Tag Archives: Grief

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.

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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!

So much for justice, we’ve learned to live with an unfair dysfunctional system and find weird ways around the worst problems it causes. Just don’t expect it to make sense!

Many Divorces are based on lies, but you can’t defend them. 

Countless times it turns out in mediation that two people, who experienced the same event, interpreted it totally differently. Each understood what was happening in their own way, then afterwards, thought about it and overlaid it with different layers of meaning from their reflections about what happened. The most common issue in the early stages of family breakdown is whose fault it was that the marriage broke down. One may say it was the affair, but the other may say it was the constant rows, their poor relationship that pre-dated the affair. It will often feel desperately important to people to feel their conscience is clear and the break up wasn’t their fault. Many people find it impossible to believe that if it’s not your fault you don’t get a better settlement. Of course, they may think if they make the other person feel bad enough, guilt may help them to a greater share of the money. That is usually not the case.

Whilst defended divorces are rare these days they do still happen. The person who defends usually does so because they feel the divorce petition is a lie. They usually agree the marriage is over and then they usually cross petition, as they want the divorce to be granted on the basis the other person was to blame, and so their cross petition sets out all the reasons their spouse has actually caused the marriage to end.

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In a divorce based on fault not separation, the petition has to be based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour and in either case it has to be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage in the sense of make that particular petitioner feel they can’t live with that respondent. So it is very personal to them and doesn’t have to reach a level of proof such that a reasonable person would find it intolerable to live with the petitioner. If the petitioner has forgiven the behaviour or adultery, then it cannot be used in the petition, so it’s no good dragging up ancient history. Forgiven has a specific meaning and if you have lived with the respondent for a period or periods together totalling six months or more since you found out about the behaviour or adultery, then you cannot rely on it in your divorce petition. This can cause a lot of injustice. So a spouse who tried hard to forgive someone for committing adultery and struggled on in the marriage but later called it a day, may not be able to rely on that adultery to divorce their spouse, unless it is continuing or continued to within six months of the petition.  It doesn’t matter that it was actually the reason for the break-down. To add insult to injury, if after separation the injured party then has an affair, most people would say that didn’t cause the marriage break-down, but it is still legally adultery and what’s more it may well be the only adultery that can be used in the petition, as it hasn’t been legally forgiven!  To make it even worse, if you are the respondent you can find yourself facing an order you pay the divorce costs! So plenty of room for unfairness and dispute.

Where petitions based on adultery are concerned, you only need a sentence saying the respondent has committed adultery with someone the respondent doesn’t name, they find it intolerable to live with the respondent and seek a divorce. You can no longer muck rake by dragging in the name of the person who you think they committed adultery with, so no more co-respondents.

The other fault-based petition is founded on unreasonable behaviour and more detail has to be given to justify the divorce. There is an old rule of thumb of half a side of A4 and a few paragraphs. So typically a few lines of general outline, followed by the first, the worst and the last, then a concluding paragraph saying the effect the unreasonable behaviour has had on the respondent, for example, made them depressed, miserable, sleepless, feel deeply unhappy and unloved – and importantly that the marriage is over and they seek to end it with a divorce.

In those rare cases when divorces are defended, the court does everything in its power to stop it. We at Focus Mediation have over our fifteen years and approaching ten thousand cases, mediated a number of defended divorces with cross petitions. They usually end in the same way. Either and usually both the petition and cross petition is amended to remove the most offensive allegations, then the divorce proceeds on the basis of both petition and cross petition, with usually no order for costs. Normally the costs by then will be £3,000 – £10,000 between the parties, money completely down the drain and each will usually pay their own costs. Many hours will be spent arguing over the detail of the reasons for the divorce, because it feels so important to that couple, but not actually because it is important in any way that matters.

Sometimes the respondent may feel that the allegations touch on and criticise their handling of the children and might cause troubles over them having the children if not challenged. There is even a way around this. You can say the divorce particulars are not agreed, but you’ll allow the divorce to proceed on the basis that the fact you have not defended it does not mean you accept the petition and the fact it wasn’t defended cannot be relied on as evidence it was true in the context of any other proceedings. Job done, you can produce that letter at court if you need to in those other proceedings if such ever occur. Then it’s likely the court would make you plead that behaviour again and prove it in those other proceedings.

