Category Archives: Separation

Housing in Oxfordshire or: Two into two won’t go!

If you care about the environment and the look of the world we live in, you will be alarmed, to say the least, about the housing developments going on in Oxfordshire.

The city is bulging at the seams. Property is in huge demand, but rental and purchase prices are amongst the highest in the UK; higher even than London, some say. Yet there is a hue and cry going on at the potential use of Green Belt land to build more houses. Green Belt land around the city is largely owned by the Colleges, who are seen as cashing in on developers’ ambitions; but they say they are simply responding philanthropically to the public need for more housing.

Oxford from the airSource:www.ssho.ox.ac.uk

The countryside is under similar threat. Much of West Oxfordshire lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); it is on the edge of the Cotswolds. Surely this should be sacrosanct? AONBs have the same protected status at law as National Parks, like the Lake District. But in fact, WODC is granting planning permission to develop sites sold off by farmers in these beautiful spots, because councils are under huge pressure from the government to meet a massive target of new builds by 2031. The countryside is being irreparably damaged.

In mediation, we hear time and time again that providing two homes for a separating couple with children in or around Oxford is impossible. Purchase prices are exorbitant, rents are too high. The mediator wishes she could wave a magic wand and produce hundreds of shared ownership houses where the deposit is low and the rent affordable. Would these new housing developments provide that? Unlikely. Some developments make a token gesture with a few “affordable” houses, but prices are still way beyond the reach of most folk, especially those involved in a divorce.

A mediator can help, however. She can work through your budgets with you both, so that you can each see what the other person is struggling with, rather than assuming that he/she/ has plenty to spare. And she can think of plans and options that perhaps hadn’t occurred to you that may make living apart possible, despite the housing crisis. Pensions can be brought into the mix, and creative solutions found. Mediation is always worth a try.

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

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

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

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

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

Mediation or solicitors? Which is the best route for a fast, cost-effective divorce?

If you are thinking about a divorce, your head will be full of worries about the future. Will you be able to afford two households? Who gets what? And how on earth do you “share the children”?

The last thing you want is uncertainty about the divorce procedure. Do you instruct a solicitor or do you come to a mediator? Here is a brief overview of the best possible use of both since the two approaches complement each other.

Mediation is usually by far and away the best process to use when considering arrangements for your children. You work together as parents, with the mediator’s help: round the table discussions are far more fruitful and less divisive than an exchange of solicitors’ correspondence or, heaven forbid, contested court proceedings. In mediation, an accredited mediator can give your children a voice by talking to them in an informal relaxed way and relaying their wishes and feelings back to you. This can be invaluable in helping you do the best possible job for them and in clarifying what they really think and want to happen.

So far as finances are concerned, if you are divorcing, you are aiming for a Consent Order which will record your eventual agreement and make it binding. This Consent Order must be connected to a formal divorce. So, one of you needs to file a divorce petition. You can download a divorce petition and file it yourself, but many people prefer to ask a solicitor to do this for them, so that the process is handled correctly. You will also probably want to take your solicitor’s advice on any financial agreement that you eventually reach. So: at least one of you needs to find a solicitor to start the divorce.

However, using a solicitor to take you through the process of disclosing your finances and negotiating a settlement can be time-consuming, expensive and divisive. This is where mediation comes in again.

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One of you contacts a mediation service, who will arrange to see each of you separately to get the background of your financial situation. Your mediator will also use this meeting to explain how mediation works. Here at Focus, we make a point of giving you the forms you need to complete at that first meeting, so that you come back to your first joint session with all your disclosure ready. We waste no time in helping you both establish the value of your home, the mortgage, any savings, pensions, debts: in short, we help you establish a clear picture of your finances for yourselves and for anyone advising you. This is an essential first step to sorting out any financial agreement.

In your second or third joint sessions we can help you negotiate a settlement. We look at the equity in the house, division of savings, allocation of debt, and provision of retirement income through pensions. We also look at your income and outgoings and help you work out your budgets in your separate households, which enables us to help you set an appropriate level of maintenance and child support.

We then write up all your figures in an open financial statement and your agreement in a memorandum of understanding. You are recommended to take both of these documents to your solicitors, who will draft a consent order for you. This will be put before a judge so that it can be made legally binding.

Your solicitor will then be able to finalise your divorce with a decree absolute, unless you have done it yourself.

As you can see, mediation is a useful procedure both for children and for finance, and can be educative and even healing at this difficult time. However, solicitors play an important part in the process too. So, mediators and solicitors together help separating couples sort out the many (often teething) problems inevitably arising and reach an agreement so as to leave this unpleasant episode in their lives behind them as fast and cost-effectively as possible.

Unhappy Holidays

How was your Easter?

