Tag Archives: Family law

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

 

 

The Huge Cost of Court Proceedings

The chairman of the Laura Ashley  Khoo Kay Peng has been ordered by the High Court this February to make an offer to Pauline Chai his estranged wife to end legal battle that has  cost him £6.1million in legal costs. Mr Justice Bodey gave his lawyers a 21 day ultimatum.

The case which at one stage was also running  in Malaysia, is one of the most expensive divorce cases ever to come before the UK courts.

Costs began to increase dramatically when Khoo fought and lost a bid to have the divorce decided in the Malaysian courts. Chai, who was Miss Malaysia 1969, won the argument that London was the appropriate location.

The Judge ordered “open offers of settlement” to be made by both sides, and said at a case management hearing: “I am striving to exercise some control over this titanic case. Otherwise the case will inevitably proceed on its expensive way to the detriment of the parties and the court’s resources. The actual resolution of the finances of this couple, who have more money between them than they could spend in their lifetimes, has unfortunately taken a second seat. The legal costs bill is going on for £6m at a stage where the case has barely reached the first fence.”

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Chai, 69, alleged that Koo,77, was worth more than £440 million and earned £5.4 million a year. They have five grown up children and she maintains that she is entitled to half of his fortune. He disputes her claim and maintains that his assets are worth £66 million.

The couple married in December 1970 and separated on Valentine’s Day 2013. A decree nisi was pronounced in January this year and is due to be made absolute later this month.

They bought their first property in England – Wentworth Park – in 1995, and then five years later acquired the 1,000-acre Rossway Park estate at Berkhamstead. Khoo has indirect interests in a variety of businesses through two holding companies in Malaysia as well as substantial holdings in Laura Ashley and Corus Hotels.

Although the figures and costs are extreme many couples who navigate financial proceedings within divorce in this country will be all too familiar with the huge cost of court proceedings to them. If a case reaches or nears a final hearing both parties can incur upwards of tens of thousands in legal costs and certainly many thousands for the first few hearings.

Here at Focus we offer mediation as an alternative route to resolve these disputes by allowing a separating couple to discuss various options with a trained mediator thus avoiding lengthy court battles and the stress that this entails. Throughout the process they both work with the mediator to help them reach an agreement that they are both comfortable with. Mediation gives the couple a degree of control over the speed and cost and is quicker and less expensive than court proceedings. Some couples prefer to have their lawyers with them at mediation. This can be arranged with a dual trained Focus mediator able to use the One Day civil model of mediation, which results in a binding agreement being drawn up by the lawyers on the day.

For more information please click on our website.

Tara Deegan

A Safe Place to Talk?

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

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

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

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

How things end is even more important than how they began

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

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

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

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

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

Why choose Focus Mediation in Hemel Hempstead, St Albans or Watford.

If you are looking for help with separation or divorce, and you live in or around Hemel HempsteadSt Albans or Watford, you have come to the right place.

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Mediation is the new way to approach divorce and separation. You can discuss how best to share your parenting focusing on the children’s needs. It can be a worry as to how you are going to manage financially. We can work with you, look at your budgets and sort out a plan that makes it possible for you both to go forward.

Your Focus mediator will help you negotiate the settlement that you feel suits you both, speeding up the process and dramatically cutting your costs. Focus works with you at your pace, efficiently and cost effectively to help you sort everything out. Our mediators work full time on family mediation: they have chosen to specialise in family mediation because they believe that it is a positive way forward for separating family. Focus mediators are family mediation specialists who have mediated for hundreds of couples – and this experience shows.

House prices, Living Standards and Separating in London

Londoners are considered to enjoy to most affluent living standards in the UK. With salaries above the national average and house prices considered to be out of reach of those not already on the London property ladder, might be less fraught.

The reality however can be far from that. London house prices are out of kilter with the rest of the UK. The Evening Standard reported recently house price increases of 18.8 per cent in the last year and that is on prices already massively higher than anywhere else in the country. When a couple is considering what to do with their family home and where they can both live if they split up, ever rising house prices make it difficult for them just to agree a valuation. What may be accurate at the start of their separation can within a matter of months have changed out of all recognition if the market has risen madly.

