Miscuing one another – what’s that?

People miscue one another every-day; mediators are no exception. I did it this morning with my 8 years’ old son. He really didn’t want to go to school. I think I displayed super human levels of patience and understanding for about 2 hours! Then my patience ran dry as we were late and I was seriously frustrated. My tone changed and I got angry.

I told him to hurry up and that his behaviour was terrible. It escalated and he was crying and refusing to move and I was now shouting. If I had hoped that this would be more successful than my previous cajoling then I was very much mistaken. He was more adamant than ever that he wasn’t going to school and I couldn’t make him. I was determined he was!  We were in deadlock. As he’s eight I was able to frog march him to the car, but felt awful as he was sobbing.  I couldn’t calm him down and he went into school upset. Strong arm tactics won’t work at all between adults and weren’t very effective for me with my son either.

My cajoling didn’t work with my son, but losing my temper made the situation a million times worse. What did I expect? My son could not see I was upset or angry and stop and rationalise his fears about school, he was far too agitated himself. So sadly I triggered the wrong response and set myself up for failure: this is what miscuing really is.

I have another personal example I sometimes give clients. My husband used to ‘forget’ to take the bins out every week- a job I struggled with as they are really heavy.  For months I’d nag him to do it and he’d invariably forget and I’d be angry. Nothing changed. I decided to take my own advice and improve our communication. Using sentences starting with “I feel” rather than “you… never take the bins out…” I told him how I felt. I told him the bins were too heavy for me to carry, I invariably dropped rubbish out of them and made a mess and I was often running late as our youngest is struggling with school etc.

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He nodded and said ok. The next day he did it. I acknowledged his effort and thanked him when I got home. He then apologised and said he genuinely used to forget to take the bins out as he leaves very early and didn’t realise how much it would help me if he did it. He’s never forgotten them since. I thought he had heard all the reasons I needed his help and just didn’t care. However, the way I had asked him meant he just couldn’t hear me properly; he just heard my criticism and anger.  So, the saying, “it’s not what you ask, but how you ask”, really resonates with me.

I often hear clients miscuing one another in mediation, especially when the topics they are discussing are very emotive and important to them. And it’s proven that when people separate their emotions can be as powerful as those experienced during a bereavement.  It’s so hard to remain calm and logical; especially if you feel your ex is standing in the way of you seeing your children, or is hurting them or preventing you from moving on.  Miscuing can make you feel you can’t win whatever you say your ex will always hear it wrongly.

However, you can control how you communicate with your ex, and you can also control your response. You can also phrase things in such a way that your ex is more likely to find them acceptable. Always be polite and avoid personal attacks. Try smiling. No, I’m not kidding! One couple told me how awful hand over was at contact time. The wife said the husband scowled and tried to intimidate her.

The husband said the wife hated him so much she wouldn’t look at him and treated him with contempt. I broke the encounters down. I asked what was the first thing they each saw? The wife said she didn’t even look – she knew her ex would be staring at her and trying to make her feel bad. The husband said he saw her looking the other way and it made him angry she didn’t even think he was worth looking at. They were both miscuing one another.

I suggested next time they made eye contact and said ‘Hello’. They needed to let their son know they could be civil. That genuinely was the start of them understanding each other better and being able to co-parent their son. They needed to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and they both persevered because they loved their son. He was so much happier and felt more secure when they were getting along. They realised they each loved their son far more than they disliked one another.

Mediation is not an easy option. It can feel uncomfortable. However, mediation helps improve communication and reduces the frequency of ex-partners misunderstanding one another. It gives children what they need and want the most; parents who can and do put them first.

 

This blogpost explains why mediation is often the quickest and cheapest route to resolve your divorce dispute and to go back to ‘life as usual’ fast.

I was interested to read this article in The Guardian by Emine Saner (23.08.16)*:

“The end of the summer holiday is a peak period for break ups. But now couples are looking for fast and amicable ways to avoid being mired in the blame game, will the law finally catch up?”

There is a private members’ bill to introduce a “no fault” divorce, and Baroness Hale, deputy president of the Supreme Court, called for it to be introduced.

Football presenter Gary Lineker, whose marriage to his second wife has recently ended, took issue with divorce lawyers. “It’s very easy to get married and very difficult to get divorced,” he said. “And we know that lawyers try to manipulate it to make you spend more money and basically end up hating each other.”

More and more people are choosing to represent themselves. According to a recent survey, around 40% of people no longer use lawyers in their divorces. For all Lineker’s talk of greedy lawyers, this isn’t to be considered a positive development, as it mostly comes on the back of legal aid cuts.

People who represent themselves in divorce cases may not “get the outcomes they might expect or deserve,” says Emma Pearmaine, director of family services at Simpson Millar. It can also slow proceedings down. “[Divorce] is a horrid thing to be experiencing and we need to come to a conclusion as quickly as we can to the benefit of the whole family,” she says.

