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I read an interesting article about a black man who was responsible for over a 100 Ku Klux Klan members leaving the organisation. What was his secret? He said, “It’s hard to hate up close.” He didn’t try and convince them that the KKK was wrong. He just asked them to spend some time getting to know him. Many had never had a proper conversation with a black man. Each of the departing KKK members found that they no longer had it in them to hate a black man that they now knew. Clearly that’s an extreme example of bridging an empathy gap. However, I’m sure we can all recall a time when we fell out with someone or drifted apart. Communication will have deteriorated and it’s natural to then fill in the gaps and made assumptions about what the other person is thinking or feeling. When communication is good, empathy flows and allowances are made for friends and partners; “I know she wouldn’t have intentionally forgot, she is very busy and has a lot on her plate.”  When an empathy gap forms, goodwill is less forthcoming.  People stop understanding one another and frustration and resentment can build.

Bridging The Empathy Gap

Mediation involves bridging the empathy gap between separating couples. If there’s no empathy, there’s often no compromise. “He’s the one who had a one night stand and ruined our marriage. He can spend Christmas alone, why should I spend any time away from my children? ” Or “Why should I pay her any spousal maintenance? She had an affair and left me; let her feel what it’s like to live without my hard earned salary.” It’s so difficult for angry spouses to place themselves in the other’s shoes when their own pain feels so overwhelming. Their anger often masks underlying pain. Whilst anger is a normal part of grieving for a relationship; it can be self destructive if it doesn’t dissipate over time. As Nelson Mandela wisely said, “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

A mediator’s role isn’t to convince couples to fall in love again or to even like each other. The past can’t be changed but a mediator can encourage clients to focus on the future. Clients might be  frightened about where will they live, how will they pay the bills and whether they will be able to spend enough time with their children. This fear can lead to each becoming positional; “Give me the house and I won’t touch your pension. If you don’t agree I’ll take you to court. I’ll claim the house, high maintenance for life and most of your pension.” When resolving finances in mediation we take a very practical approach. The clients work together to identify and then quantify their assets. Only then can they explore options. The mediator will ask them to check mortgage capacity and suitable housing options, amongst other things.  During the process communication improves and each begins to better understand the other’s concerns and worries. Sometimes I can pinpoint when the tide changes. Recently, a wife turned to her husband and said after several sessions, “Deep down I do know you want me to be ok, and I want you to know that despite everything, I want you to be ok too.” I sat back and observed as they nodded knowingly at one another. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations to resolve issues arising from separation.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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Does it ever feel that Christmas is one long negotiation in your house? It is in ours – what to eat, what to drink, what to watch on TV, what game to play… Thinking about the next couple of weeks with the family has put me in mind of a negotiation parable. You may have heard it before, but I hope you won’t mind if I retell it.

Picture the scene. It’s Christmas Eve, and Janet and John are arguing over an orange. They both desperately want this orange and won’t give up the orange at all, for anything else – they scream, they shout, they throw things. So what can we do?

The obvious solution is to come along with a nice sharp knife and cut the orange into two, giving Janet and John half each. If we were feeling more creative, we could even allow one to cut and the other to choose – this makes it fairer, perhaps, and gives Janet and John a hand in the solution. But there’s a problem with this solution: that neither Janet nor John actually comes away with what they want. Instead, they both come away with only 50% of what they want. As a solution, it’s a crude one that leaves them both dissatisfied.

The less obvious solution is to ask questions. Why does Janet want the orange? What plans does John have for the orange? By talking and listening to each other, it is possible that a better solution will present itself than simply cutting the orange in half. For example, in this case it turns out that Janet wants the whole orange’s peel as she is following a recipe that makes her mince pies extra-zingy, while John is planning Christmas morning Bucks Fizz cocktails and needs all the juice of the orange for these. So in fact, they can both get what they want out of the single orange: Janet can take all the peel and John can take all the juice. They just need to work together.

Real life problems are usually more complex of course, but the Christmas lesson here for all of us is that by asking questions and listening to the answers, there may be a chance that we can all have a more peaceful Christmas. Whether you’re arguing about an orange or something else, if you approach the problem with a question, some creativity, and a spirit of co-operation, you’re more likely to come away with more of what you really want.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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Resolution is an organisation for solicitors and other professionals in England and Wales who commit to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family law matters. This week it’s Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ campaign. They are focusing on how separating or divorcing parents can limit the impact of conflict on their children. They also campaign for divorce reform and the removal of ‘blame’ within the current divorce process.  Parents need to focus on the future and not a past that can’t be changed. However, sometimes the current law requires one to dredge up the past and blame the other. It’s a poor start for parents transitioning from ex-spouses to co-parents. So is there such a thing as a ‘good divorce’? Perhaps the word ‘good’ is too ambitious. When parents separate or divorce they suffer a huge trauma. If they can divorce in a manner that doesn’t inflict further damage on each other or their children, then that is a positive outcome.

Family Law Professionals

As family law professionals we have a duty to focus on the best interests of children and to enable couples to finalise their divorce, child arrangements and finances, as peacefully as possible. We should constantly review whether our current practices correspond with that ethos. In my experience, most solicitors encourage clients to peacefully reach agreement, (if possible), and avoid litigation. In mediated financial cases, once full disclosure has been completed, clients are more likely to reach a negotiated settlement if they first receive good legal advice from their solicitors. They trust their solicitors and therefore feel safe to enter into negotiations. What’s good advice? Good advice involves a solicitor also considering what they would advise the other party if they were their client. This grounds the advice and makes it more realistic. However, problems arise if each solicitor takes an extreme view. If a wife has been told she should seek a very high level of maintenance for a long term, but her husband has been told there should be no spousal maintenance, it’s so difficult for either to move away from their respective positions and focus on needs. Providing realistic advice is a very powerful way to reduce conflict between separating parents.