Judges hate defended divorces with a passion and they do all they can to stop them. If you defend you can expect a drubbing at court, even though you may feel outraged at what is happening to you, the judge will be just as outraged you could defend a divorce in their court, so not much sympathy there.

So in conclusion, divorce petitions must follow technical rules and cannot just be about what you feel is the reason for the divorce. Often they will be about something different, but it qualifies as the legal grounds for the divorce, which may not be the real reason your marriage ended at all. This may make you mad and upset, but as we all know the Law’s an ass, so don’t expect the judge to agree with you or think you’ll get “Justice” because you won’t. Sorry, but don’t be silly! You can’t  go to court for justice on your divorce, who cares whose fault it is? Only you.  The judge will not let you have your day in court, not if they can help it.

The answer is to change the Law to stop all this, they were going to do that many moons ago, but dropped it. The tabloids were out-raged that people would just get divorced for no reason; the government had to drop the Bill. So here we are still with antiquated divorce laws that make a sad situation worse and make people wash their dirty linen in public, so to speak. Mad, bad and stupid divorce laws do nothing to ease the path of broken hearts to a civilised divorce. They encourage arguments then deny the right of reply and the use of the courts to establish truth. So many divorces are based on lies and lawyers can do nothing about it, save advise people to bite the bullet and let it go – along with the marriage.
Mediation at least helps you end it with dignity and kindness.

Important stages in family break-down

Understanding where you are on the journey makes finding your way easier

Usually, one half of the couple initiates the split. They may well have been thinking about the future of the relationship for some time, usually not saying anything to their partner, in case they were wrong and not wanting to make it worse, until they were sure.  When they break the news to their partner that the relationship is over, it means the other person has a lot of emotional catching up to do. Immediately you have the problem of two people being in completely different emotional stages on the grieving cycle. When we mediate for such couples, it is difficult to go fast enough for one or slow enough for the other. It is unhelpful to say things like ‘it’s over, get over it’. There isn’t a get over it switch! Then add to the mix other people, children, friends and family, then the cast of possible professionals who might help, and you are set for a busy time.

 

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So here is the timetable:

    • One partner decides relationship is over, this may have taken then years to decide

 

    • Tells partner

 

    • Period of shock and recriminations – 52 card pick-up

 

    • Partner needs time to adjust to the idea, is often unstable and upset. They have to work through the grieving cycle, so denial, anger, blame, crying, depression, moving on eventually to recovery, acceptance, moving on

 

    • Telling children and extended family and friends makes it real and retraction becomes increasingly unlikely

 

    • Children start on their own cycle of loss and grief

 

    • Couple considers how to sort it out. May seek help from doctors, counsellors, solicitors, mediators.

 

    • Couple may be confused about resolution options, timescale and comparative costs

 

    • Couple may be afraid if they don’t ‘get tough’ they may lose out

 

 

    • Adjustment to separation brings calmer consideration of less nuclear options for sorting out the  future

 

    • Some couples can agree much themselves, some can’t agree anything

 

 

    • Couple chooses resolution option that feels best to them and starts it

 

    • Some change their minds, e.g. Start court proceedings then mediate or vice versa

 

 

However people sort things out, it does take some time. This is partly emotional recovery time and partly the time taken by the chosen route to resolution. The fact is that mediation is by far the fastest and most cost effective process for sorting out separation and divorce and therefore it makes sense to use it first and only choose more expensive and adversarial options if you have to.

 

Make it better not worse – mediate first.

 

Hearing about Mediation before you can apply to Court – why it’s a good idea.

The Children and Families Act came into force on 22nd of April 2014. For the first time it requires would be applicants to court to hear about mediation and how it might be able to help them, before making their court application. This simply gives them a choice of court or mediation before they embark on the court route. As such it is a useful intervention. This meeting is fast becoming known as a ‘mediation awareness meeting’? Its formal name is  the Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting or MIAM.

A qualified mediator will tell couples about mediation and the alternatives to court adjudication. This is greatly needed, as put simply, if mediators don’t tell people about how mediation may help them, mostly people do not understand it and don’t try mediation. Before the compulsory referral to hear about mediation from a mediator in 1999, there were only a few hundred mediations a year. After legal aid applicants had to hear about mediation from a mediator in 1999, this rose to about 13,500 mediations a year and it has stayed about the same every year that is until last May, when all compulsory referrals to a mediator for mediation assessment stopped, along with the abolition of legal aid for family cases. Then, couples unaware of mediation simply went straight to court and the number of court applications has increased massively everywhere, with many fewer mediations taking place. The fact is, in many cases lawyers do not sell mediation, they are more likely to sell legal services and to negotiate the case in a conventional, positional way. This increase in adversarial resolution is bad for families, turning them into opponents in what is often an expensive, long drawn out ‘ping pong’ of letters and court hearings.

