Tag Archives: Conflict

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.

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.

The Silver Splitters – Divorce for the over 50s on the rise…

The Office of National Statistics figures released in July 2015 show that the greatest rise in the percentage of people getting divorced in 2014 are couples aged 50 to 64.

This trend in older people divorcing is not new.

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By 2013 the number of over 60s divorcing had reportedly increased by over a third in the last decade. Dramatic changes in life expectancy have led many couples to reconsider whether they really want to grow old together. Today’s over 50s are fit and active and no longer feel that there is such a stigma attached to divorce. Marriages are more likely to end in divorce and less likely to end in the death of one spouse than they were in 1991. And as you head towards retirement it can trigger a reappraisal of how you want to spend your later years.

Some suggest that the older generation have become more aware that they can split from their current partners after the children leave, and still meet new partners. They can go on to lead more fulfilling lives, rather than staying in less than satisfactory relationships.

Others suggest that, once the children leave, couples discover that they have less in common than they thought they did.

Plus, women are often more financially independent than before and may feel more confident to make the break.

In general divorce can be simpler and cheaper when child maintenance is no longer in the picture.

Conversely, “Silver Splitters” may have more to argue over, where they have benefitted from rising house prices and where they may have generated a significant amount of equity in the house over a number of years and have at least one hefty pension to consider.

Changes in the law which allow pension funds to be shared may also have had an impact on the over 50s divorce figures. With the latest developments following on from this year’s budget, the over 55s now have some freedom to cash in their pension pots; no surprise that they are taking hold of this new found freedom to make the break.

However any split or equalization has to be handled with care because comparing different types of pensions with differing contributions and different rights is like comparing apples with pears.

At Focus Mediation our mediators who work with the financial aspects of divorce are all lawyer mediators. Our lead mediator and Managing Director, Mary Banham-Hall, has an advanced qualification in pensions and trains the team to mediate this minefield to best effect.

By coming to mediation, we can help you to work through where you are and where you want to get to as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, focusing on your priorities and what you need to move on and live separately.

Paying For Mediation

Many people have pre-conceived ideas about how mediation is to be paid for. Some believe that it is an expensive service, others that it is free, and yet more are not aware that legal aid is still available for mediation. Mediation is a cost-effective method of discussing issues following on from your separation for most people, whether paying privately or for those who have a low income and can satisfy Legal Aid’s demands for documentary evidence. In addition, if one of you is entitled to legal aid, there are other benefits in that the assessment becomes free, as does the first mediation appointment. This is a real help to those who are concerned about paying costs which would better be put towards the separated family. For those who pay privately, we have concessionary rates for those who just miss legal aid on a low income and with limited savings.

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There is always an assessment meeting beforehand for a fixed cost (or free if legal aid) and you will hear full details of costs of mediation during that meeting so that you will be aware of what your outlay will be for the mediation process. There will be, no doubt, many worries that you will both have during this situation and being fully aware of what this process will cost should set your minds at rest.

For more information contact us on 01908 410522

Warring Families Beware

The Court of Appeal’s judgement in Ilott and Mitson (2015) EWCA Civ 797 may encourage adult children to challenge wills where they consider their parents have not made reasonable provision for them.

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Melita Jackson had left an estate worth £486,000 to the RSPCA and Blue Cross charities after her death in 2004. Her daughter Heather Ilott now 54 challenged the will under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. Heather and her mother were estranged after she left home at the age of 17 with a boyfriend and she had been excluded from the will. Mrs Jackson made it clear that her daughter should inherit nothing.

The court determined that she was not given a reasonable provision from the estate and awarded her £163,000 to buy her home and provide                 future maintenance.

This ruling means people can still disinherit their children but they will have to have a good reason why. Adult children who have been left out of wills may find it easier to challenge them if they have not been left a reasonable provision.

Control, Leverage and Letting Go of Relationships

As mediator I see hundreds of couples at the point where they are negotiating their arrangements for separation and divorce. It is fascinating. Many of them say they ‘Just want what is fair’ and that ‘They just want to sort it all out as quickly as possible’. They may well then embark on behaviour and an approach to negotiations that will ensure exactly the opposite happens, it does not get sorted quickly and what they want is what the want and it may not be fair. They bring their couple boundaries into mediation where they have to be managed by me as the mediator to achieve a fair negotiating balance between the parties to mediation. So the so-called controller will have to let go of his or her influence over their ex partner and they will find this very hard. As mediation progresses it often becomes clear that the couple will never agree what is fair because this is an opinion seen through the lens of their self interest. It is possible to argue endlessly about fairness and people often feel very strongly about certain things, even when in law these things may make no difference at all. In most cases the main question is ‘How can these assets provide for you both and any children? What is practical?’ On divorce there is no forensic accounting and handing back of contributions made 20 years ago and the partner who has worked in the home childrearing and housekeeping is treated equally to the partner who has earned the income on which the family has lived.

