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How could a Family Mediator Help the Royal Family to Talk?

Everyone experiences stress during their lives. Sometimes there is acute stress and when the stress is prolonged it can cause health problems. Communications with a close friend, colleague or other family members sometimes become very difficult. If anger and resentment are bottled up, they can explode in hurtful or damaging ways. 

At such times a qualified and experienced third party – a  mediator  – could perhaps help by offering the individual concerned a private initial meeting, first of all, to understand their situation and the difficulties from their perspective. It may then be useful to discuss what they think needs to be worked out and how this might be approached.

Many separating or divorcing couples who take part in family mediation say they wish they had come sooner, when they were arguing and struggling, but their relationship had not yet broken down completely. 

Everyone experiences stress during their lives. Sometimes there is acute stress and when the stress is prolonged it can cause health problems. Communications with a close friend, colleague or other family members

These problems of stress and difficult communications are experienced by a great many families, from the poorest and most disadvantaged to the most highly privileged. 

It must be extremely stressful to be a member of the royal family, always in the public eye and with the media looking for any story that will attract publicity. Following the recent distressing publicity they have suffered, members of the royal family are clearly making great efforts to talk together and work out suitable arrangements. Maybe some highly confidential mediation at an earlier stage could have provided them with support and empathy and a means of channelling their stress into more helpful and positive communications, well away from the media spotlight. 

Prince William and Prince Harry have both shown tremendous understanding and empathy in the initiatives they have taken to help young people talk about their experiences of bereavement and loss. At some time in our lives, all of us may need help to talk. We just need to take the first step.

Lisa Parkinson, mediator, consultant and trainer, has over 40 years’ experience in family mediation. In 1978 she co-founded the 1st family mediation service in the UK, providing out-of-court mediation in disputes between separated parents over their children.  From 1986  onwards she developed mediation on all issues in separation and divorce, including finance and property. Lisa has trained a great many family mediators in the UK and other countries. The 4th edition of her book, ‘Family Mediation’, will be published in the spring. There are seven foreign language editions, including Russian and Turkish.

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.

Caught up in the storm

by Philippa Johnson, Family Mediators Association

People don’t make the decision to end a long-term relationship lightly, especially when children are involved. Divorce and separation are two of the most painful life events anyone ever goes through. They can lead people to question everything they thought they knew about themselves and their lives. They are overwhelming. It can feel like being caught in a storm, with the rain pouring down, thunder crashing around you and lightning breaking the sky open; you don’t know which way to turn.

You are probably exhausted; your life may seem out of control and the prospect of calm and safety a very long way away. Most people feel confused and, at the same time, full of strong emotions. The grief, sadness, pain and often anger that you may feel about the past will be mixed up with the anxiety and even panic that you may be feeling about the family’s future, most especially what the future will look like for your children. You will definitely be stressed by the uncertainty and the strength of the emotions. Stress is known to be damaging to your health, both mental and physical.

So what should you do?

A good first step is to get some information about your situation. As with most things in life these days, you will probably start with the internet, where the basics can be found for free, provided you are looking in the right place. Do be careful though – there is lots of misinformation out there, as well as lots of information that isn’t relevant to England and Wales.

The UK government website www.gov.uk has some clear, straightforward information on it. If you are living in England and Wales, here is a good place to start. If you have children you may be interested in what the NSPCC has to say about separation and divorce. Other independent organisations with good websites containing useful information include: the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Relate, the charity Gingerbread, and the charity Family Lives.

All these websites mention the benefits of trying to sort your situation out by reaching agreements between yourselves. That may seem a dreadful idea at the moment, while you are still caught up in the storm. It is certainly a very difficult thing to do alone. But with good professional help, most people are eventually able to work things out between themselves, without involving the courts. The evidence shows that in lots of different ways this is better for everyone in the family, especially the children.

So, where can you find good professional help? Talking to a family mediator is a good place to start. Family mediators work with families to help them to make decisions together: they offer an impartial and confidential service to people who are choosing to try to make decisions together, rather than asking someone else to make the decision for them. It can be very helpful to get some legal advice early as well, if you can afford it – family mediators never give advice about your particular situation although they will give you lots of information about the law and about research into what works for children.

What else should you do?

We recommend finding someone who can help you work through all the strong emotions you are feeling. Friends can be a wonderful source of support. Talking things through with a professional therapist can be even better, as they have lots of experience working with people in crisis and will be able to suggest strategies that have worked in the past for other people.

Some of the most important things you can do, according to the professionals, include:

Giving yourself permission to take time for yourself – just like on an aeroplane, you can’t help anyone else until you have helped yourself!