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London Focus Mediators are aware of the particular difficulties facing London couples and will help both parties throughout their mediation face the tricky issues specifically relating to living in London.

It is of note that whilst house prices are higher than anywhere else in the UK the Evening Standard goes on to report there is an increasing crunch on London family budgets.

“The fall in average London pay is likely to be caused partly by smaller City bonuses, and cuts in the number of relatively well paid managers in the public sector.”

November 2014 figures suggested the era of falling real wages since the banking crisis may finally be ending, with pay just starting to outpace inflation.  But today Matthew Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said that in real terms wages were at the same level as in 2000.

“Today’s bleak figures contrast with signs last week that the UK’s six-year pay squeeze was coming to an end,” he added.  “While the [new] data relates to April — a period in which we already knew pay was falling— the depth of decline highlights just how tentative any recent recovery remains.”

Faced with these economic peculiarities, It is key to work with a mediator in touch with the problems facing Londoners. The process of mediation allows such issues to be flagged up at the outset and dealt with in a controlled and professional way, helping separating couples to set their agenda and deal with the particular issues affecting them and their family.

For more information or to contact us CLICK HERE

Voice of the Child

Simon Hughes in his speech to the Family Justice Young People’s Board “Voice of the Child” conference in July 2014, made a commitment to providing children over 10 with the opportunity to be heard in family proceedings. He stated that there will be a dialogue with the family mediation profession about how we make sure that the voice of the child and young person becomes a central part of the process of family mediation. He accepted that it cannot be right that parents mediate an agreement affecting their child or children and then ask the court to make the agreement into a binding order in the absence of the children’s voice being heard.

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Children’s voices are often not heard or listened to in the process of separation. In the court process children’s views are often interpreted by adults, with the best of intentions. If parents are able to hear their children’s views directly it can have a profound effect on their approach to finding solutions.

Research has shown that being listened to and heard is much more important to children and young people than actually getting what they want.

A new website has just recently been launched that aims to give children and young people a voice. Kids in the Middle provides help and support to young people aged between 11 and 18 when their families separate. Young people spend a great deal of time on line and on social media. The Kids in the Middle website is an ideal platform for the provision of information and a place young people will feel at home.

Kids in the Middle is a registered charity backed by young people and by family law and mediation firms. Much of the money used to set up the website was raised by young people themselves. On the website young people in separating families can hear the stories of their peers. It is so important that they know they are not alone. The website is by young people for young people. It gives them a voice and shows parents what their children are really thinking and feeling. There are helpful videos on the site and users can upload blogs and videos. Kids in the Middle provides a peer mentoring and counselling service to help improve emotional well being and resilience and to help young people develop positive coping strategies. There are three levels of support: self-help, advice and support and counselling.

Focus Mediators recommend the site to any parents with children aged 11 and over. Kids in the Middle hope to be able to extend the age range to younger children in due course. This is a fantastic resource and we hope it will be able to help many young people who currently feel as though they don’t have a voice in the process of separation.

Focus Mediation has been committed to listening to children where appropriate for many years, long before it became fashionable. Most of our family mediators are trained and CRB checked to consult with children to establish their wishes and feelings, so they can help inform parental decision-making.

CONTACT FOCUS MEDIATION

Bring Back the Calderbank – Stop Mad Litigation

A few years ago when people divorced they were encouraged to make offers to settle that were “Without Prejudice Save As To Costs”. These were known as Calderbank offers, after the name of the divorce case in which they were first made. The idea was you made these without prejudice offers that the judge would see at your appointment to try and settle the case – and they would try to use them to help people settle. There’d also be open offers that the judge would see. These would usually be very positional, by which I mean they’d be at the extreme end of what was likely to be the outcome, so were pretty useless – and we still have them.