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Compulsory mediation awareness meetings do not mean compulsory mediation, nevertheless many people will choose to go on to mediate and save themselves and their families a great deal of time, money and avoidable stress. If some family lawyers don’t like it, and it is only some lawyers, we have to ask why are they so worried about people simply hearing what mediation has to offer? They don’t have to mediate and no one is saying people should not hear about the legal resolution methods. If people need to go to court, they can still go to court, if they want lawyers to write letters then they can pay for that, but a tiny proportion of cases do actually get decided by a judge, so deciding them even earlier in mediation seems like a good idea to most people.

The reality is that in most disputes over children, the worst thing that can happen to a family is a brutal fight over the children, replete with welfare reports, adversarial arguments and adjudication or shuttle diplomacy between lawyers at court, cobbling something together under immense pressure and making that into an order. A series of mediation sessions over a few weeks or months with changes being introduced and reviewed, improvements made and children’s views taken on board where possible, is just so much better for most families.

Where property and finance issues are concerned, mediation has a massively important role to play in resolving settlements quickly and at proportionate cost. How much do you think should be spent on legal fees  of resolving a financial settlement on divorce? Should it be 10% , 20% or some other proportion of the overall value of the family pot?  This is the thorny problem the courts are not addressing. There is a court rule that the legal costs must be proportionate to the value of a dispute. This is universally ignored, as it seems to convey no meaning to the judges or the legal representatives. It is common for the costs to be half or even more of the value of the dispute – where is the sense in that? If you bear in mind that in most family cases, unless it’s a very short marriage or there’s a pre nup, there is a starting point or yardstick of equal division of the assets, then the value of the dispute is probably no more than between 10% to 25% of the overall pot. Legal costs frequently exceed 10% to 25% of the value of the family pot. How can that to be regarded as proportionate to the value of the dispute? It isn’t proportionate at all.

So, in a nutshell, the changes with regard to compulsory mediation assessment meetings brought in by the Children and Families Act are mostly welcome and long overdue.  Compulsory mediation meetings before court applications can be made will enable a significant number of families to avoid court proceedings and expensive legal costs by choosing mediation, once they know how it can help them. Previously, they often simply issued proceedings and the legal route was the default option. Now a real choice is being offered and it is up to mediators and lawyers alike to help couples make the best choice for their family, taking into account everything relevant to the family.  It is the couple that matters most and finding the best way forward for them, not what matters to the lawyer or the mediator – selling the service they prefer to sell. The family is at the heart of separation and divorce, how they sort out their arrangements, which process they use, should be an informed decision they take and the advent of mediation assessment will help ensure public awareness of mediation when they need it most.

Defusing Arguments

Why argue? The instinct is to try and persuade the other person you are right and they are wrong. In return they are likely to try and persuade you they are right, so the debate begins. Sometimes issues are clarified and a shared understanding emerges, that is a good outcome, but often the opposite happens.  Commonly the dispute is more about the relationship and not wanting to back down, than reaching a shared understanding. Sometimes the original issues are forgotten or changed as the conflict mounts, especially if the debate becomes personal (“that is so typical of you, you don’t give a stuff about anyone . . .’)

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Once the dispute gets personal, the scene is set for the conflict to escalate and damage  or even destroy the relationship. Sometimes the reason for the conflict IS the relationship, which may involve toxic dynamics that cause endless conflict. The problem is the conflict, not the apparent issue, you know this for sure if there are constant or repeated arguments about anything and everything.

So the argument is the outlet for the conflict, which has a life of its own. One person may try to stop the argument, but the other may block this, arguing relentlessly, expanding the area of disagreement, dragging up old grudges and inventing new ones. Mediators know about conflict, they start where the conflict is, not with the presenting disagreement, as that is often incidental.

How can you defuse arguments?