Focusing as much as possible on the future and what will improve things – that doesn’t mean ignoring any anger and guilt you feel; it does mean working towards forgiveness and leaving blame behind as much as possible.

The key thing is that you don’t have to do this alone – whatever your situation is, there are people who can help make the process of separation better for everyone involved.

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.

Family Mediation – Speak Freely, Listen, Understand and then Problem Solve.

David Emmerson, Resolution

Family Mediation – How it works

Family mediation is a voluntary, confidential out of court process that helps you reach negotiated solutions to disputes about arrangements for children, maintenance, property, pensions and capital. Most often, mediation brings both parties together with a mediator in a comfortable room where you are free to discuss matters in a relaxed atmosphere.

It works because the mediator, a neutral and impartial third party, and the process itself encourage 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 party is saying, so that you at least understand what their issues are. You do not necessarily have to agree, but it certainly helps when you understand.

Information is gathered and verified so that each party’s financial position is clear. The mediator fixes an agenda with you and problem solves all the issues so that a fair and workable outcome is achieved.

Children

Naturally, both parents will believe children are the most important factor. However, parents can often have differing views as to what is best for their children and what the arrangements should be for the children to spend time with each parent. In mediation, it is important that the views of each individual child are taken into account. This can be done in a number of ways, such as having a mediator specifically trained in children issues speak individually with the children on a confidential basis. The children’s views are then fed back into the main mediation. In many cases, this is not necessary but in certain cases it can be vitally important. This approach 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.

Role of the mediator and the lawyer

In some cases the mediator may also be a trained family lawyer, but while mediators can provide key information about what the law is, they cannot give legal advice specific to your situation. It is very important for each party to have the benefit of independent legal advice from someone like a Resolution accredited specialist who will explain both what the law is, but also importantly how it applies to each individual’s particular case. Whereas family case law and statutes can be found easily on the web, the internet cannot tell you how the law applies to your circumstances.

Using experts

Another advantage of mediation is that the parties 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 property. It could be bringing in a pensions expert to work out what the best way for both is to reschedule pension investments or an independent financial advisor who can help you fix budgets. Other experts can include divorce coaches and therapists where one or both parties are finding the emotional side of separation particularly challenging.

Costs and time

The costs of mediation is significantly less than the costs of a contested court process, even if you use a solicitor to support and assist you throughout. The length of the process varies because the number of sessions really depends on 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.

Safeguarding

Mediators are trained to deal with an imbalance in bargaining power or indeed bargaining skills. However, cases with relevant safeguarding and domestic abuse issues are not suitable for mediation.

At times, mediation sessions can be intense, challenging and even upsetting, not least because these issues are invariably very important to both parties. It is the mediator’s role to ensure that the sessions never get out of hand and that time is allowed for parties to compose themselves.   Still, the tension that can arise from 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.

Outcomes

Research, including Mapping Paths to Family Justice, and statistical information show that most mediations resolve issues successfully and that the vast majority of participants are happy with the outcomes and the process.

What does family mediation involve?

Written by Jane Robey, Chief Executive, NFM

This month thousands of couples across the country discovered that the Christmas holiday had been the last straw for their failing relationship, and decided to call time on their marriage. But what do they do next?

Even if we haven’t experienced it personally, we all know someone who’s been through a divorce. We’ve seen the impact on the emotions of the separating couple but also more importantly, the lasting effect it can have if children are involved.

When a couple separates there are vital parenting arrangements to be sorted: where the children will live; when they’ll see the other parent; their education; maintenance and child support; holiday arrangements; what happens to the pet, and more besides. If they’re handled badly the repercussions last years and span generations.

Then there are material things: what happens to property, finance, debts and pensions? The process can deteriorate into a destructive, competitive and litigious contest as couples adopt the traditional ‘mindset’ of divorce.

This sees them head straight off to a solicitor and the court room for what’s usually a long, drawn out battle as they seek to score a ‘victory’ over their ex.

It can last months, if not years, and can cost the earth. And then finally, when the court delivers its verdict, the arrangements rarely suit anyone’s interests, least of all the children. The one person in the court room who knows hardly anything about the family – the judge – decides everyone’s future.

Separating couples are often completely unaware there is a simpler way to settle things – a way that keeps them in the driving seat, influencing and controlling the outcomes, rather than having the outcomes imposed upon them.

Family mediation does not try to keep couples together. It’s not counselling. Mediation accepts that change happens in our lives and, instead of dwelling on what might have been, it helps everyone involved move forward to the next stages of their lives – apart –in a positive way.