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People are afraid to tell the judge what they’d really pay to settle in case s/he plays split the difference and they end up with an unfair settlement. So there’d be this hidden second tier of offers called the Calderbanks. These were always without prejudice, which meant the judge at trial didn’t get to see them and they couldn’t prejudice his or her decision-making. These Calderbank offers were a very serious matter. People had to put their money where their mouth was. If you put in a good Calderbank offer, then the other side was at risk of having to pay your costs from one month after the Calderbank offer was made. You’d usually get your costs if your Calderbank offer was better than the trail judge’s award – so if you beat the judgment, you got your costs. This really focused minds. Your lawyers would tell you if they thought you might end up having to pay the other side’s costs. It made people think and make sensible offers. It made a lot of cases settle earlier than they do now.

 These days there are no costs consequences to taking up an unreasonable position, as each side pays their own costs. Now people can just mouth any old rubbish, be as unreasonable as they like, yet still each side must normally pay their own costs. The total costs are paid from the assets before they’re split, so effectively you pay half of the total costs each – or half of each other’s costs. This can be a bit unfair if one party has very expensive lawyers or is unrepresented, but it’s just how it works. There is no incentive to be reasonable.

 In non family civil cases, people still have the equivalent of the Calderbank offer system. It does help prevent unreasonable negotiating positions. I think we should bring it back and didn’t agree with its removal in the first place, as it allows people to hold out for unfair negotiating positions with impunity. It forces the reasonable person to go to trial or settle for less than they should get, with no costs consequences. Mad!

Bloody mindedness

When people are hurt, they often like to hurt back.

An eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth and all that. If s/he left me to go off with that bastard/bitch, they must suffer for it. They will suffer, I’ll make sure of it, even if I lose out too, it will be worth it!  Does anyone ever say that in mediation? Rarely if ever, but they may think it and take up inexplicable negotiating positions or prolong arguments over nothing. They can be very bloody minded over sorting the simplest things out. There are reasons for this, such as they cannot let go of the relationship, cannot leave the connection with their ex, they are desperate to ‘win’ so have to keep fighting, they want to have the ‘last word’ and/or their fury fuels the conflict and then the conflict finds an outlet in:

  • Quarrelsome solicitors’ letters setting out endless arguments about anything and everything, much of may be it immaterial to settling the important issues like who gets the house or is it sold, what happens about pensions and the maintenance? If people fight over silly things you know you are in trouble, so the food mixer or kettle is an indication they are dredging the bottom of the barrel and this is caused by their feelings, not the importance of the bottom of the barrel.
  • Putting forward extremely unfair positions that would make the other person lose out massively (punishment, ‘make them suffer’)
  • And worst of all, arguing through the children, using them as weapons and instruments of revenge, getting them ‘onside’ and trying to turn them against their other parent.
"Divorce Your Loved One With Dignity" Bob Willoughby © , Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

Bob Willoughby © Frank Sinatra, on the Warner Brothers set of Marriage On The Rocks, 1965

On the surface you have an argument, often translated into a legal narrative of this statute and these cases, versus a countering position and cases. That is the lawyers’ attempts to try and reduce the fighting into something logical, with rational arguments that can be explained and reasoned. Mostly the parties don’t give a damn about all that, what they mind about is getting back at the bastard/ bitch who has ruined their life. This isn’t every case by any means, but it is common enough to be classified as a type of case I think of as ‘Bloodymindedness’.

If you know someone who has embarked on a divorce in this manner and you really care about them, you won’t simply listen to their rantings, you’ll gently question some of their statements and turn some of their thoughts on their head. For example, you might ask what the costs of fighting have been so far and talk about the type of holiday, car or suchlike they could have bought for that instead. If they blame it all on the other person, you might ask them what they did to try to change the dynamic. If they have tried, and many will have done, you might observe it is very difficult to get two warring people to make peace simultaneously, as they often both try, but at different times and get a bad response.

The beauty of mediating your settlement, arrangements for the children, divorce, whatever, is you go off from your first session together with a shared action-plan and joint commitment to changing boundaries and behaving differently. You can develop functional separated boundaries, with some rules you put in place about what ever is causing difficulty. Solicitors’ letters will not accomplish that. Mediation can turn things around and put you on a better path, people need to understand about that possibility, because it is game changing, and thank goodness for it.

Think of it as an escape hatch from misery for families who are splitting up.