injustice persists – not your fault – their fault – they should suffer you should not. Retribution is required.

The truth is the person who suffers the most in these situations is the person who cannot detach emotionally from the situation and let the relationship go, who cannot soothe their anger and move on with their life. There has been no crime and there will be no punishment. It’s not a criminal offence for a relationship to end – and most marriages die quietly when no one’s looking. So what should society offer as an alternative to adapting the principles of crime and punishment to family break-down?

Truth & Reconciliation

I’d like to propose a family version of Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, now the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, which has been copied world-wide it is so successful. This is not with a view to saving the relationship, but with a view to constructing a forum in which things that need to be said can be said and heard and people can be helped to come to terms with divorce. We know that this type of process works and allows healing to take place and people to move on. How and why?

When people have been hurt and wronged they often feel upset, angry and outraged. They want this understood and acknowledged by their oppressor and they may want revenge and punishment. They need to be heard, this need is huge and there is currently no forum for it in family break-down where it is badly needed – otherwise it will continue to burst out inappropriately.  So we should set up a process for helping people to come to terms with the end of their relationship and where children want to be included this should be facilitated. We might call this The Acknowledgment and Acceptance Forum (AAF) and it would be informally facilitated by someone trained to run it. I’m not a therapist but as a mediator I have had to help people with a version of this many times – in order to start the work of mediation. This is what might happen:

  • Each person explains their pain and their ex’s effect on them
  • They must listen to each other and acknowledge each other’s pain and any responsibility they have for this
  • Things that people need to say can be said, heard and acknowledged
  • The facilitator helps understanding with explanations and interpretation, normalising and summarising. They reality check assertions and try to establish some sort of shared understanding about events if such is possible
  • The couple may realise they may never agree on the ‘truth,’ they have their own beliefs about what happened, this is normal and they need to let it go anyway
  • The parties are helped to come to terms with the end of the relationship, there may be forgiveness but it isn’t necessary – acceptance is enough
  • There may be apologies, acknowledgment of wrongs done so rage can subside along with any sense of injustice, so people can move on

The problem we have at the moment is there is no way for this emotional journey to be facilitated and without it the angst breaks out inappropriately in other forums such as court proceedings, solicitor’s letters, fights about children and the money. We need a Rite of Passage for broken families – next week see part two of this blog The Right Rites.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

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

Activities and Places to Visit for children in Beds, Bucks and Herts Summer 2018

The Higgins Museum and The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery

Castle Lane, Bedford MK40 0PF

Craft activities throughout the summer on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Exhibition by the artist Edward Bawden entitiled Bawden’s Beasts

St Albans Museum and Gallery

Market Place, St Peters Street, St Albans, Herts AL3 5DJ

Opened in June 2018. Visit the old court room and prison cells and find out about the history of St Albans. Free family activity trails from 28 July 2018.

Knebworth House Dino Adventure

Knebworth, Herts SG1 2AX

Dino Adventure: Saturday 18 August 2018 – Experience the pre-historic world of the dinosaurs

Knebworth Country Crafts and Steam Fair: Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 August 2018 – Including birds of prey, steam engines, children’s entertainers and horseback displays

Days Out

 

Bletchley Park

Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes ,Bucks MK3 6EB

Play the games of the codebreakers: Chess and Challenges – every Tuesday and Thursday  from 31 July to 30 August 2018

Wrest Park

Silsoe, Beds MK45 4HR

Listen to the Summer Bands playing over the bank holiday on Sunday 26 and Monday 27 August 2018 between 12 noon and 4 pm and explore the grounds with an activity pack and audio trail.

Chiltern Open Air Museum

Gorelands Lane, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks HP8 4AB

Take part in Medieval Pagaentry and Vicious Vikings and Tudors on Thursdays from 26 July to 30 August 2018.

Explore this historic working farm and see the preserved historical buildings.

Shuttleworth Collection

Old Wareden Aerodrome, Hill Lane,Biggleswade, Beds SG18 9EP

Family Air Show on Sunday 5 August 2018 and The Flying Proms on Saturday 18 August 2018

Visit the museum with vintage aircraft,cars, motorcycles and agricultural exhibits – all in working order.

