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How A Divorce Consultant Can Help During the Mediation Process

by Rhiannon Ford, Divorce Consultant  

As your divorce consultant, I provide specialist support and guidance to people throughout your divorce or separation. My clients come to me at the beginning of their divorce journey, I assess their situation and then facilitate putting the right resources, professionals and processes in place for them, supporting them along the way. I also help my clients with issues they don’t need to use their solicitor for, saving them time and money on legal costs.

Here are 3 ways a divorce consultant can help during the mediation process:

Practical help

Hands on practical help can involve assisting you to prepare your financial information ready for the discussions in the mediation sessions. Feeling prepared on a practical level will help you to feel more prepared on a personal level. Collecting the financial information can take some time and it is important to get everything together before you embark on the mediation process. This helps you save time and money on the mediation process as well putting you in the best position to begin the discussions as soon as possible.  

Coaching support

Personal coaching support can help you to feel ready for the discussions with your spouse about your family finances (and/or children issues). I can help you to work through any challenging emotions which may be making you feel apprehensive about negotiating with your spouse and/or any concerns you may have about difficult emotions coming up unexpectedly during the mediation session itself. The coaching work we do together can assist you to feel as focused, calm and confident as possible, putting you in the best position possible for talking through the important issues in mediation.

As a sounding board

A divorce consultant can help you gather your thoughts about the negotiations as the process progresses and help you decide how you want to present your position in each session. I can also provide ongoing support throughout the process to help you prepare for each session as well as providing the opportunity to have a “de-brief” after each session to discuss the progress which was made in the negotiations. It is helpful to talk to someone who understands the process and can provide specialist support through the whole process. It is good to have a “go to” person to talk through things.

To find out more about how I could help you during your mediation process, get in touch with me via my website – www.rhiannonford.co.uk 

Family Mediation – Back to Basics!

by David Emmerson, accredited mediator and solicitor at Anthony Gold

Family mediation is a voluntary confidential form of alternative dispute resolution.  A mediator is a neutral and impartial third party who helps the parties reach a negotiated solution to family problems such as the arrangements for children, finances, property, pensions and capital. It works because the mediator and the process itself encourages people to have a voice and speak freely.  The mediator will also ensure that you listen, sometimes in a way you have not done before  to what the other person is saying, so that you at least understand what their issues are. You do not necessarily have to agree, but if you did then that would help, but it certainly helps to understand.  

Information is gathered and verified so that each person’s financial position is clear.  Once this has happened, it is the role of the mediator to help  fix an agenda and problems to solve all the issues so that a fair and workable outcome is achieved.  

Mediation has the advantage of being able to deal with issues relating to the children at the same time as dealing with the finances.  In the court process, two separate applications would have to be made and the children and finances are never dealt with together, which is often a considerable disadvantage. Solving issues relating to the children are often connected to finance solutions too.

Potential problems with mediation 

If each person has not fully and frankly disclosed all information and documentation relating to the finances, then the mediation cannot proceed, but the mediator will make every effort to ensure that full disclosure is made as the alternative is invariably the other person issuing court proceedings where the disclosure is ordered by the court.  

Mediation sessions at time can be intense, challenging and even upsetting, not least because these issues are invariably very important to both.  However, the mediator will ensure that the sessions never get out of hand and that time is allowed for each to “recover”.   However, the tension that can be caused in a mediation is nothing compared with the pressure and anxiety that a contested court case can bring with the prospect of giving evidence, being cross-examined and someone else making a decision about your children and your finances.  

Types of mediation 

The most common form of mediation is where both are with one mediator sitting in a comfortable room where the parties are free to discuss matters in a relaxed atmosphere. 

In some cases, co-mediation, where there are two mediators, can be beneficial because that can help in a case where there are complex dynamics.  However, this naturally is more expensive.  

Shuttle mediation can be used where there are particular anxieties by one person with regards to safety or coercive and controlling behaviour.  Here, both are in separate rooms and the mediator works between each room facilitating discussion. 

Role of the mediator and the lawyer 

The mediator can be , and often are, trained family lawyers but mediators cannot give specific tailored legal advice in mediation. They are able to provide key information about what the law is.  It is very important for each party to have the benefit of independent legal advice from someone like a Resolution accredited specialist.  Here, the specialist will listen and understand all of the background to the children and financial issues.  The lawyer will then explain both what the law is, but also importantly how it applies to the individual person’s particular case, so each person is in a strong position to know how to negotiate in the mediation process.  It is also helpful to keep in touch with the lawyer as the mediation process develops.  Whereas family caselaw and statutes can be found easily on the web, the internet cannot tell you how the law applies to your circumstances.

