Category Archives: Separation

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 

Mediation – your questions answered

What is Family Mediation?

An impartial mediator helps couples agree all arrangements for separation – whether regarding children, property, finance or pensions.

Mediations Questions Answered Focus Mediation Blog

Is Mediation compulsory?

No. Since April 2014 it’s compulsory (there are exemptions) to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before making an application to court regarding family finances or child arrangements. There is no obligation to mediate thereafter, but many choose to do so after hearing about the benefits of mediation and the associated costs and potential delays at court.

I know my ex will refuse to attend a MIAM…

Mediation is voluntary and your ex can’t be forced to attend a MIAM or to mediate. However, clients who believe their ex won’t attend are often surprised when after speaking to a mediator, they agree to do so. Even if mediation does not proceed, our lawyer mediators provide considerable information at MIAM (including an info pack), and clients tell us this is very helpful. Mediators are trained listeners and clients benefit from feeling heard and understood. The process helps people to consider what they need to prioritise so they can positively move forward.

Do I choose between instructing a solicitor or a mediator?

No, a mediator can give you helpful legal information but they can’t advise you about what’s in your best interests as they must remain impartial. Your solicitor will advise you and is often a great support. Isn’t that double the expense? No, mediation works very well alongside legal advice. The advice often reduces the number of mediation sessions as you feel confident about what options and proposals you can agree to. Many clients like us to send a record of session to their solicitor so they are kept up to speed. In financial cases your solicitor will help make mediated proposals legal binding. Mediation and legal advice is a fraction of the cost of legal fees for litigation.

How can I make sure in a financial case that I get all the information I need about assets?

Our lawyer mediators are well accustomed to ensuring that the legal process of ‘disclosure’ is completed properly. They will help you understand your whole situation. The standard of disclosure is no less in mediation than court – plus you can ask each other questions face to face about any anomalies.

How will I know what the options are? 

Our lawyer mediators give first class legal information in a neutral way about complex cases involving pensions, businesses, companies, tax and similar issues. They will help you explore all available options.

What if my ex if more vocal or forceful in mediation?

Mediators are trained to cope with power imbalances. They ensure both of you are heard and the process is designed to maintain a safe environment and a fair balance between you, as well as ensure you both understand all the financial information.

Will I get the best deal possible or can that only be achieved in court? 

The best deal is really what suits you and your family. The mediator will help you generate and explore options. If you attend court you may find that any ‘win’ (which can never be guaranteed) is lost due to the   legal costs in securing it. The court aims to meet the needs of separated families and so there are rarely clear winners.

We have already started proceedings. Does that matter? 

Mediation is a useful aid to resolving disputes at any stage, whether before or after proceedings have started. Court proceedings are frequently resolved by agreement. Mediation is a great aid to that end.

How long does it take?

Each session lasts about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, and it usually takes between 1 and 5 sessions to resolve the issues. The number of sessions depends on the range of issues and the complexity of your affairs. The introductory session lasts about an hour.

Are proposals in mediation binding?

No, not in conventional family mediation, but you take the proposals to your solicitor for a binding Court Order or Separation Deed if that is needed in your case. Children’s arrangements don’t have to be made binding, but we could draw up a co-parenting plan, which you can sign if you wish.

In 1 Day Family Mediation, your solicitors are there at the end, not all day, to make your agreement binding.

Is the mediation process hard?

Yes, sometimes it can be difficult, but it is usually easier than the alternative of Court proceedings. Separation is painful, and sorting things out is not always easy, but it has to be done. It is a type of facilitated DIY divorce and separation.

Is it quick?

Mediation is usually as quick as clients want, with sessions arranged at weekly intervals if you wish or even in one long session if everyone is prepared (“1 Day Mediation”). However, it may take time to assemble the necessary information and sometimes you may benefit from a period of reflection between sessions. A mediated outcome will almost always be achieved before your case could proceed to a Court hearing.

Is mediation always appropriate?

Not always. Both parties have to want to take part in mediation – it is voluntary. Also, if there is heavy domestic violence, it may not be possible to mediate. The mediator will make a careful risk assessment.