Stockwood Discovery Centre

Stockwood Park Golf Course, London Road, Luton LU1 4LX

Various workshops to include a Lego workshop, a Very hungry caterpillar workshop and a Bear hunt workshop throughout the holidays.

Forest of Marston Vale

Station Road, Marston Mortaine, Beds MK43 0PR

Activities will take place throughout the summer holidays to include Wild Artwork in the woods and Dragonfly Safari

Royston Cave

Melbourne Street, Royston, Beds SG8 7DA.

Visit this unique man-made cavern in the shape of a bee hive which is thought to date from the 13th century and covered in ornate carvings.

Natural History Museum Tring

Akeman Street, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP

Discover the special exhibition ‘What’s in the Woods’. A hands on exhibit to discover the sights and sounds and smells woodland spaces.

With summer activities in Tribal den building, Prehistoric detectives and Ice Age cave art.

Verulamium Musuem St Albans

St Michaels, St Albans, Herts AL3 4SW

Find out about life in Roman Britain. Take part in activities and dressing up and explore the remains of the Roman town

Leighton Buzzard Railway

Pages Park Station, Billington Road. Leighton Buzzard, Beds LU7 4TN

Heritage steam railway and working museum. Enjoy a 70 minute return train ride.

Go Ape Woburn

Woburn Park, Woburn, Beds MK17 9QN

Tarzan swings, rope ladders and zip wire. See the elephants in the safari park from high in the tree top walkways.

Compiled by: Elaine Clarke, Family Mediator, Bedford.

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

Why Does Empathy Matter in Forgiveness?

Last month, I witnessed an extraordinary meeting. The man who was responsible for the Brighton bombing in 1984 sat next to the daughter of one of the men his actions had killed, and together they discussed empathy, and how it could change the world.

Why Does Empathy Matter in Forgiveness focus blog

I was at the UK College of Mediators’ annual conference. The man was Pat Magee of the IRA. The woman was Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry. It was Jo, who, after losing her father to the terrorist attack, realised she had a choice: to remain in the grip of blame and victim-hood, and to live with “an enemy” in her life, or to try to understand the man who was capable of ordering such violence. She asked to meet with Pat, and he eventually agreed. Their first conversation was in private, with no intermediaries, and lasted three hours. It led to an astonishing alliance that now seeks to help people build bridges all over the world, in all sorts of conflicted situations.

Pat spoke humbly to us of how he began his first talk with Jo driven by political allegiance but found his stand-point gradually eroded by her willingness – her eagerness – to understand him. Jo had begun the conversation full of fear at what she would find and overcame that fear by concentrating on what Pat might be feeling about meeting the daughter of the man he had killed. Pat, in turn found that Jo’s empathy disarmed him. His political beliefs were acting as a barrier to his understanding of the consequences of his actions; Jo’s curiosity, her genuine desire to understand him, dissolved his defensiveness and led him into true dialogue.

What role does empathy play in mediation?

It is key. It is vital. It is the bedrock of our process. Mediators work best when they take time to identify what their clients are feeling and respond with respectful attention and empathy. A couple in mediation will achieve more if they each listen hard to what the other person is saying and try to understand where he or she is coming from. Separated parents will do their children the best possible favour if they concentrate on forming a Parental Alliance that transcends the broken relationship between them as individuals.

Only with empathy can we bring peace into the room and generate an atmosphere in which differences can be managed and solutions proposed.

Watch the TED talk by Jo Berry on Empathy. It could change your life.

Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford & Milton Keynes

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

Sole Custody & The Fear Those Words Provoke

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

Sole Custody and The Fear Those Words Provoke focus blog

Divorce Forums

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

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

Simplify Co-Parenting after Separation

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

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

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

The Blame Game in Mediation

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

the blame game in mediation

The Divorce Grief Process

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

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

A Glimmer of Hope

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

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

Let’s Stop Playing the Blame Game

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

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

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

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