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Controllers may seek to use their historic influence in negotiating their settlement in mediation. An effective mediator helps the couple to re-define their couple boundaries, especially the ones relating to influence and control and re-balance the two people on a consciously more equal footing, something both necessary and extremely uncomfortable. An example may help:

Towards the end of the mediation when the issues have almost been resolved, one party may hesitate, and delay booking the final session. They may raise additional issues and appear to start new or old arguments, running the risk the mediation will collapse and court will be the only option, this holding the couple stuck in their existing boundaries for longer with historic levels of control and influence. What are they afraid of? They may be unconsciously afraid of losing control or influence of their nearly ex partner.

My heart always sinks if I hear someone worrying about ‘Leverage’. That is not a good word, it imports a world of meaning associated with the exploitation of a dominant negotiating position to exercise non consensual control. The controller will fear loss of control mightily and will seek to retain it. They may well also complain bitterly about lack of communication with the controlled or leveraged person. They will not understand the connection between the leverage they are accustomed to exercising and their poor communication with their victim. As I said to one divorcing man recently, as he twitched nervously about his loss of financial leverage on settling his finances with his ex wife, ‘Have you ever thought if you didn’t have any leverage over her, your relationship with her might improve and with it your ability to communicate over your children?’ He looked at me with real fear and lack of comprehension, so I held his eyes and said ‘Just think about it!’

What has Love to do with family breakdown?

Everything, says Mary at Focus Mediation. First, lets us look at the meaning of Love, as expressed by Louis de Bernières in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.

You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together
that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.

Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.

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That is just being “in love” which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and
this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other
underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their
branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”

As a mediator I see the anger and pain caused when couples are separating their roots. Everyone has roots. If you are in a relationship, you will be entwined to some degree. Even if emotionally you have grown apart, there are still the family ties, the social, financial bonds and your home. Separating is hard, and even when it is right for you – but especially if you don’t want to end the relationship, it needs to be done with sensitivity and care. Teasing the roots apart carefully, mindfully and with the help of a mediator, is faster, more affordable – and vitally causes far less damage to people and their children, than chain-sawing away via the courts or the tussles of positional bargaining through lawyers. Think about it.

Controllers – Do They Come in Pairs?

Often in mediation we see the couple separately for their first meetings. This gives people an opportunity to be very frank and open about their situation. Often one will say “S/he’s a controller, and I’m unsure I can cope with mediation!” Then the other person comes and says the same. What might be happening? Each clearly feels they’re not getting their way enough. They have come to resent and oppose the control or influence involved in being part of a couple. Whether this is reasonable or unreasonable as a matter of opinion.

So for example, if Harry went out alone to the pub every night, their partner might object, then Harry might complain of being controlled, but who would be at fault?

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What if John complained Sally spent too much money on shoes and the family had a huge debts and Sally had 1000 pairs of shoes? Sally might say John was controlling, if he tried to stop Sally buying shoes, but would his actions be inappropriate and who would be at fault?

These exchanges are the overt text, the surface conversation. What is really going on is what I call the subtext and it is the subtext that is so interesting. It is a matter of opinion whether there are inappropriate control issues as opposed to an expectation of a reasonable conversation about something important with the person with whom you share your life. A conversation might be initiated by the so called controller in the hope of influencing the other person to change behaviour which they feel is threatening the foundation of the relationship. Whether this attempt to influence or control is reasonable or unreasonable is depends on your point of view. If the relationship is strong these exchanges are productive, useful and keep the relationship on a sound footing. If the relationship is struggling, the exchanges may become aggressive, negative, recriminatory or  accusatory. Things may have gone too far for the couple to put things right, however much talking they do. Perhaps reasonable exchanges about what is fair and right in a relationship needed to be had years before, before the situation became irretrievable. So influencing your partner through rational discussion is vital to a healthy relationship. This is appropriate and to be expected.

However, it is easy to think of situations where one person is seeking to control the other inappropriately. Examples might be trying to prevent them seeing their friends and family, to cut them off from other relationships, force them to eat, drink or dress in a certain way, or control their conversation, thoughts or beliefs. These would be issues where controlling behaviour would be inappropriate and usually wrong. So accusations of control need exploration and not just to be accepted at face value. We need to unpick the behaviour behind the assertions and ask what is really going on.

So people should change their understanding of the word ‘Control’ and dig deeper. They should think about what is really being asked, is it a reasonable or unreasonable request?

At the point where the so called controller says, in answer to a question about a request: “OK, it doesn’t matter, it’s not important.” there are two possibilities:

The first is just that it’s not important

the second is in getting close to terminal – they giving up on both on their partner and the relationship, it doesn’t matter any more. Then they may well find themselves in family mediation, quite possibly with me, saying “My ex is a controller . . . ”

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

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