Tag Archives: family mediation

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.

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

Jacket Pockets

When people split up they often try to get the better of the other person. They most often fight about money. Resources feel scarce. You may think if the other person has more, you will have less. This seems unfair and a struggle for money can begin. However, our instincts lead us astray so often in this situation. Why? Simply because if the case is decided by a judge or when it is settled by agreement, all the assets and liabilities are added up and the total divided very often equally but in any event what each person has spent has gone, so making your ex pay for something makes no difference, as their position is taken onto account and you’ll pay half. Whatever has been spent on anything is effectively paid pretty mulch equally once those assets are split, as each party’s current position is added into the pot and that effectively takes their spending pre settlement into account. Examples include:

  • Bank accounts and investments
  • Properties
  • Pensions
  • Credit cards and debt

The way to think of it is as a jacket with lots of pockets. The pockets have money or debt in them. The up to date value of the pockets will normally be used in the settlement or judgment. Very occasionally someone may succeed in an adding back argument, for example, adding back a significant value they argue the other person has squandered in some way or applied in a way that is prejudicial to the outcome. Much would depend on scale and if the application of money was unusual and prejudicial to the person who had no control or say in it.

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Very often couples argue fiercely over which pocket something is paid from. They don’t want it paid from ‘their’ pocket, it must come from the other person’s pocket. This is an illusion when the pockets are totalled as it simply makes no difference.

Recently I was mediating a case where everyone got very bogged down in pockets arguments. Even their advisers struggled to remember it was all one jacket. Each was taking the same drawings from their business and getting their bills paid on top, they were ticking over OK, but one wasn’t paid any child support, the other wanted child support. This would mean the other person didn’t have enough to live on, they would have to take more from the business or get into debt. It was a joint business, so very much a one jacket situation. There needed to be a discussion about the extra costs of the children and an agreement for that to be met where it arose. However there was a feeling of outrage no child support was being paid. It looked as though an application to the Child Maintenance Service would be made. This would result in an assessment on historic and very high figures that would necessarily involve the paying person having to take more from one jacket pocket to pay it, even if it was overdraft and debt, and then later it would be taken into account. These people has agreed to take less from their business not more, so the whole argument was a pointless totemic argument over the contents of the pockets of the same jacket, the jacket they were going to be splitting between them anyway and they had agreed it would be split equally! Other examples include:

  • Someone making a big pension contribution to take money off the balance sheet and out of their pocket – it does no such thing, as the pension is part of the jacket and the contribution and its tax relief is included and split!.
  • Buying an expensive car then seeking to depreciate it as it isn’t new any more – this takes money off the balance sheet, but the car is usually included at its purchase price
  • Leaving money undrawn in a business controlled by one party, in the hope no one will include the full value of the undrawn capital or take into account the undrawn income as relevant to maintenance. It has to be one or the other. It is usually quantified and included.

I have lost count of how often this type of thing happens and people think their thinking is so original and they are so clever and they will get more in ‘their’ pockets and be better off. People who work with separating couples for long will have come across all this countless times, they know where the bodies are buried!  How ferociously people fight over all this – when it doesn’t matter. Thought you should know, just in case it affects you. You’d be better of saving your breath to cool your porridge, as they say. For more case studies, please visit: http://www.focus-mediation.co.uk/case-studies

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.

Financial Settlements on Family Breakdown – How to Get it Done.

Mediators and lawyers have their own role to play in helping you to reach decisions following on from your separation.  Most of the hard work is done by you both during the mediation sessions.  The two of you will discuss the issues that need to be resolved, with the help of the mediator.  The mediator is there to help you to communicate in a constructive way while your respective lawyers will help you individually by advising you about the proposals.   They can then translate the settlement proposals into a legally binding agreement or submit it to the court for the court’s approval.

An out of court settlement is something you often hear about.  It is a settlement that is often reached within the mediation process.  It can then be endorsed and approved by the court to make it legally binding.

two mannequins fighting over 100 dollars

For a financial settlement to be binding it is important that both of you disclose to each other your respective financial positions.   This would be the same whether your settlement was reached through mediation, through solicitors or through court.  You cannot come to an agreement if you don’t know what the assets and incomes are.  This process is called full financial disclosure.  You are then able to have discussions and negotiate a settlement   Even in court most settlements are reached through discussion and negotiation rather than the Judge making your decisions for you.  In mediation, you can go straight to those discussions after the financial disclosure stage, without waiting for the court to give you appointments and paying for costly court fees, and solicitors’ and barristers’ costs.

Just because you and your ex can’t communicate doesn’t mean that you have to go to court.  Mediation can help you look at how your relationship can be improved to enable you to resolve your issues, particularly communication.  You can become more co-operative and make your own decisions together.  The benefit of mediation is that it is the two of you who will be making the decisions about you and your children, rather than having a Judge decide what is best for your future.

Do you think that you will be better able to communicate if you have solicitors writing letters between you?  No, I suspect not too.  Often what you said and what you meant can get misunderstood or blurred by using a third party.  The advantage of mediation is that you are both putting forward your views and the other can listen and respond at the time, not 2 or 3 weeks later.  The mediator can help by translating and clarifying if necessary.  Then, in a constructive and problem-solving way you talk through the options and work out what is best for your separated family. Then you do it, job done!

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