I don’t want to meet my ex – do I have to?

We can offer shuttle mediation, with you in separate rooms, in appropriate cases. We would talk to you about the implications of this.

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

A positive message for children during a breakup

Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

children-breakup-hutterstock_483300238

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard.

The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

http://voicesinthemiddle.org.uk – a website for children whose parents are separating/ divorcing

http://www.resolution.org.uk/site_content_files/files/separation_and_divorce_helping_parents_to_help_children_2.pdf

http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/resources/my-child-is-worried-about/divorce-separation/how-to-help-children-adapt.html

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, 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 

Co-habitation – what does it mean and why does it matter?

Resolution is campaigning to change the law relating to cohabitation by couples in a relationship. At the moment when a couple who have been living together split up, they have very limited rights in certain circumstances only – and otherwise no rights at all. For example, a couple may have lived together for half a lifetime, raised a family together – but if one owns everything and the other nothing at all, then when they separate, there is no protection for the financially vulnerable, penniless partner. They may find themselves homeless and without any money or pensions – or any means of claiming any share in the assets built up during the relationship. This tends to reward the wealthier partner at the expense of the vulnerable.

Co-habitation what does it mean and why does it matter Focus Mediation Blog

Limited Protection if there are minor children

If there are minor children then limited help may be available under the Children Act.

Resources may be made available on a court application to a parent, say a mother, for housing whilst that child is a minor.  When the child reaches adulthood and leaves school – that money reverts to the other parent, typically the father. The mother may well then be homeless, with nowhere to live with or without the child, who is very likely to be partly fledged. She may well have reduced pensions and lower income owing to part-time work and career absences for child rearing – tough there is no redress.

How do you fancy a court application under antiquated equitable remedies?

There may be some protection under antiquated laws of Resulting or Constructive Trusts, Proprietary Estoppel and other Dickensian devices. Trying to get a share of assets via this route is fraught with difficulty, complex, uncertain and likely to require lots of money to pay for court proceedings. These might end in tears with an order for costs against you if you lose – or you might secure a fair share of the assets. It all depends. On the one hand this and the other hand that – were promises made to you that you relied on? What can you prove when the love goes cold and the lies start?

But we love and trust each other – it’ll be fine, besides there’s always Common Law Marriage

There is no such thing as Common Law Marriage. It doesn’t exist. Nearly half of marriages end in divorce – and most cohabitations will break-down. Fact. Romance and ‘lurve’ only take you so far, about as far as the bedroom.  For couples who only want an affair – that’s just fine, they want to keep their assets separate – and why shouldn’t they? Forcing everyone to marry and take on financial responsibilities to each other is a massive encroachment on our freedom to order our lives as we choose, an unwarranted intervention by the state. Yet if we do nothing the tragic penury of discarded partners who are often homeless and penniless will continue. What do you think?

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (10 Locations – Milton Keynes, Bedford, 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 

Fight, Flight, Divorce and Magic Wands

Clients usually attend family mediation sessions face to face. They are asked to listen carefully to one another and to be open and honest. When people are in conflict their instinct is to fight and protect themselves or to flee; ‘the fight or flight response’ – click here for a short video explanation. When people feel they have to fight to protect something important to them, they become positional and compromise goes out of the window. They defend their position come what may – even when that stance is actually detrimental to them. Conflict often triggers defence mechanisms that are counter productive to resolution of dispute. This then denies people the opportunity to accept their separation and move forward in a positive way.

Fight Flight Divorce and Magic Wands Focus Mediation Blog

Mediators and magic wands

A mediator doesn’t have a magic wand – if only! We help conflicted people to stop dwelling on the past and to concentrate on their future. We enable them in turn to each express and listen to their needs and concerns. Conflict usually arises out of miscommunication or a lack of communication. When there’s no communication at all it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions. Understanding others and in turn being understood is a basic human need. The best way to understand someone is to listen to them. When conflicted people communicate, they often don’t feel safe enough to fully listen. Instead they may try to shout each other down or formulate a defensive reply. Mediators create a safe and neutral environment. It’s their role to make sure the communication is fair and balanced. If one person struggles to express themselves or doesn’t feel heard, the mediator will ask questions to help everyone in the room to better understand how that person is feeling. They will reflect back what they have heard or summarise to ensure they have fully understood.

