Tag Archives: Legal aid

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!

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.

The Children and Families Act 2014 – Family Law is Changing

Heralded as the biggest change to the family law system in a generation, will today’s changes to the family legal system make any difference to real families? Certainly, shortening the time taken   for important cases about children in care to be decided by the courts will be a big improvement.  Children caught up in the care system were previously waiting over a year for their cases to be decided, which is far too long and very bad for those children’s happiness and life chances. The new time limit for a decision will be six months, a great improvement.

 

However, what about the majority of the families needing help sorting things out? For most families some of the changes are more apparent than real. Arguments over arrangements for the children are not likely to improve because people are supposed to avoid the words ‘residence’ and ‘contact’, just as they didn’t change when we swapped the words ‘custody’ and ‘access’ for ‘residence’ and ‘contact’. The issue of who the children live with when is still a thorny one and changing the words to ‘child arrangements’ makes little difference. Other than that, there is a change to a theoretical single family court, but again, this means that cases can be allocated to the county court where there are professional judges or the magistrates where there are lay (but trained) magistrates – but both will now be called the “Family Court”.  Will this make a huge material difference to court users given the decision-makers and buildings will be the same as before the name changed to “Family Court” remains to be seen!  There will still be the High Court for cases needed high court adjudication.  Some cases that would previously have been decided by a judge may be heard by a magistrate – but it will all be the “Family Court” so that’s all right then!

 

People who can afford it may feel increasingly inclined to pay for private adjudication by a family law expert in the field, to ensure the quality of the decision – this is called arbitration and might produce a dual system of private justice completely outside the state court system. It would save government money, but create a dual system for the haves and have-nots. There could be an issue over the quality of the decisions and interpretation of the law, if many complex and difficult cases are decided by non family law experts.

 

Against this background family mediation looks like a very sane and sensible option.  An experienced, qualified mediator helps a couple to make their own arrangements for their children and settle their own financial settlement.  The impartial mediator gives relevant legal information to help decision-making and the couple know what they are agreeing to. It is a fast affordable alternative to the vagaries of the court system and at least now people have to hear about mediation properly from a mediator.  Couples share the cost of the mediator and pay nothing if they qualify for legal aid, whereas there is no legal aid for most family law work any more, there is for family mediation. If couples don’t mediate they have to pay the whole costs of their separate lawyers, instead of share the cost of their mediation.  Before anyone can bring a court application they will mostly now have to hear about mediation before they can apply to court. This last change is one of the most sensible changes the new Act brings in and it is long overdue. Court fees are expensive and rising –  pointless if unnecessary. People will now be given a real choice and awareness of the options for sorting out their settlement and arrangements without using the conventional legal and court route. Mediation is the prime alternative and mediators can now explain it to couples properly, instead of people assuming it’s unsuitable for them or not even realising it exists and that legal aid still exists to help them mediate.

 

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The Children and Families Act comes 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 simply 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 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 or court hearings.

 

Compulsory mediation awareness meetings do not mean compulsory mediation, but 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? These people don’t have to mediate and no one is saying people should not hear about 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 fast and at proportionate cost. How much do you think should be spent on legal fees for resolving a financial settlement on divorce? Should it be 10% or 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 a third or 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 – each trying to sell 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.  This is needed simply because without it as we have seen, people do not know about mediation or find out about it until it is too late.  There has to be a compulsory  mediation awareness stage  as once people have started going down the court route, mediation referral can be a bit late for many of them to gain the most benefit in terms of the expense, stress and delays of court proceedings.

Gold Standard for Family Mediators

At Focus we celebrate our successes and the attainment by our mediators of significant professional achievements. Our family mediators work hard towards the achievement of their recognition as a fully competent mediator, qualified to mediate cases for the Legal Aid Agency. Whilst very few of our cases are legal aid these days, we still put our trainees through that competence assessment, simply because it is so demanding and is the Gold Standard for family mediators.

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Our trainees work hard under close supervision with very experienced mediators and this training takes one to two years of intensive work. We have two professional Practice Consultants in our team to help with this training. This year we have got two mediators through their competence portfolio, Geraldine and Joanna. They have been duly crowned and handed their magic wands (essential equipment for every mediator) as well as being supplied with a large amount of ‘Emergency Chocolate’ to help them through those extra stressful and difficult cases. Well done Geraldine and Jo!

Ending a Marriage Well – It Can Be Done

Ending a marriage well is important – do it kindly and don’t make it worse with a bad ending.

The reasons marriages end in divorce are many and various and often a couple won’t agree why their relationship has ended, even when they do agree it is over.