A good experienced lawyer can tell you when you can let go of a point or decision or whether your case is strong enough to stick with something. 

Safeguarding

The mediator would not approve of a case as being suitable for mediation where there are relevant safeguarding and domestic abuse issues. Mediation is voluntary, and you cannot be compelled to attempt mediation. Mediators are trained to deal with an imbalance in bargaining power or indeed bargaining skills.

Costs 

The costs of mediation, even if you use a solicitor to support and assist you throughout, is very significantly less than the costs of a contested court process. The length of the process varies but the number of sessions really depends on how the negotiations develop and also how complex the issues are. It is not uncommon for matters involving children and finances to be resolved in two to four sessions, which might be spread over a two to three-month period. This compares very favourably with a fully contested court process, which can often take 12-18 months. 

Children 

Naturally, both parents will say the children are the most important factor.  In a court of law, the welfare of the children will be both paramount consideration in children cases and the first consideration in a finance case.  However, parents can often have differing views as to what is best for their children and what arrangements should be put in place for the children to spend time with each parent.  In mediation, it is important that the views of each individual child is taken into account. This can be done in a number of ways and one of them is for a mediator, who is specifically trained in children issues, to speak with the children individually on a confidential basis and the children’s views fed back into the main mediation.  In many cases, this is not necessary but in certain cases it can be vitally important, particularly with children of a particular age and viewpoint. This does not mean that the children themselves are making decisions, but simply that their views, uncomplicated by the pressures of speaking with either parent, are known and taken into account.  

In child arrangements, it may well be in difficult and complicated cases that interim arrangements need to be put in place and tested and then reviewed so a mediation process can be staggered, so there is a review after three or four months with a further session. 

Using experts 

Another advantage of mediation is that both can agree to bring in the expertise of a specialist to help resolve issues. This might be instructing a valuer to value a company, business, or properties. It could be bringing in a pensions expert to work out what the best way for both is to reschedule pension investments. It may well be bringing in an independent financial advisor who can help each person in a neutral way of fixing budgets which can be far cheaper than contested court maintenance proceedings.  Other experts can include divorce coaches and therapists where one or both are finding the emotional side of separation particularly challenging.  

Mediation is a very flexible process and the use of such experts, although adding to the costs, can be extremely beneficial.

Outcomes

Both research and statistical information shows that most mediations resolve issues successfully and that the vast majority of participants are happy with the outcomes and the process.

Shining Child – Putting Your Children First

by Dr P J Kennedy (Consultant in Clinical and Forensic Psychology, Researcher And Author of Shining Child)

In my life I have personally experienced mediation during the breakdown of my own relationship with the mother of my daughter.  It was during this period that I knew I wanted to write Shining Child to help people who would go through a similar experience. 

Mediation is now a pre-requisite to going to court over access to children during divorce and separation. It also a good way to tackle financial matters. But does it work?

In a nutshell, mediation works wonderfully if both parties are willing to play the game. You need to have shared goals and both have at the heart of the sessions only best outcome for your family and children, not for yourself. 

Put bluntly, if you go to court, the judge makes a decision about your family’s future. Through mediation, together you can make those decisions. Done right it is an empowering, independent tool to sorting out the future of all involved. 

There’s a saying, when you are in the forest you cant see the wood for the trees – this sums up how a lot of people feel when they split, and a mediator can guide you both to a clearing where you can appreciate the full vision. 

Infact, a good mediator will bring the heart of all your meetings to one central point – what is good for all of your family, especially the children. So it is always important to get the most from it, that both parties come with an open mind. You need to agree to leave squabbles and disputes at the door, to allow you to focus on facts. 

In my book Shining Child, which is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback, I focus on a similar premise. It is about putting the child first, and when used alongside mediation it can really help, as it gives practical hints and tips, as well as exercises for the parents to implement. 

David Barlett MBE, and director of Pear Tree Projects Ltd said of Shining Child “This book is a rare find and one of huge value to anyone who finds breaking up hard to do”.  I believe a good mediator carries the same weight – anything that help families come out of such an awful process a little scarred is always a good thing.