A case study – a separated husband and wife

A client attended his first joint mediation session in full ‘fight or flight’ mode. He angrily told his wife that he would make sure she became penniless if she tried to take his children away from him. He said he would enter her home whenever he wanted to and see them and she couldn’t stop him. If she tried he would stop child and spousal maintenance – even if it resulted in a Judge sending him to prison. I was shocked and had not expected this. I meet clients separately prior to any joint session to understand their concerns and identify issues. When I met him he was very sad about the demise of his marriage. However, he told me that his wife was a good mother and he wanted to remain amicable for the sake of the children. I needed to find out what had happened between then and now.  He was clearly fighting to protect something sacred to him – his relationship with his children. I spoke to him alone. He said he hadn’t seen his children that weekend as agreed as his wife had said that they were unwell. He didn’t know if she was telling the truth. He had told her he would come to her home and spend the day with the children. She had said no and a huge argument ensued.

Before they could continue with the joint mediation session, he clearly needed sufficient time to calm down from his stress response to his fear of losing his children. He couldn’t listen to his wife when he was that anxious. I made him a hot drink and gave him the time he needed for his heart beat to regulate and his breathing to return to normal. I also acknowledged how painful it was for him to no longer live with his children.

When he re-entered the room with his wife he apologised to her. He felt calmer and I encouraged him to open up and tell her about his fears surrounding child arrangements. He was able to show genuine vulnerability instead of lashing out and making threats. His wife reassured him that she would never harm his relationship with the children and that she knew that the children needed him just as much as they needed her. She said she needed to establish new personal boundaries now they had separated and that she didn’t feel comfortable at this stage with his spending a whole day in her home. He said that when she didn’t let him come to her home, he began thinking about fathers who lose contact with their children and he began to panic. In the past he had always been there to comfort the children when they were ill. His wife was able to hear and appreciate how difficult it had been for him. He began to understand she needed her own space at home. They went on to make child arrangements that they were both comfortable with and which worked well for the children. If the conflict had been given more space to escalate then it would have undoubtly caused more harm to the parents and their children.

Why does mediation work?

So simply put – mediation is a safe space for people to drop their guard and open up to one another. It’s at times awkward, emotionally draining and it requires courage and commitment. However, it’s tried, tested and it works. Separated couples have often stopped listening to each other or trying to understand or be understood. Mediation helps people to understand each other better. Only when we begin to understand how someone else feels, can we begin to help them understand how we feel. Mediators separate the people from the problems. We help people to stop blaming one another and we enable them both to together focus on finding possible solutions that work for each of them. So despite the lack of magic wands in mediation, when mediation works (and it often does) the simplicity of clients understanding each other and feeling understood as a means of resolving conflict, actually feels rather magical.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

Separating well

In the early stages of a separation, you can feel like you’re in a vortex: everything is swirling around, uncertain, and it’s difficult to find anything to grab on to and steady yourself.  Here are 10 things that our experience has taught us can hel

1. Put children first

If you have children, their needs should be the guiding factor while you are going through the separation.  A lot of people might take this to mean you shouldn’t separate at all, but the research is clear: it’s not separation or divorce that harms children; it’s being exposed to conflict.  The very best thing you can do for them is not to argue in front of them.  If you let their needs guide your decisions during this difficult time, you will generally be doing the right thing. 

2. Read up

Helpful resources include websites such as The Parent Connection https://theparentconnection.org.uk and the Couple Connection https://thecoupleconnection.net , both from relationship charity One Plus One, that give ideas for better communication in difficult circumstances.  The Resolution website http://www.resolution.org.uk  is an excellent source of legal information and guidance. Relate https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/self-help-tools/book-shop  have done an excellent series of books about managing the process of separation in a positive way.  Separating Well

3. Get advice

The law surrounding separation and divorce is not necessarily what you might think.  For example, it might come as a shock to people separating out of unmarried relationships that simply cohabiting with someone, no matter for how long, confers no legal rights as such: the concept of the ‘common law’ wife/husband is a myth. The law about separating out finances or property on divorce might also come as a surprise, particularly the fact that it doesn’t matter who has done what to end the marriage in 99% of cases – it’s nearly always the financial needs of family members that matter most.

