Category Archives: Separation

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

 

 

 

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

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 

The Powerless Parent

As a family solicitor and now  family mediator, a number of separated parents told me they  felt powerless. It’s often men but also women. Historically children stayed with mum as dad worked fulltime outside the home. Now both parents may work or either sex stays at home whilst the higher wage earner works full time. It’s the parent that works full time that more often  feels powerless.

The Powerless Parent Focus Mediatiuon Blog

Custody, Residence and  Access…

Family Law makers have  moved away from terms such as custody, residence and access, and for good reason.  These terms can prevent parents from seeing the bigger picture. Motivated by the fear of losing their child, they believe they need a court order for  ‘custody/residence’ of their child upon separation.  They may believe it’s too hard to make joint decisions and with an order they can make unilateral decisions about their child.  If the other parent has parental responsibility (as is usually the case) then they should still play an important  role  in decision making about education, health and religion, amongst other issues, and so this presumption is wrong.

The family court has a ‘no order principle’. This means it takes the view that it’s often best for there not to be an order in respect of a child. An order will only be made if it believes it’s necessary and in the child’s best interests. The court appreciates that parents are more likely to stick to arrangements that they have made together than an order imposed on them by a Judge. That’s why litigants must first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) before they can issue an application for what is now known as a Child Arrangement Order. In a nutshell,  it’s usually best for parents to work things out together outside of the court room. They know their child best and can make arrangements that best suit their family.  They are still their child’s family; even if they are separated and live apart.

Child Arrangement Orders

A Child Arrangement Order focuses on how a child will spend their  time with each parent. A parent is a co-parent regardless of how many nights the child stays with them. The child may spend time in each household and so it’s important that each house feels like  home to them . A parent who works full time and spends less time caring for their child than the other parent, may  still be referred to as the non-resident parent. They often  feel that the time they spend with their child is on the other parent’s terms. So how can we improve things? Well as you’d expect, I believe and have experienced that mediation can really improve parental communication and ease this situation. Separated parents need to work at their new co-parenting relationship. They must transition from a couple to co-parents. It’s an understatement to say that this is tough and requires determination and patience. Feelings of hurt and anger don’t just disappear when a decision to separate is made. When issues such as where you will live and how you will support yourself are thrown into the mix, emotions run high. We also grieve for the relationship and must work through a series of emotions until we reach acceptance and can focus on a more positive future.

How can a powerless parent regain some control.

When separating parents attend mediation, they may not have communicated for some time. Some say that any conversation inevitably turns into an argument. A mediator helps parents to listen better and acknowledge each others fears and concerns. When we feel vulnerable or threatened we often become distant or defensive. However, that stance rarely serves us well. There’s often a point when I see the relief on each of the parents faces when the fog of anger and hurt is lifted and they appreciate that deep down the person they once knew and trusted is still there. They see that the person who they feel has  hurt them is someone they can begin to trust again as a co-parent – even if they are unable to trust them as a spouse. There is a basis for co-parenting.

Children learn from their parents’ behaviour – how we treat the other parent is how they will learn to treat others and potentially their future partners. They are half mum and half dad – when we criticise one parent we criticise the child. If we make a child choose then they may not choose us as when they become an adult. So how can the powerless parent regain control?  By communicating better with the other parent, by  showing vulnerability and being honest and open. There’s no short cut to a good co-parenting relationship –  it takes time, effort and patience.  We must love our child more than we dislike  each other.  In theory that sounds easy but it’s much harder in practice. It’s vital to respect that a child has a right to know and love both parents and that as a parent it’s our duty to ensure that’s 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 (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Housing crisis

Last week, despite the bone-aching cold of the Beast from the East and in the start of a snow storm, I turned out to protest against the adoption of a Local Plan by Cherwell District Council which would approve the building of 4,500 homes on Oxford’s Green Belt, around Kidlington, Gosford, Begbroke and Yarnton.

Housing Crisis Focus Mediation Oxford

In my day job as a mediator, I help people look at how two homes can be squeezed out of limited resources when a relationship breaks down. Given that 42% of marriages end in divorce, the need to re-house is affecting almost half the families in Britain. So should I be pleased that 4,500 houses will be on the market for divorcing couples in Oxford?