Shining Child is available at :  www.drpjkennedy.com or https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=shining+child&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Divorce

By Louisa Whitney, LKW Family Mediation

Many people going through a separation or divorce get confused about this because for them the word divorce feels like it should encompass all of the issues that they feel need to be sorted out.  However, from a legal point of view the divorce is just the legal ending of the marriage.  Going through a divorce process doesn’t sort out money issues or making arrangements for your children.  It is possible to get divorced and not sort out any issues although this is not something we would recommend!

The divorce process is essentially a paperwork exercise with forms being submitted to court.  From a strictly legal perspective it is usually very straight forward as long as paperwork is completed properly.  On an emotional level there can be a huge myriad of emotions going on and getting the final certificate (called a Decree Absolute) saying you’re finally divorced can bring up sadness, grief or joy (or all three at the same time or more emotions).

The process starts with one person completing a form to petition (i.e ask for) a divorce.  The only grounds for divorce is that your marriage has permanently broken down.  But currently you have to base the petition on a particular fact.  These are:

  • Adultery – this is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman
  • Unreasonable behaviour – a subjective test of behaviour that is unreasonable to you and not anyone else.  So you can say that the other person was unhelpful around the house, never expressed affection and didn’t buy you a birthday present.  It doesn’t have to be huge things.
  • Desertion (this is rarely used)
  • You’ve been separated for 2 years and the Respondent (the person not petitioning for divorce) agrees that the divorce can go ahead.
  • You’ve been separated for 5 years (and the other person doesn’t have to agree to the petition)

Currently the law says that if you haven’t been separated for 2 years then the divorce has to be based on either adultery or unreasonable behaviour which means that you have to say the divorce is the other person’s fault – either because they have committed adultery or because they behaved unreasonably.

This leaves lots of separating couples in an unpleasant situation.  If you separated a year ago and your spouse is now in a relationship with someone else then technically you can petition for divorce based on their adultery.  But neither of you may feel that that’s the reason your marriage ended, because the relationship began after that.  In addition to this you may feel you grew apart so having to make allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour against the other person can feel uncomfortable and can sometimes inflame an already tense situation.

There are moves to change the law so that you don’t have to allege fault but we are not there yet unfortunately for anyone going through a separation right now.

Once the person petitioning for divorce sends their divorce petition to the court and pays the court fee (this can be done online now) then the petition is sent to the other person and they have to say if they agree with the grounds for divorce.  Essentially this means

  • They accept they have committed adultery
  • They accept the allegations of unreasonable behaviour
  • If you have been separated for more than 2 years but less than 5 then they agree to the divorce taking place

If the other person doesn’t do this then you may be able to proceed if you can show the court that the person has received the petition but isn’t replying.  This will not be the case where your divorce is based on you being separated for 2 years and the other person agreeing as they have to explicitly give their consent.

Once this has been done the person petitioning for divorce then asks the court to pronounce the Decree Nisi.  This is the middle stage of the divorce (although it’s really the second to last stage).  When you see newspaper headlines about a celebrity getting a divorce in 5 minutes they really just mean the Decree Nisi has been pronounced.  If you listen carefully you can hear family mediators and lawyers shouting!  You don’t have to attend court to hear the judge reading out the details.  You then have to wait for 6 weeks to pass from the day after the Decree Nisi until you can apply for the Decree Absolutely which is the final stage.  Usually a lawyer will advise you not to do this until you have sorted out money.

If you’d like more guidance on the divorce process then you can download the divorce process webinar explaining this in detail from our online shop.

Other blogs you may find useful:

The grief of divorce

Communication Problems: Being at different stages in the recovery process

Sorting out the Money

by Louisa Whitney, LKW Family Mediation

Sorting out money issues can seem hugely complicated and many people feel utterly overwhelmed because they just don’t know where to start and how to tackle this huge issue.  Essentially the process can be broken down into three main stages:

Information gathering and exchanging.  

You can’t make decisions about money until you know what money you have.  So you need to get together information about your finances and then exchange it with your ex partner so you get their documents (or copies of so you still both have your own information) and they get yours.  You each then look through this and clarify anything you’re not clear about.  This might be asking them to explain something or it might be asking for more documents or information so you feel confident that you have all the information you need to make informed decisions.