Solicitors and Mediators – let’s talk more

Let’s take more time to ask each other about our respective roles. What can we do better and what works well? What do we need from one another? One of the most informative conversations I had was at a pension seminar with three family solicitors. They asked me many insightful questions about mediation and explained their concerns and what they felt the positives and negatives of mediation were. Sharing information can help solicitors and mediators to together support clients and help them achieve a conflict free divorce.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard.

The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

Family Lives

Young Minds – Parents Guide to Supporting Your Child During Divorce or Separation

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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Focus Mediation blog | Divorce by Focusmediation - 1M ago

The mediator’s diary is governed by the seasons. You’d think the breakdown of a relationship could occur at any time of the year, and indeed it does; but there are certain markers in the calendar that prompt people to seek our help. Organising the long summer holidays is one of them, especially when both parents are working. Christmas is another.

From about early November, separated couples are facing up to the tricky business of sharing their children over Christmas.

Most people start from the base line of alternating year on year; but the devil is in the detail. What package is being alternated? Is it the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, swapping on Boxing Day? Or does the swap occur half way through The Day Itself, so that both parents get to see them?

In some families, the dilemma is made easier by the traditions of the extended family. Perhaps they always gather on Boxing Day; perhaps, for religious or cultural reasons, they don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

But in some cases, they make things harder. Perhaps they live at the other end of the country so any visit needs to be for several days. Perhaps they don’t exist at all, and the parent who is without the children is completely alone.

Christmas Alone

Being without the children is the hardest consequence of any divorce. Being alone at Christmas is everyone’s worst fear. Put the two together, and you have something that is impossible to contemplate, let alone agree to.

Ask the children what they would like? You can bet your bottom tangerine that they would like their parents to get back together so that these impossible alternatives are no longer debated. Since that is not happening, they will probably respond according to age “Whatever” (truculent teenager), or “I really want to  see Mum AND Dad on Christmas Day (anxious small person).  Privately, they will probably all be thinking “Can we not do it like last year, it was too much to-ing and fro-ing and I felt sick from two lots of turkey”, but they won’t know whether to say it out loud: Christmas seems to make everyone so tense. Whatever way things are arranged, the children will always feel guilty about having to divide their time, leaving one parent alone for some of the holiday.

Here at Focus, we help couples explore the alternatives. Could you write in with suggestions: tell us how you do it, and whether it works? What to avoid? Mediation is all about sharing ideas and strategies – we’d love to hear from you.

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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Many divorcing spouses believe they need a Judge to divide their marital assets, or they risk losing out. They know litigation is hugely expensive and adversarial, but they believe that ultimately it’s the only viable option for them. A stay at home mum/dad may feel they need to fight to keep the house.  A mum/dad working full time may believe they will lose all / the majority of the equity in their home and half their future salary, if they don’t battle in court. Full time working parents may also worry they will be penalised for working so hard – what if they aren’t portrayed as involved and loving parents? There’s no doubt that each of these scenarios is frightening.  ‘Arm yourself with the best solicitor you can afford and fight for what’s yours, is often the collective advice from friends and colleagues.

Will litigation really secure the best outcome?

As a former family solicitor and now a full time family mediator, I believe litigation is rarely the best option for a family. The reality is they will each spend tens of thousands of pounds protecting ‘what’s theirs. The process is lengthy and adversarial. Parental communication will be tested to the absolute limit – never good for children. Mediation saves many thousands of pounds in litigation fees. ‘But we don’t get on – he/she hates me and wants to take me to the cleaners!’ Mediation is voluntary and so it won’t be suitable in every case. However, there’s a misconception that couples have to get along for mediation to work. Not so. Quite often clients haven’t spoken for many months or their communication is extremely strained and difficult. It doesn’t mean mediation isn’t suitable. There’s no secret or magic to mediation. It’s for couples who understand that the most efficient way to resolve finances and child arrangements is to resolve the issues together – but they can’t.  Mediation is a process that enables conflicted couples to avoid court and maintain control of their own future. At what other point in our life would we relinquish control of decision making about our future? Happily married but can’t agree on the best school for your child – would you ask an outside agency to decide for you? Thought not. Divorce shouldn’t prevent self determination.

How does it work?

Couples who need a financial settlement come to mediation and the mediator ensures they provide full and frank financial disclosure. If one party isn’t as familiar with the finances, then time is spent ensuring they are fully informed and clear about what the finances consist of. Our lawyer mediators are used to dealing with financial disclosure and checking every stone has been turned. Once full disclosure has been completed, we strongly recommend each client sees a solicitor for ‘goal post advice’. Goalpost advice means your solicitor gives you a range of possible settlements, “this is the lowest, this is the medium and this is the best you can hope for”. It’s very important to ask your solicitor what they would advise your ex if they were their client. It’s highly unlikely they’d tell them they must give up all equity, savings, pension and half their income. So asking this question ensures the advice they give you is realistic and meets everyone’s needs. The starting point is 50/50 and the court has a duty to try and ensure that each parties’ needs are met, as far as reasonably possible given the resources available. That’s actually why litigation often disappoints – as the costs are so high, someone needs to win. The court however isn’t looking for winners.

Reaching agreement.

When clients return to mediation after receiving ‘goalpost advice’, we explore their respective capital and income needs and consider options.  Communication slowly improves over the sessions and clients work together as problem solvers and find solutions they can both live with. There are more assets available as they haven’t been reduced by expensive litigation costs. Their solicitor will then make the proposals binding.

Find out more about mediation at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMs) with one of our experienced lawyer mediators. Clients can attend together or separately. It’s full of useful information and a great starting point.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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