Fabulous. We took some days out, watched lambs in the Spring sunshine, the children had fun and we all ate too much chocolate.”

Miserable. Things are impossible at home. We don’t talk except to argue, and now the rows are happening in front of the children. Little Jo is wetting the bed again and Sophie is very tearful. We couldn’t go out because we’ve got no money, and the debts just aren’t going away.”

If the second response is closer to your current situation than the first, you are in company with many, many families: at least half of all marriages and partnerships run aground in difficult circumstances.

Where do you turn for help?

If you are contemplating divorce, you might want to find a local solicitor. Alternatively, you could download the Divorce Petition and instructions on how to fill it in, and start the divorce yourself. But the divorce is simply the legal process which dissolves your marriage. What about the children and what about the financial side?

A mediator can help. Here at Focus Mediation, we offer an introductory meeting with an experienced, highly qualified lawyer-mediator who will listen to your story, and then describe how you go about preparing, negotiating and finalising a financial settlement. She will then invite your other half to a similar meeting, so that she has heard how things look for both of you: where are the problems, what are your fears, what do you hope to achieve? She can help you sort it out.

Eggs - Unhappy Holidays Blog

When you start the joint mediation sessions, and the mediator can help you work out a set of proposals which meets the needs of everyone and takes everything into account. If you need help with your shared parenting plan, she will offer a session on that as well.

Mediation is cheaper than using lawyers, quicker and less divisive.

With any luck, by the time you get to the next holidays, things will be looking up and be a bit more sorted.

Blame, it’s not your fault, but one day it won’t matter any more . . .

On the grieving cycle following death, loss or divorce, after the first shock and denial, people become angry and blaming, they may get depressed as they gradually detach from the other person and old life. Only then are they ready to move to dialogue and bargaining to sort everything out. Finally they will reach acceptance of the new life and be able to move on.

No one likes to feel guilty, especially if they might have caused the break up of a family. Or partly caused. Or not caused it at all. Or indeed it was totally someone else’s fault, nothing to do with them. So if a spouse has had an affair, they may well argue it was because they were neglected, unloved and it wasn’t their fault the marriage ended. The other spouse may argue the contrary, that they had worked hardest, put up with a lot, but nothing was ever enough and then despite being a really devoted spouse, their nearly ex cheated on them! As for the other man or woman, it is never their fault either, even if they were a close friend of the deserted spouse. The marriage must have been in trouble or the affair would not have happened.

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We – people – need deny responsibility for the chaos and misery flowing from our actions. We want people to like us, we want to believe we are good people. Opinions matter. They affect our sense of identity, of who we are. So we may re interpret the past to justify our actions. Often in the tumultuous grief following separation, couples may make things infinitely worse by demonising each other, which can lead to various other evils:
1. Fighting, arguments, violence and the appointment of a paid champion to ‘win’ in the displaced fury of legal proceedings. This results in wasted money and avoidable emotional and psychological suffering.
2. Damage to children caught in the middle of the break up. This can result in children being cut off from a parent, taking sides, looking after parents, being used as messengers, feeling guilty, falling behind at school and worse.
3. Loss of collateral relationships that may have been hugely important because the people concerned find themselves closely attached to the ‘wrong’ spouse. They feel they are from the wrong tribe, so they have to cut off that relationship. An avoidable bereavement?
4. Worsened economic situation, possibly poorer housing and reduced resources.

Of course there are benefits from divorce – miserable, violent, abusive and destructive relationships are ended. People feel relieved and optimistic about life again. They have hope for the future. It is completely unrealistic and unfair to vilify all divorce. However, what is certainly true is that by denying responsibility for your part in the break up and demonising your ex, you make matters worse than they need be. Also, importantly, the law doesn’t care whose fault it is. It only matters to you. Yes, we still have an anachronistic fault based divorce system and if you don’t want to wait two years from separation to get divorced by consent, you must have a fault based divorce, but nobody but you cares what the divorce petition says. You won’t get punished with less money or less time with any children. There are no adverse practical consequences. Despite all that, it matters to the people in the middle of the break up at the time. It matters a lot. But here’s the thing, when you have detached emotionally from your ex partner, moved on and recovered, it won’t matter to you any more either. Which is what I was saying when I started. Blame – it’s not your fault, but one day it won’t matter any more. . .

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

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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.

For more information go to www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

 

“Court costs?? I don’t have to worry about lawyer’s fees! I’ll represent myself!!”

This was the thought of Mr Veluppillai who decided to represent himself against his wife in divorce proceedings recently in what the judge called “a routine needs case after 20 years of marriage.” Not only did Mr Veluppillai not save himself money, he ended up with a costs order against him of £150,000.It seems that the Judge found in favour of his wife whose proposals were described by commentators as eminently sensible. A lose lose situation for Mr Veluppillai.