The length of time this takes can vary dramatically.  If you’ve handled money jointly during the marriage then you may both be familiar with what you have already.  If one person tended to take care of finances during the marriage then the other person may need to ask more questions because it’s something they’re not familiar with.  They may also need some help understanding certain aspects of finances.  It will also take longer if you have a number of assets than if you just have a house and a job and that’s it.

Looking at what you need

Looking at what you’re going to need is also an essential part of the process.  Firstly, both of you need to have somewhere you can live.  That’s really important and there are different ways of housing yourselves.  One of you might remain in the family home, or you may both find new homes.  You might be renting or buying another property or you might look at a shared ownership property so you need less capital. It can help to look at different options so you have an idea of the different costs involved in each.  

You also need to know how much money you need to live off to pay all your bills and outgoings over the course of the year.  This should include things you pay for monthly and yearly and also some budget for unexpected happenings like the washing machine breaking down.  Start with what you would like your life to look like.  You can always trim down your expenditure later if the figures don’t match up (or look at increasing your income).

You may also have other needs such as a new car (maybe you only had one family car and you now each need a car?) or you might need to purchase furniture or other large household goods like an oven or a fridge.

Some people think they should work out what money they will get and then look at what that could get them but it’s far better to know what you need and then tailor the resources you have to meet those needs (even if you have to revise your expectations a bit and be a little creative).

Looking at how what you have can meet your needs

Once you know what your needs are and what money you have you can then look at how you can use what money you have to meet your needs.  This part of the process is often an exercise in negotiation but also in creative thinking and making your money goes as far as possible.  It also gives you a chance to look at whether you’re maximising your income and whether you could be a bit smarter with the resources you have by trimming your budget or by looking at other options like shared ownership properties or the government’s Help to Buy scheme.

If you find it hard to talk about money between yourselves then you can use different processes to support you in finding a resolution to money issues.  These are:

  • Family mediation – usually the quickest and therefore most cost effective process.  You talk about things together in the same room but a mediator helps to structure your discussions (and the providing of financial information) and provides information and suggestions to help you.
  • Collaborative practice – this is similar to mediation in that you discuss things round a table but you each have a specially trained lawyer rather than one specially trained mediator.  The emphasis is on being constructive and putting your children’s needs first.  Everybody agrees to resolve things in that process and not go to court.
  • Negotiation – this can take place between yourselves or between lawyers or a combination of the two.  It can also be down round a table rather than with letters going backwards and forwards.
  • What these three options have in common is that you decide what happens for both of you regarding money with support.  If you can’t decide then you look at one of the processes below where somebody else makes a decision for you (and then you have to abide by what they say)
  • Court process – in the court process everybody uses the same process regardless of whether you have £5 in the bank or £5 million.  You get on the wheel and you stay there until everything is resolved.
  • Arbitration – if going to court is like having an operation on the NHS then arbitration is like going private.  You appoint a qualified arbitrator (either by choosing someone recommended to you or by asking the IFLA to chose one for you) and you can tailor the process to your individual needs in terms of how it is structured, how much information you provide and how quickly you want a decision.

Once you have found the resolution that you think will work for you, you then look at formalising this to ensure that you both stick to what you’ve agreed.

If you’d like more in depth guidance on sorting out money as part of your separation then you can download a video webinar together with a workbook that will talk you through resolving money issues step by step.  Have a look at our online shop.

What are the benefits of keeping children out of divorce conflict?

by Louisa Whitney

When I talk about keeping children out of conflict I mean managing to do this most of the time; because no one gets things right all the time and to make mistakes is to be human. When you’re emotional and scared and angry it can be even harder to always try to react from a higher place rather than a base instinct to protect yourself. Part of making your separation as good as it can be is focusing on how you would like things to be even if you don’t always make it to the place you want to be at. But drawing a line under anything that didn’t go as well as it could, and refocusing on what you want things to be like, can make the separation as constructive as it can be for your children.

Any parent going through a separation will likely say that their priority is to have happy children. Children are likely to be happiest when the following things are true:

1. They understand what is happening and if things aren’t yet clear they know they will be told when they are. Explanations can be given in an age appropriate way but it is unsettling for children to know things are changing but not to know what those changes will be.  They know they will be affected by them because they already know they’re being affected on some level.

2. They know both of their parents love them unconditionally.

3. They know that each parent is happy for them to have a relationship with the other parent and they feel a respectful relationship is in place between their parents even though they aren’t going to be living together any more.