The consequence of legal aid cuts and people representing themselves is, she says, “affecting a whole generation of children. Previously a parent on a low income might have been eligible to go to court so they can see their child. Now if they’re not eligible, they might have to make an application themselves or they don’t make an application at all. That suggests to me that we have a whole generation of children who are not having the right relationship with both parents.”

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What is the solution?

We at Focus Family Mediation would urge all divorcing and separating couples to look to mediation first.

Proven to be much faster and much more cost-effective, mediation is a collaborative process that keeps couples talking through the difficult stuff – because when you’re talking about separating a family, don’t you want to find the least adversarial, quickest and most affordable way? Unlike court proceedings legal aid is available to those whose means meet the financial criteria making mediation free for them.

At Focus we are all accredited by the Family Mediation Council to conduct property, financial, and child arrangement mediations. Most of us are also authorised to consult directly with children so giving children a voice in what happens to them and enabling them to inform their parents’ decisions.

Mediation is what we do. It’s all we do. Please call us. You and your family will be glad you did.

*To read the full article go to : https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/23/divorce-new-rules-splitting-up-amicable-marriage-breakup

MIAMs and Mediation

Having worked as a family mediator for a good few years now I’m used to asking clients whether they have any knowledge or past experience of mediation.  Most clients don’t have any and don’t know what to expect.

It’s like anything. If you want to buy a car you want to know what you’re buying. A top of the range sports car or a car that gets you safely round town. How do you know what’s going to be the right car for you? You probably need to test drive them.

That is why in family mediation we have an introductory meeting with clients where we explain what mediation involves. The meeting is about an hour-long – called a MIAM which simply means Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting – an opportunity for you to ask us any questions you like. If you are unsure about what to expect from mediation we will talk to you about how mediation works so by the end of the meeting you have a clearer picture. We will also ask you questions – because we want to know what’s going on for you and the issues you face, so we know how best to help you.

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So is it like going to Court?

No, it isn’t like going to Court. There’s no judgment, no evaluation. It’s a meeting usually just with you, to talk through the issues that are affecting you and your family.

The mediator is there to listen to you and may ask you questions about your situation.

The meeting takes much the same format for every client, so you can feel secure in the knowledge that your ex is not being treated differently from you.

Is it like going to a solicitor’s office?

No it’s not. The meeting is at an office but the mediator is there to listen to you and to explain how mediation works. The mediator will consider all the issues you are worried about, and will start to build up a picture of what’s going on between you and your ex.

The mediator’s understanding of your situation and concerns will be crucial if you go on to mediate, enabling them to help you both work through your impasse in a collaborative and practical way, without going to Court.

How much will it cost?

At Focus we have a sliding scale of costs depending on your finances, your income and capital and we offer legal aid at some of our branches.  This can mean mediation is free for you, but in any event it is usually much more affordable than fighting it out in court.

Will someone listen? Yes they will.

We are specialist mediators – it’s all we do. We know what’s important to you and we have the skills and expertise to help. We are all accredited with the Family Mediation Council.

With court costing over £400 just to issue an application, you should ask yourself if you want the stress of going in front of a judge with the added costs of a solicitor and perhaps even a barrister too.  Alternatively do you want to represent yourself?

You might choose either – because there are some cases that are not suitable for mediation. However if you don’t come to the MIAM you won’t know.

No one wants to buy the wrong car – why don’t you give us a call and see if mediation is the right vehicle for you?

Archer v Titchener

The nation has been gripped by the Rob & Helen’s saga in the Archers!

One interesting aspect which did not grab the headlines was baby Jack’s name. Rob wishes to call him “Gideon Titchener”. Theoretically there is nothing stopping Rob calling the baby “Gideon”.  However a court may well find it emotionally harmful to the child to have different names.

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Rob could make an application to the court for permission to change the child’s name formally to “Gideon”. The court would consider all relevant factors such as his name which appears on his birth certificate as “Jack Archer”, the circumstances surrounding his conception and the fact his half-brother is called Archer. Whether the parties are married is relevant, but divorce must be on the agenda.

It is rare that you can say decisively what you think a court would do but it seems highly unlikely in these circumstances that a court would give Rob permission to change “Jack’s” name.

It seems there is a lot in a name.

No one listening? Then stop shouting, you might get heard

Communication is complex. It is much more than words. Communication comprises a range of related activities, including, speech, facial expression, body language and most importantly of all, the subtext of the total communication package and critically what you do, as actions speak louder than a thousand words.

An example will help. If someone is shouting aggressively and waving their arms, this is likely to induce a panic reaction in the listener. In that state that they experience a rush of adrenaline which suspends their ability to process information and programmes them to fight, flee or freeze, the classic survival response.

 The person shouting has generated the opposite response from that intended. If they had spoken quietly without aggression, the panic response would not have overwhelmed their listener and the meaning of the words could have been satisfactorily conveyed. Literally, you might say ‘If you shout I can’t hear you!’