4. See a therapist/counsellor

Often when a relationship is in trouble people consider seeing a counsellor, or therapist, in an attempt to ‘save’ it.   In our experience, it can also be helpful to see one together during the process of breaking up. A good couples’ therapist can facilitate you both to process any anger, hurt, disappointment, confusion in a safe space and in a constructive way that means it is less likely to spill over into the rest of your lives, or in front of any children.  A therapist can also help you work out how you will talk to any children about your separation, and think through possibilities for the future.

Many people also find that it is helpful to see a therapist on their own, separately, to work through some of the intense feelings that are inevitable. You can get a referral to a therapist via your GP, although you may find there is a waiting list.  Alternatively, you can find a good private therapist in your area via the BACP website http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk , and seeing a counsellor needn’t be costly.  Having a safe space to process complex emotions can be helpful to stop them from impinging on other areas of your life.

5. Give and take space

It’s really important to give your estranged partner or spouse space during a break-up, but often this is more difficult than it sounds, particularly if you’re still sharing the same home. Fear, suspicion or anxiety can make it difficult to keep things in perspective, but being aware of how you’re feeling can make it easier to recognise when you need to take a break.  When the pressure’s on, it’s so important to take space for yourself, and to force yourself to do things that you enjoy or that make you feel better, whether it’s going for a run, spending an evening out with friends, or anything else.

6. Be businesslike – work out the best way to communicate – project manage

You and your partner or spouse will have to continue communicating throughout your separation, particularly if you share children, pets or a living space. If early on you can take the time to work out how best you can do this to minimise stress, disruption and misunderstandings, you may save yourself a lot of trouble later.  (As family mediators, this is one of the first things we look at with the aim of reducing further stress.)  For some people, it’s main communication by email and by text in emergencies; for others, it’s limited emergency phone calls and weekly meetings about plans.  Whatever you choose, if you can remain businesslike and communicate with your former partner as if he/she were a work colleague on a project, you will make headway with arrangements much more quickly.

7. Choose carefully whom you listen to

Friends and family can be a lifeline during divorce and separation.  They love you, they want to support you and they are unquestionably on your side. However, this means that they may not always be the best source of advice or guidance about present and future dealings with your estranged spouse or partner. Divorce is not unusual and people will carry their own baggage from their own separation, or their parents’, or a friend’s.  Although delivered with the best of intentions, it is important to be aware that other people’s perspectives and experiences may not always be helpful to you – objective advice from a solicitor, or a counsellor to whom you can chat without fear of judgment, can help provide some distance.

8. Don’t worry about the divorce

The actual legal process of divorce often weighs heavily on the mind of married couples who separate. In fact, this is generally one of the smallest issues.  Legally, it matters not who divorces whom and why; the process is now done entirely on paper in most cases, and you will not need to see a judge to get a divorce unless there is something very unusual about your case.  In most cases, a mediator can help the two of you work out the formalities of divorce very quickly, leaving more space to focus on financial and children issues.

9. Seek consensus about future arrangements: litigation is a last resort

The court is, generally, the least appropriate place to work out arrangements for a family’s future after separation or divorce. Sometimes it can’t be avoided.  Most of the time, taking a practical and child-centred approach to arrangements for children’s care, and a commercial approach to matters of finance and property means that you can avoid court.  Collaborative law, mediation, negotiating through solicitors, and arbitration are all sensible options for sorting things out without going near a court.  A good legally-qualified mediator, such as those working with Focus, will save you time, money and stress while helping you keep control over your future financial arrangements.