4. They know absolutely that the separation is not their fault, and is not a result of them not being kinder to their siblings, having tided their bedroom more or generally made better choices.

If your children know all that, with every fibre of their being, then they are far more likely to be able to adjust to the change in their family life and to not be affected by things on a long term basis. It is being exposed to conflict and feeling that they are caught between their parents that is usually the cause of behavioural, emotional or even physical health problems for children following a separation.

It is also important that if things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped that you get the right support. Managing all of this on your own is hard and you are not an expert. Getting the right help from a professional  – such as a family mediator, your child’s school or your GP can be a really huge step in turning things around when they’re not going as well as you’d hoped. Remember the objective is to get things mostly right overall not to have things right all the time.

A family mediator can talk you through the arrangements you want to make, step by step.  They create a safe and constructive space where you can talk to each other and share your objectives, worries and ideas on what happens next.  They help keep your discussions on track and can write down what you want to put in place going forward for your children.

What’s the Use of Going to Mediation?

by Lisa Parkinson

When a couple’s relationship breaks down, their communication often breaks down as well. If there are children, it can be very hard to co-operate as parents in the midst of separating as partners. And if there are financial and property matters to sort out, legal information may be needed as a framework for negotiations. But with few exceptions, legal aid is no longer available for family matters and paying privately for legal advice can cost a great deal, especially if there is lengthy correspondence between solicitors. Going to court in person can be a nightmare and the family courts are overloaded, so judges have little time for each case and there may be little opportunity to explain difficult situations in a few words. 

So what other options are there? Mediation may be suggested, especially if a dispute is being taken to court, but many people fear having a row with their ex in the presence of a professional they hardly know, or feeling forced to give in because it is all too stressful. But mediation is not like that. It’s having a conversation with a qualified family mediator on your own first of all, to explain your circumstances and needs and consider possible ways forward with someone who can provide basic legal information and suggest sources of reliable advice. Before mediation can go ahead, your ex needs to have a similar information meeting and both (ex) partners need to be willing to take part in mediation with a mediator whom you have each met with and feel able to trust. Mediation usually takes place in joint meetings, but further separate meetings can be offered if necessary. It’s the mediator’s job to structure these meetings very carefully so that each of you has a chance to speak and be listened to and consider immediate priorities and needs, as well as needs in the longer term. 

If you have children, mediation helps to focus on each child’s feelings and needs and how parents can co-operate and support their children. Older children and young people often want an opportunity to talk about their feelings and worries and may want to offer suggestions about the arrangements their parents are making for them. With the consent of both parents, an older child or young person can be invited to come and talk with the mediator on the understanding that the conversation is confidential (unless a child is said or believed to be at risk of significant harm) and that the mediator will share with their parents only a message, suggestion or request that the child or young person asks the mediator to give their parents to take into account in their decisions.

Does mediation work?

Researchers have found that mediation ‘improves parental and parent-child relationships’. In a recent follow-up study, almost 75% of those who had used mediation said they were satisfied with their experience. They appreciated having a managed discussion’ with an agenda and the mediator keeping their discussions on track. Mediation was found to be quicker and cheaper compared with instructing lawyers. Other studies have found that almost all the children and young people who had met with a mediator had found it helpful to talk and put forward suggestions or concerns that they wanted their parents to understand better and take into account. As one boy said, ‘It’s my life too.’

Helping parents to stop putting their children in the middle of their conflict

by Penny Mansfield CBE, Director of One Plus One

DirectorThe economic and emotional pressures of modern family life lead to frustrations and conflict in families. All too often children are the audience to our falling – outs with partners.

Research evidence is clear that being the object of parental conflict – or just the witnesses to it – negatively affects children’s health and wellbeing.

The good news is that when parents are aware of this, they can be helped to find ways to express their frustrations calmly, and begin to argue more constructively. Arguing is part of family communication. When parents begin to see the impact of their arguing on their families, they can be encouraged to make changes to how they argue.

Working with the Good Things Foundation Centres, we met families who shared with us real situations from their family lives. Using a behaviour modelling training design, we created videos www.seeitdifferently.org which offer mothers and fathers the opportunity to stand back, see what their children are seeing, hear what they are hearing and feel what they are feeling.  With this awareness parents can be motivated to change their behaviour. Behaviour modelling training uses  visual demonstrations of behaviours to promote knowledge and skills acquisition and improvement in attitudes, intentions and self-efficacy. So, parents see a situation going badly, and then the same situation going better.