Well, first of all start where the other person is. Listen to them, understand what they are saying, show that you understand by summarising to them what they told you. Then ask them a question about it, make them think, perhaps they might not be exactly right? Always focus on the issues and speak calmly and precisely, preferably don’t sound as though you are laying down the law. Better to be questioning as people always believe things they work out for themselves. Carefully avoid personal attacks and adopt logical explanatory reasoning, never blowing things out of proportion or attacking the other person.  Suggest adjourning the discussion to another time, when everyone has calmed down. Say you want to ‘think’ thus introducing the idea that people can change their minds thoughtfully without loss of face and power.  Try not to tell or boss  the other person, instead ask them relevant questions, which may begin ‘What if . . ‘ or ‘do you think that . . .?

Mediation and the Law – a big change is happening

When businesses and families have serious rows everything can seem insoluble and legal action may follow.  However, emotions and old grudges may cause a dispute that has nothing to do with the apparent “legal problem” everyone thinks they are arguing about. For example, I mediated a dispute between a spouse and the siblings of an elderly patient with dementia, about who should spend what time with the patient and control his care and welfare decisions. The spouse was distraught and felt threatened at the demands of the sibling group, who had little trust in her.  This was resolved in one day after nearly a year’s legal wrangling, court proceedings and after legal costs of over £30,000 had been spent.  This was not about legal niceties – there was no dispute about money or the law.  It was about grief, loss and the human tendency to displace impossible grief into something controllable, like a big row over something.

The only option for lawyers is to sift the evidence and translate it into a legal narrative – that is their role.  The difficult relationship between people, their struggle with each other, their relationships – that is often the real problem.  A trial or solicitors’ letters can be like amputating a leg, because someone has an infection. It’s as much use.

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So imagine a huge row – about a will, a sick relative, a business – or a commercial dispute between people who work together, or about a contract – wherever there are people – there will be disagreements.  It is human nature.  Each participant comes at it with their own interpretation of the “truth” with their own beliefs, which tend to be re-enforced through debate, as people don’t want to back down. The conventional, legal ritual inflames the conflict drivers of the dispute, so it escalates.  The Law concerns itself with the evidence and legal issues – but those are often not what matters to people. Mediation reaches the conflict drivers, the beliefs and misunderstandings that fuel disputes. Mediation is far more likely to resolve the argument, as it deals with a far wider range of issues than the law can.

Given the success of mediation at sorting out disputes, it is a wonder it isn’t a first choice for anyone with a possible court application, but it hasn’t been so far. This is because the allure of court is that the judge will agree with you and the other person will be found to be “wrong” or “at fault” People want to be found to be “right”, it is much more appealing than a settlement. The problem is, usually both parties think they are right and the law of averages says half must be wrong!

The court costs are huge, they frequently dwarf the financial value of the issue being mediated – then everyone loses out.  The court timescale is long, but by the time the proceedings are under way, it can feel there’s no way out. However, since April the courts are increasingly directing people to mediation. The tide is turning in favour of fast and affordable, non-adjudicated resolution in mediation for all disputes, whether commercial or family. Our experienced specialist mediation team are proud to be mediation experts.

The Grieving Cycle and Relationship Break Down

When a relationship breaks down one party leaves and wants to separate. The person who is left can feel angry, abandoned, a high level of anxiety, hurt and a sense of loss. These feelings are similar to those we experience during bereavement and the separation and divorce process can be very like the grieving cycle. It is intense – love turns into anger, anger into sadness and despair. Deeply hurt, we lash out, get a solicitor, apply to the courts and try to hurt the one who hurt us. The result is usually emotionally and financially catastrophic.

In discussing death, Dr Kübler-Ross identified stages of grief that can be aligned to the emotions experienced during a relationship breakdown: shock, denial, hope, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Stages of the Grief Cycle

When couples engage in mediation one partner may be more recovered emotionally and ready to negotiate child contact and/or finances. The one who is still trying to adjust the breakdown of the relationship may well be lurching through the emotions of anger, bargaining, depression denial and hope. The emotions loop and intertwine as understanding of the situation is explored, but time is a great healer. Although both partners may be at different stages of adjusting to the separation, mediation can facilitate that adjustment and understanding and help the separating couple focus on the future. Parents are encouraged to communicate and consider the impact the separation is having on their children and their ability to build a future as separated parents.

Understanding where you are in the cycle of emotions and that there will be a moving on and recovery helps in the recovery process. Mediation is a humane way of sorting everything out, allowing each of you to proceed at the pace you can cope with and in a problem solving way, without becoming opponents in a fight.

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