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Admittedly this case is extreme. Here, the husband did cause there to be over 30 hearings in front of the court, he ended up assaulting his wife’s barrister and his wife in court, was convicted of assault, fled the country and sent the court abusive emails saying he had a fatal illness and that the proceedings should be adjourned indefinitely! The eventual outcome was that an order was made allowing the wife to sell off one property to pay off the mortgage on another and this also provided a fund for her to set up a business, amongst other things.

The point to take from this is that going to court, whether in person or with your lawyer, means engaging in a battle, starting a fight and sometimes people lose perspective in their desire to win. But there is no winner here. The bottom line is that there is less money available to divide between the separating couple at the end of the day. And immense bad feeling between them.

Another approach is mediation. In mediation we start from the place where separating couples say: “it went wrong, we can’t put it right but by blaming and punishing nothing is mended. Let’s work together to build workable futures for us both”.

Yes. We do tell clients that this is hard work.  But a lot less stressful than fighting and cheaper than the £150,000 that Mr Veluppillai will be handing over to his ex-wife’s lawyers.

Courts are deliberately misled by a quarter of divorce petitions

The introduction of a no-fault divorce petition is the subject of a 10 minute motion which was debated in the Commons on the 13th October.

The law should not require couples to “throw mud at each other” and instead should allow for divorce without blame. A simple signed declaration by each party to a divorce that the marriage had broken down irretrievably should be sufficient.

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Research conducted by YouGov in June 2015 found that 52% of divorce petitions were fault based and that 27% of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their petition admitted the allegation was not true.

Support for no fault divorce has also come from Resolution. Their chairman has said “fault based petitions are outdated, unfair and in need of urgent reform. Its not about making divorce easier – its about making it easier for people to move on. The current system is causing couples to make false allegations to have their divorce finalised in a reasonable time. The charade needs to be ended”.

The removal of blame from the divorce process would bring England and Wales into line with other jurisdictions including the US, Australia and Spain.

A Safe Place to Talk?

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

Mediation offers a safe, neutral environment in which you can tackle your impossible problems. The kids. The money. Where you are each going to live. The mediator structures your conversation, sets ground rules so that no-one feels put down by the other one, makes sure you each say what is on your mind, and – critically – makes sure the other person has heard and understood it.

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

However, this ideal scenario can be knocked for six if a couple comes to mediation intent on playing out their battles in front of an audience. Mediators can help people for whom talking has become difficult, but they will find it nigh-on impossible to help people who insist on dominating the process, no matter how many times the mediator repeats the ground rules of ‘no shouting, no interrupting, no threatening, no undermining’. Mediation can only help those who want it to work and are willing to set aside their old habits, under the mediator’s guidance. The mediator has a right to end the mediation if she feels the process is being abused.

How things end is even more important than how they began

We all remember significant moments in our lives. The moment we first met our future partner, or made a commitment to them. The moment we held our new-born child in our arms for the first time, left them at nursery or school the first time, or took them to university and waved goodbye. We remember making friends, seeing special places, films, music. We flash back to when we read our first long book, to an insight we had into something profound. A cherry tree in full blossom, a rose, our first champagne, a wedding, a funeral, Christmases or other festivals.   The list is long.

We must add to it those things which were endings. Things done for the last time. The final good bye to someone we love who died, or the sudden failure to re-appear, when they died without warning, with no leave-taking. Leaving places, especially homes, schools, places we have been happy or sad or both. Moving on, departures from people we were close to, shared time with, perhaps flats or homes. Then there is the ending of relationships as couples. The ones that we thought were forever, that fail or turn sour. The divorces, partnerships, especially those where we had children, as in a material sense those relationships never end. The children are always there to link you.

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Those un-couplings are so important and need even more careful management than the weddings that started them. There may be a powerful instinct to fight, a fear of losing out that motivates conflict over resources. The usual ritual is to appoint a lawyer each to try and get you the biggest share, in case you lose out. That adversarial process often damages what is left of the relationship, destroying direct communication and preventing the establishment of new friendly non couple boundaries with that person you are detaching from, but with whom you have spent a significant part of your life.

Often the costs of the legal ritual can cost more than the value of what you are arguing about if it is finances. When you look back, you will remember all this. How it ended. The sweet and the sour. It doesn’t have to be a bitter contest. Mediation helps couples detach kindly, to create the new understandings and boundaries they need as separated parents. If you are splitting up, you will remember always what it was like, who did and said what to whom, how it was done. Don’t make the mistake of fighting. Mediate a good end, something you can remember that you did as well as was possible, with kindness and dignity.