These videos introduce a few of the skills needed. To learn more skills, with a focus on separated parents. please go to: https://click.clickrelationships.org/home/parenting-apart/

My Ex-Partner Is Abusive. Is It Right To Expect Me To Go To Mediation?

by Anna Vollans, Vollans Mediation, for Only Mums and Only Dads

If you want to take your case to Court, in most cases (unless you have made an allegation of domestic abuse and have specific evidence in support of the allegation) you will be expected to attend a Meditation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). For anyone wanting to explore whether mediation is right for them, attending a MIAM is a really good place to start.

The MIAM is an individual face-to-face meeting that will take place between you and the mediator. Your ex-partner will not be present at the first meeting. Sometimes, people bring a friend or family member to the first meeting for support.

The mediator will not expect you to attend a joint mediation session. At the first meeting, the mediator will help you to consider whether mediation is right and safe for you and will identify when mediation will or will not be suitable. Where mediation is unsuitable the mediator will make sure you know the alternatives to mediation and will signpost you to appropriate sources of advice and support.

At the MIAM, the mediator will hear about your situation which will include asking about whether domestic abuse has occurred in the relationship. Domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality’.

Abuse covers a wide spectrum of behaviour including isolated incidents, on-going patterns of behaviour, threats of and actual physical violence. The mediator will discuss with you how the abusive behaviour and it’s impact might influence what happens in any joint mediation session.

If it emerges that you or your children are in immediate risk of harm, the mediator will help you to consider what action to take. Sometimes, it might be necessary for the mediator to break their usual duty of confidentiality to ensure the safety of a child or an adult. In these circumstances, mediation would not be appropriate.

It is important that in the mediation setting, you not only feel safe but also comfortable and free to speak openly and honestly so that any discussions are balanced. If you would feel unsafe, fearful or intimidated by coming to a joint mediation session then it might not be suitable for you.

However, even where there has been domestic abuse, some people feel strongly that they want to mediate because of the possible benefits it offers.   Mediation can still take place as long as all those involved are willing to participate, and appropriate safety measures can be put in place.

For example, mediation can take place on a ‘shuttle’ basis meaning that you and your ex-partner sit in separate rooms and the mediator moves between you.  If you are fearful about coming into contact with the other person outside the joint session, you can arrive and leave at separate times and wait separately.  In any mediation, the mediator will ensure that there are ‘ground rules’ to ensure that mediation is undertaken in a respectful and cooperative manner.  If the ground rules are broken and the levels of conflict are excessive or harmful, the mediator will intervene and, if necessary, stop the session.

The key message for anyone who has experienced domestic abuse is that family mediation is a voluntary process and a joint session will only take place if you decide, with a mediator, that mediation is right and safe for you and where appropriate, the right safeguards are in place. Mediators are trained, skilled and experienced in working with families where there has been domestic abuse. Your safety, and the safety of your children will be any mediator’s main concern.

Somebody, Please Help!

By Philippa Johnson, Family Mediators Association 

About once a month someone I care about, a friend, a family member, or perhaps someone I have worked with at some stage, rings me to ask if they can give my phone number to someone they know, for a chat about separation or divorce. And I always say yes and I am always pleased to say yes. Because these phone calls aren’t a downside of having been involved in the divorce and separation world for 20 years or so, most recently as a family mediator. They are what led me into the family mediation side of that world because each phone call was proof that people going through family breakup need help from somewhere but don’t know where to get it.

Almost all of the people who call me are embarrassed and very anxious. Of course, they are. Most of my clients are embarrassed and very anxious too. This is very personal stuff – the most important stuff any of us deal with – this is always a conversation about family and love and homes and the food you put on your table and the things that make your life a happy place. And it is a conversation with a person they don’t know, or at the very least don’t know well; people feel humiliated and emotional and usually very sad. But it is a conversation worth having because people end that conversation with ideas about ways forward. And we all need to move forward with our lives. This very frightening, stressful and upsetting territory doesn’t come with a map – and even if it did, someone else’s map might not work for you, precisely because this is such personal stuff! What you need is help in creating a map of your own.