10. Remember everyone has their own truth about why a relationship broke down – don’t let this stand in the way of your future

As mediators, we work with couples to stop arguments about who did what in the past from getting in the way of making arrangements for the future.  It isn’t necessary that each of you should have the same view about what caused the relationship to end.  Our job is to help you to focus on what happens next and to enable you to move forward with a workable plan.  We’ve helped thousands of separating couples do exactly this; give us a call on 01908 231132 if you’d like to have a chat about how we might be able to help you too.

For further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at www.focus-mediation.co.uk. Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

Don’t call my marriage a failure!

I recently met Sue (name changed) whilst on holiday. Sue had been married for 25 years and divorced for 3. She told me she detests the term ‘failed marriage’ and gets very angry if anyone insinuates her marriage was a failure. In her opinion her marriage hadn’t failed – it had actually been very successful. They had grown up together and shared many firsts. They met at 17 and married 2 years later. They purchased their first home together, raised two children, built a successful family business and supported each other through Sue’s cancer and the death of their respective fathers. That in her book didn’t constitute failure. They had been a good team and their children had been raised in a loving and nurturing home. They had their ups and downs – but she said who doesn’t! Sue said she still believes in the institution of marriage and entered the marriage believing it was a commitment for life. However, people change and it wasn’t to last.

marriage failure

Sue said that she had enjoyed some very supportive friendships over the years but that she isn’t close or even in touch with all of her friends now. One close friend, who had children the same age as Sue, had emigrated. Contact had over time reduced to birthdays and Christmas cards. Sue said she loved her friend and asked whether I considered the friendship a failure. I said no and that friendships ebb and flow.  However, I said we don’t contract to spend the rest of our life with a friend and so friendship couldn’t be compared to marriage in that sense. ‘True’ she said ‘but people change and want different things from life.’ She felt that as a married couple they had made a very difficult but brave decision to ‘set each other free’. They didn’t bring the best out of each other. They had different hopes for their future and very different interests. A third party wasn’t involved. They didn’t known when they married how much they would change as people over the years. They simply had little in common except for their children and shared history. They holidayed together during the marriage but he liked cycling and walking holidays and Sue wanted to sit by a swimming pool and read. At home he liked nights in and she liked socialising with friends. His home was his sanctuary and she liked friends to visit her there. Sue said she had been divorced for 3 years and her ex now had a new partner and was very happy. The formation of her husband’s new relationship hadn’t been easy for her to observe, but she still didn’t regret their decision. She also pointed out that if the marriage had ended due to the death of either spouse, that the union would have been celebrated and viewed as a long and happy marriage. She didn’t feel ready to share her life with anyone else but hoped her future would involve a new relationship.

Sue said they had managed to remain friends. It hadn’t been easy at first and they both had needed space and time to heal. However they were now able to spend time together with their children and it wasn’t awkward. Clearly Sue didn’t see the end of her marriage as a failure. Neither did I. Of course marriage should not be entered into lightly or viewed as a temporary arrangement. However, realistically not all marriages last a lifetime. Perhaps whether or not a marriage is viewed as a failure shouldn’t be determined by it’s length but by it’s successes and how well it ends. When someone has enjoyed a long and illustrious career but is no longer able to perform due to ill health, we don’t judge success on how well they performed at the end. We look at the career as a whole and commend achievements attained over the years. Sue chose to focus on the successes her marriage produced and the happy memories. I admire her positive mindset.

Call Focus Mediation on 01908 231132 for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at www.focus-mediation.co.uk. Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk

Why should I forgive my ex?

You feel hurt, angry and confused. You want an amicable divorce or separation, but you don’t feel you know your ex anymore. What will they do next? Trust is a distant memory or has been seriously eroded. You struggle to communicate at all.  How on earth can you resolve child arrangements, housing needs, maintenance and pensions? It all feels insurmountable.

Issuing court proceedings for finances or child arrangements is likely to throw petrol on to the fire.  Sometimes it’s the only option – but those situations are rare. Giving evidence against each other and cross examination creates a war you have to win. Yet the reality is that there are seldom any winners. A judge must find fairness – fairness doesn’t manifest itself in the form of a huge victory for one against the other. How can it, when the Judge needs to consider meeting both your needs and the needs of the children? Don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence. 84 family courts have closed or are closing at a rate of knots and legal aid is almost non-existent. The Ministry of Justice doesn’t want you there – they know it’s not the place for families. The MoJ and the judges know family mediated agreements have longevity and are more likely to be complied with. People are far more likely to stick to agreements they have made.