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The wording of the divorce petition may feel really important – it gives the official reason for the break-down – and unless you have been separated two years and agree to divorce, or have been separated five years, when no agreement is needed –you are left with a fault based petition. This means adultery or unreasonable behaviour on the part of the respondent. The petition only needs to have enough detail to get a divorce and ideally the person reading it will recognise the incidents as a fair account of events.  The best petitions are rather sad and very short, but there does have to be enough for the judge to grant a decree within the rules.

If you can’t agree why you are getting divorced – then you can mediate the petition grounds with us at Focus Mediation and end your relationship well and with kindness.  Most people just want to sort things out and we facilitate that at a modest cost, which you share (that is if you don’t qualify for legal aid). And remember, the reasons for divorce normally have no effect on your financial settlement or arrangements for your children

Save the Children

When couples separate, children are often caught in the cross-fire. When contact is stopped as a weapon, children can suffer too. If they are additionally saying different things to each parent, they feel the need to appease and comply and have learned what they feel and want doesn’t matter. This is not a good outcome for children.  Court applications are up between 27% to over double in some courts since this time last year. Meanwhile, family mediation – for which legal aid is still available – has fallen off a cliff. Why? It’s been shown again and again it produces better outcomes for children and families. The Court is getting us to mediate at Court with two other mediation services on the First Appointment of these Children Act Applications.  It would have been better and cheaper to mediate before proceedings are issued, as is required by the pre action protocol, which is being ignored.  Many of these cases are mediated successfully and then the whole Application was unnecessary, unless to bring a parent to mediation to talk it over.

Why Focus Mediation?

  • We are accredited experts, dedicated to mediation
  • We use experienced  lawyer mediators for financial cases
  • We have specialist mediators who can see your children so their wishes and feelings can inform your decision-making
  • We offer legal aid if you qualify financially

Most people just want to sort things out and we facilitate that, at a modest cost – which you share if you don’t get legal aid.

Co-habitation

Couples embarking on a new relationship often move in together. Some couples will live in a house one of them already owns or rents some may decide to buy a property together.

The careful couple will usually make an agreement when they buy together setting out who owns what share; or agree who pays for what when they start to live together. Sometimes this is written down and sometimes it’s not.  Getting together can be a gradual process; couples slip into informal financial arrangements over time, and over time can start to assume something different from what was originally agreed.

Circumstances invariably change.  Children may be born, jobs start and end, incomes fluctuate, mortgage contributions can no longer be afforded, properties may be re-mortgaged or varied and both of you start contributing in different ways from those you first agreed on.

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Years later when your relationship ends how do you agree what’s a fair split of your assets? Untangling the muddle requires tact and technique – mediation offers both.

Focus Mediation offers you a range of mediation styles to resolve the issues around your separation.

While we can offer you the traditional style of family mediation with 1 – 5 sessions of 1 ½ hours over weeks or months, we can also set aside a day for you both: to identify the issues, talk through possible options and proposals and help you come to a binding agreement at the end of the day.

The benefit of this style of mediation is that it can be done in a day, nothing else is this fast.

All the information you need to help you in your decision-making must be available on the day, with Focus Mediators there to help you work through it – helping you find a way forward. You will bring your legal advisers with you to help you in your decision-making or you can have them available on the phone.

We do not have a magic wand, but we can help you reach a decision that is fair, and meets yours and your family’s needs

How does Mediation Work?

When families are splitting up it makes sense to come to hear how mediation can help before you do anything. This is because mediation is the usually the most cost effective and fastest way to resolve the issues arising when you split up.

You come to an assessment with the mediator, which can be jointly together or separate and typically takes about an hour. The mediator needs to understand your situation, can assess you for legal aid. If you want to mediate, they explain what you have to do to prepare for the sessions.

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Mediation is facilitated negotiations, with the mediator giving you the legal information you need to make informed decisions. It is not about recriminations or arguing, nor is it about counselling or getting you to reconcile.

The six steps to mediation are:

  • Assessment
  • Identify the Issues
  • Mediation sessions
  • Full financial disclosure if there are financial issues to be sorted out
  • Explore options
  • Come to agreement

Simple and effective, mediation is hard work but worth it. You avoid becoming opponents in an expensive fight and potentially spending more than you are arguing about in legal costs. It makes sense to try the simplest fastest route first, as you may well not need to spend more and take longer.

This past year has seen some major changes to legal aid for most family proceedings, however in many cases you can still have mediation paid for – to find out if you are eligible click here.

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