So, what do I say to those people who call each month? Well, of course, each call is different and sad and lovely in its own special way, and each conversation is truly personal, just like each mediation. But here are some of the really important things that are almost always said:

  1. Keep breathing. You will be OK in the end. You are stronger than you feel and you will find your way. Chaos has arrived – whether the storm has arrived out of a clear blue or you have been living with it for a long time, it probably feels as though you have lost control of your life – but there is help out there and you will find it. One day you will feel safe and well and happy again. One day you will look back and think – that was horrible, but it is over; I feel better now. The thing to concentrate on now is how to get there.
  2. Talk to a family mediator. You don’t have to try mediation but at the end of a private meeting with a trained family mediator, you will understand the options available to you and what needs to happen next. You have this first meeting on your own with the mediator; your ex won’t be there – this is your meeting. This may be the first time you have talked to someone about what you are going through, and although your family mediator is not offering therapy, they will be good at listening. They will also be good at asking questions designed to help you work out what you think is going to be best for you and your family in the long-term. Oh, and the courts usually expect you to have talked to a family mediator before you ask the court to decide anything, but that isn’t really the point – this meeting is a wonderful opportunity to start creating your own personal map of the future with your family’s own personal route out to the other side.  You can find a qualified family mediator near you by looking at “find a local mediator” [https://www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk/find-local-mediator/], on the website of the Family Mediation Council, or at “find a mediator near you” [https://thefma.co.uk/find-a-mediator-near-you/], on the website of the Family Mediators Association. Most family mediators will be happy to have a quick chat with you on the telephone, to help you decide who would suit you best. It is very important that you find someone you feel comfortable with.
  3. Think carefully about family mediation, which would involve you and your ex talking things through together in a safe space, as one of your options. Family mediation isn’t the answer to everyone’s problems. I’m a family mediator so I know that better than most. But family mediation has so many advantages that it’s difficult to see why you wouldn’t try it. It’s free to those who qualify. It involves a professional person who will help the two of you have a different conversation to the ones you have been having. If you won’t feel safe having that conversation in the same room as your ex, you can ask to be in separate rooms, with the mediator moving between you. Your family mediator won’t let anyone dominate or be a bully. You never have to accept a solution that is offered to you in mediation if you don’t want to. Your family mediator will know the answer to some of those really important questions you have that you feel too shy to ask – you can always ask in mediation and if the family mediator doesn’t know the answer, they will know someone else who does. Most importantly, most of the things that are really worrying you probably can’t be solved by the courts, only by you and by your ex. Will my children be damaged by all this and what should we say to them? Will my ex and I ever be able to be in the same room without tears or shouting? When will I start to feel happy again? How am I going to cope on my own? Of course, the court can make decisions about lots of very important things if you ask it to – like what to do about your finances and how much time the children should spend with each of you. But you have to remember that if you ask the court to decide, that’s what will happen – the court will decide, not you. It will cost you money and time and stress and you will end up with what the court thinks is best for you and your family, which is quite often not the same thing as what either you or your ex thinks is best. In family mediation, the family – you and your ex – are in control. The only decisions that are made are the decisions that both of you sign up to. They may well involve compromise and negotiation, with neither of you getting exactly what you want, but they will be based on choices that both of you have made on the basis that they are, overall, the best for your family in the circumstances.
  4. Whether you think family mediation is the way forward for you or not, take some time to think through what it is that is really important to you. You have so many worries and, as we all know, when things are bad in the middle of the night every worry you have ever had jumps up and shouts for your attention. Find some quiet space in the day – give yourself a treat and a break – and take some time to sort through them all. There are possible solutions: what are they? What will it look like when that map of yours gets filled in? What do you hope your life will be like in a year’s time? Try not to focus on the details – the sorts of things the court can decide – think about your feelings and the feelings of the people you care most about and work back from there. Think about what needs to change. You are probably feeling very frightened about all the changes being pushed onto you by other people but when you are in a bad place, change is your friend – instead of thinking about everything that is wrong, think about what changes you would like to see.

Once you know where you want to go, you can start working out how to get there – and who you might want to ask for help. Probably one of the people whose help you will need to draw your map will be your ex – and he or she will need yours. This is your chance – and their chance – to build a good life for your family, making sure that it is a better place than the place you are all in now. Good luck with that, and remember that you don’t ever need to feel embarrassed or anxious about asking for help – we all need help.

National Family Mediation Week 20th- 24th January 2020, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.