Why Should I Forgive my Ex

Many couples mediate – but why don’t more? Some fear their settlement will be less advantageous than a court imposed decision. That’s wrong – and even if you were to get a court decision slightly weighted in your favour, what about the legal fees? They are likely to be many thousands of pounds, which makes a big hole in any advantage. Some couples struggle to pick up the phone and arrange mediation, as they are too hurt and angry. They just can’t forgive and need to feel vindicated by the court. When an affair is involved or you just haven’t been treated well, this is often the driving force behind litigation. You can and should have legal advice throughout the mediation process – and your lawyer will tell you that it is well settled that behaving badly is not relevant to the division of finances or the children at court. So other than being able to avoid a painful, protracted and expensive court case, why else should you forgive your ex?

Your reward for forgiveness

  1. Forgiving your ex benefits you

Forgiveness is the key to moving forward – without it you will remain stuck. Forgiveness isn’t a selfless act – letting go of negative thoughts will allow you to feel more positive about your future.

  1. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning or tolerating bad behaviour

Letting go of resentment will make you feel more at peace and can help to stop you feeling your ex has any control over you. You can’t change how they behave but you can change how you respond to them and how you let it impact you.

  1. Stop waiting for an apology

Clients often tell me that they just need an apology or at least an acknowledgement that they have been wronged. As a mediator I have had the privilege of facilitating some genuine and well received apologies, not something that happens any other way.  Acknowledgment of feelings and hurt is a frequent component of mediation, which builds real understanding between separating couples. Interestingly, they seem to occur when the recipient and I least expect them! However, to heal you need to accept that you may never receive an apology and even If you do – you may find that it doesn’t feel as complete or sincere as you had hoped.

  1. Children suffer immeasurably from parental conflict

Children who experience prolonged parental conflict are less likely to meet educational and developmental milestones. They are also less likely as an adult to maintain a long term relationship with a spouse. Children blame themselves and can suffer from low self-esteem, which can adversely affect many aspects of their lives. Ask yourself – what do your children mostly see you both argue about? Is the answer ‘them’? If so to the children it’s simple – they are to blame! Forgive your ex so you can move forward and let your children flourish.

  1. Negative feelings can damage your physical health as well as your mental wellbeing

Negative emotions and reliving hurtful experiences can cause symptoms from headaches, fatigue and high blood pressure to back and neck problems and reduced immunity.  Holding on to negative feelings hurts you more than your ex.   

  1. Forgive or risk anger turning into bitterness

If you don’t release the negative emotions, they can turn to bitterness and this can feel toxic to those around you. You become unable to enjoy the things that used to make you happy – you see life through a bitter lens.

So how do you forgive an ex? 

  1. It’s ok to admit that your ex really hurt you

Acknowledging the hurt that was inflicted upon you is not a sign of weakness. Consider keeping a diary or writing letters to yourself and explore your feelings, hopes and wishes. The process can be cathartic. Committing the feelings to paper can be the first step to leaving them in your past. Set yourself some small goals; perhaps you will promise to walk the dog every day and get some fresh air and exercise.

  1. Decide not to live your life as a victim of your separation

Consider what the painful process has taught you. Are there any positives? In the early days they can be hard to find – but new beginnings are often disguised in painful endings. Jo Woods, often referred to as long suffering former wife of ‘Rolling Stone’ Ronnie Woods, recently spoke about her devastation when Ronnie had an affair and left her after 23 years of marriage. She said she eventually realised it was for the best. One day she had an epiphany whilst struggling to reach the summit of a mountain. At the peak she decided to forgive Ronnie as she realised that to do so would set her free. She is quoted as saying, “Ronnie, I forgive you. I’m not willing to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to be strong and I’m going to make the most of the rest of my days.’

Quote by Jo Woods from the Daily Mail

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