No! and here’s why:

  • These houses won’t go anywhere towards meeting the true housing need as most of them won’t be affordable; they will probably go to house London commuters.
  • Oxford city is dumping its housing crisis on its surrounding villages. It is prioritising employment over housing by creating offices, restaurants and shopping centres on land which could be for housing e.g. Oxpens, parts of Westgate. But employment figures in Oxford are high compared to the rest of the country: unemployment is not an issue, lack of affordable housing is. Oxford city should sort this out.
  • The impact on the villages will be disastrous in terms of traffic build-up. There are a huge number of other developments proposed north of the city, and the accumulated volume of traffic will bring the A40, A34 and A44 to a standstill twice a day. Also consider the resulting air pollution.
  • The villages will be subsumed in a seamless sprawl of development; Oxford’s character as a city with pleasant surrounds will be lost for ever. There are no exceptional circumstances proved to justify building here; we are committing a crime against future generations, who will lose the vital breathing space and character-defining landscape of the Green Belt.
  • The Golf Course should not be built over: it is a valuable resource for local and much wider community in many ways; it raises funds for charity; it is a site of great bio diversity; the alternative site at Frieze Farm is wholly unsuitable; and who will fund the cost of relocation @ £10m?

The protest had no effect and the Plan was approved.

Maybe with my mediator hat on, I’m hoping this will provide housing options for my clients. With my woolly hat on, however, I am sad and dispirited that this is how local government is allowed to ruin our environment.

Caroline Friend, Family Lawyer Mediator, Oxford. http://www.focus-mediation.co.uk/contact-us/oxford/

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 

Doing nothing is a choice – with consequences you might not choose

When faced with a crisis such as separation, people struggle to cope. They may refuse to talk about the difficult issues that need to be sorted out. They may be in complete denial about the realities of their situation. It may be really hard to tell friends and family –it makes it all real.

Doing nothing is a choice - with consequences you might not choose

Grieving

The grieving cycle kicks in with the prospect of so much loss – and it starts with denial – this is not happening. A man once returned home to find his wife and children gone and his home empty. There was just a camp bed on the floor and a pillow and duvet on it. He went to bed in it and slept – perhaps he thought it would all be all right in the morning. His instinctive reaction was denial.

However bad the relationship, even if you ended it – there is loss and the stages of grief. People are so frightened of what else they will lose – children, home, money, security, even part of their identity, the couple part. Anger and blame can be overwhelming.  Sorting things out can feel impossible – all suggestions for the future may elicit a categoric ‘No!’ Anger may make you fight, litigate to try to ‘win’ and this can cost more than it’s worth and then everyone loses. Doing a deal with your enemy is anathema – and that’s what mediation means, so no, it is not something you want to do. You are at your most vulnerable and least able to cope yet there are all these critical decisions to face. You may want to make them wait, not face the choices, do nothing, hang on to your life as long as possible. Sometimes delay results in a lot of other problems that makes sorting things out eventually even harder. Examples include children suffering avoidably, increases in family debt, mortgage default or serial rows over anything and everything – everything gets worse than it need have done.

Moving forward

Research on decision-making by psychologists tells us decision-making is often hap-hazard and flawed. Especially if motivated by emotions, we do not make our best decisions when we are upset. This is where mediators can help. Trying to do it alone is like trying to do your own dentistry – you cannot see the problems and you’re not a dentist. Family mediators understand the situation and have helped thousands of people to sort things out and start re-building their lives. Yes, it’s tough, but it’s a process for making your best decisions, easier than fighting, it costs less and it is just as fast as you want.

Family mediation is flexible, it starts where you are and wraps around you to help you cope, helps you to see the real issues and work out what to do for the best in a rational way. It is nothing like counselling, it is very practical and future-focussed. Good mediators listen hard – and support you both to make difficult decisions, working through all the options, challenging and reality testing your plans. Yes, effective mediation can feel tough. It brings you face to face with the realities of your situation fast – but isn’t that best? Get it over with? Most people say ‘I just want it all sorted as soon as possible.’ That means mediation. Court applications take up to 18 months, sometimes longer. The legal process is rarely fast. Mediation regularly helps people bring litigation and negotiations to an end with Consent Orders and agreements.

So when you’re fed up with it all – remember it is never too late to mediate and do a deal and doing nothing is a choice that may deliver a poor outcome.

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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