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‘Gorilla Family Moment’, photo taken by Pascal Walschots

Couples who are separating frequently say they cannot talk, can only communicate by email or text and seem inevitably to fight. Their conflict is so high it breaks out over anything and everything. One of the mediator’s tasks is to break this habit, if only for long enough to help the couple agree their settlement or what to do about their children.

So if you want to be heard and understood, talk quietly and not aggressively, listen thoughtfully to any response – and respond to it respectfully in a co-operative spirit and you might be heard and you might even start to communicate. True, exerting self-control is out of fashion, sometimes it’s even perceived as a weakness by a society which sees ‘chest thumping’ responses as a strength. But such an approach should be rediscovered – as it might be the only way to solve some problems which have remained painfully unresolved. Then you can both move on in a constructive way.

Mary will Feature on Radio 5 Live – Sunday 14th August 2016 at 11am

Mary will guest feature talking about divorce on BBC Radio 5 Live show “Raising the Bar with Rob Rinder” on Sunday 14th August at 11am.

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The previous shows in the series may be listened to Here.

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.

Family Justice Council Publishes ‘Sorting out Finances on Divorce’

Ever wondered what a clean break is? Or what the options are for your pensions on divorce?

The new publication launched by the Family Justice Council is a useful guide for those contemplating separation and all that this entails financially. A lot of the case law we read about are the ‘high end’ cases where millions of pounds are at stake. The guide however provides a summary of the legal position for those people with a regular financial picture where the focus of the courts will be on the wellbeing of the children and dividing the finances in a way that meets the needs of both parents in the short term and hopefully in the longer term too.

In mediation, we suggest to clients that they take legal advice on the best and worst case scenarios should they end up in court. Would the court consider the split that they are asking for in mediation as being appropriate? Does the proposed division meet the housing and income needs of both separating partners and, most importantly, does it adequately provide for the needs of the children? For some clients, where finances are very tight, they say that they can afford to take only limited advice. Without understanding what the legal parameters are, it can be harder for them to reach agreement in mediation, which makes this guide particularly welcome.

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I would recommend that couples who are separating, with averages, with or without children, should read this guide. These are the principles which might provide the framework for a mediated agreement, which can become legally binding as part of their divorce.

In order to be binding, the agreement reached in mediation will have to take into account the principles covered in this handy guide. The writers have done a fantastic job in bringing the main points in one place and writing in clear readable language. It won’t be universally applicable as there are always special cases and a general diagnosis cannot replace tailored advice. However, it will be a very helpful resource for many people.

You can find the guide to ‘Sorting out Finances on Divorce’ here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/fjc-financial-needs-april-16-final.pdf

The Bottom of the Rollercoaster – and what happens next

Sometimes in life we suddenly see something and realise that until that moment we have not understood it at all. I had one of those moments when someone described the rollercoaster of grief – because that is what the pain of separation can feel like. This image describes the emotional journey people take through grief – starting with denial and shock, fear and confusion, through anger and blame, shame and anxiety to the depression and helplessness of the low point of it all. This is arguably the worst point, as there is sorrow without the distractions of blame and anger. It is a time of realisation and coming to terms with the new reality, even for someone who wanted the relationship to end, as there is still change and loss. It can be hard. What people don’t always realise when they are in this dark place is that there are more stages to come on their journey. The stage of dialogue and bargaining eventually arrive and then acceptance and a plan for a new future. They can and will go on; they will have a life to live and a future.

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In summary, when couples separate they – and indeed their children – experience grief, as they are living through loss. This is best described as a rollercoaster of emotions and the traditional processes that have evolved through the decades to ‘help’ couples resolve their differences are wholly unsuited to actually resolving anything. This is because they are adversarial and tend to promote discord and holding on to extreme positions. Court proceedings may feel deeply attractive to the angry blaming person, as they offer an apparently legitimate outlet for their fury. By contrast mediation is an opportunity to listen, to try and understand each other, be mutually respectful and compromise. If you’re mad as fire, this will be unappealing. I’ve lost count of the number of clients when hearing about mediation and what it can achieve, say firmly: ‘Well that won’t work. My ex is very unreasonable. There’s no point in even trying to sort it out.’

But here’s the thing, no one ever said to me that they wouldn’t mediate because they were unreasonable. And here’s another thought – people do arrive at the stage of being ready to bargain and talk. They will want to sort it out and move on. It happens. It may be in the middle of court proceedings, it may be some other time, but when you get to that point, suddenly all the fighting and messing about seems utterly pointless, a complete waste of time and money. That is a great time to mediate, because mediation is fast and effective and you will get where you need to be surprisingly quickly. Everything can be sorted out, agreed and put behind you, you can move on from the conflict of the past and through dialogue and bargaining to acceptance and to a new and brighter future. You will have come up the other side of the rollercoaster and will be able to look back with relief on the journey you have accomplished – and be glad it is behind you. Nothing is so focused on getting you both to that point as mediation. Think about it.