Category Archives: Blog

Amongst all the heartache and anger, there is fear!

Written by Anne Braithwaite, FMA

I have been a mediator for over 25 years. For all but the last 5 ½ of those years, I was also a divorce lawyer dealing with all the fall out when a marriage ends with a focus on money. I guess I’ve now spent going on for 35 years helping people from all walks of life sort out what to do when the world as they know it ends. I know that, amongst all the heartache and anger, there is fear about what the future will bring. Until finances are sorted out it’s impossible to live other than in limbo, a very insecure place to be.

So everybody who separates needs to resolve financial issues before they can rebuild their lives. Often having a safer place financially speaking helps focus on the emotional needs of children. It also means you can answer the questions which they have about where they will live and go to school.

Many people don’t have a clue where to start or, even if they do, feel the need of some professional help. A mediator gives that help. Mediators don’t just get couples in a room and then let them just try to sort things out. How would anyone know where to start? That’s the mediator’s job. Whilst being flexible to the needs of each couple, mediators are in charge of the actual process. Your mediator ensures that sessions have focus and that the whole process feels that it is going somewhere. Mediation has to feel safe and that it has a structure and purpose.

Separation is new to you. You need to understand what the rules are. Mediators help there by giving what we call “legal information”. That means explaining things such as what the relevant legal factors are in a neutral way. I know my clients find that knowing what a court would consider helps them talk about their own financial division and what feels like a fair outcome. Having that information enables people to start to talk with a sense of direction.

Mediators also help to explain what you might do about pensions for example, a subject of great importance where most people feel at least a little at sea. Mediators make suggestions about how to achieve agreed valuations and get mortgage advice. They help you pull all the threads together. This is all new to clients but many mediators have years of experience in the family law field. We are guides through the process who can pass on knowledge so that you realise that you actually can be in control of what happens. Crucially a mediator will help you work out the shape of your future.

This is all against the background of full financial disclosure. There has to be evidence about income and capital, not just taking each other’s words for things. Apart from the fact that nobody can start to talk about dividing everything up without establishing what is there in the first place, mediators realise that trust is usually in short supply. Clients only feel safe to negotiate when they are sure of the facts.

A mediator will also listen to what is important to you both and may help you take into consideration things that haven’t even occurred to you, or at least not to both of you, such as being able to live in areas which offer a chance of getting children into good schools and how to help your children through higher education and to afford the school trips that their friends will go on.

When you decide on what you want to do, the mediator sets that out in a memorandum of understanding. This isn’t legally binding yet as it is the last step in negotiations. It’s also a good idea to have legal advice before making your proposals legally binding. I always strongly suggest to my clients that they take that advice in between our mediation sessions and not wait until the mediation is concluded. The terms in the memorandum are made legally binding by having either a separation agreement or a consent order made in divorce proceedings.

Mediation is a professionally led means of negotiation, a negotiation where you are assisted by a neutral third party who will be able to give you legal information and practical pointers whilst ensuring an equality of bargaining power between the two of you. It is a process where the two of you determine the shape of your futures for yourselves. After all only the two of you know what will best suit you and your family. What mediation is not, is remotely fluffy.

Anne Braithwaite

Treasurer on the board of The Family Mediators Association

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

So why should children be included in mediation?

Written by Bill Hewlett

I have been thinking about the many reasons that separating parents in mediation should be encouraged to give their children an opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling. Giving children a voice in mediation allows the parents to make decisions from an informed position. If they know how their children are feeling, they can, with the help of the mediator, work to make things better for all the family, creating a better parenting relationship that will leave the children free to grow and develop without concerns about how their parents are getting on with each other.

Parents usually try to shield their children from conflict, but invariably the children know that something big is happening when their parents separate and they can often feel left out. Including children in the process and letting them feel that their views and feelings are important is a very positive thing and can help alleviate their anxiety and confusion.

Bear in mind that these parents are probably struggling to understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives and they may also be finding it hard to focus on how their children are coping. The challenge is that, even though these parents are currently unable to talk to each other constructively and reassuringly about their children, they still have responsibility for making decisions that influence where the children live, what they eat, what school they go to, how they feel about themselves, how well they sleep, the list goes on. It appears that nothing matters more to children than what their parents think of each other.

When parents are fighting with each other they seem to lose their ability to be fully aware of how their children are feeling. The children may not want to say anything because they don’t want to add to an already stressful situation.

I often feel when we hear parents speaking harshly about each other, that we are hearing a description of a world that must be very difficult and dangerously stressful for their child and I feel that we should be reacting with immediate and urgent concern. This is what we should be thinking about when we hear the lack of respect that the parents have for each other, when we hear them question each other’s morality, when they tell us that they hate each other. The dangerously toxic environment that these children are living in could cause them lifelong harm, seriously compromising their wellbeing and their capacity to thrive now and in the future. We know that these parents are often so stressed and full of anxiety, thinking catastrophic thoughts, terrified about their future and afraid of what the other parent might do, that they are often only barely coping. And, while they are going through all this, they have absolute and ultimate responsibility for the mental, emotional, physical wellbeing of their children. In mediation, we take these concerns really seriously and want to do all we can to help the parents make a safer world for their children.

The Bottom line is, that regardless of how the children are choosing to talk about how their parents are managing their separation, if things aren’t good between their parents, then they won’t be good for the children. The reality is that ‘there’s no such thing as a still child around chaotic parents’ (Winnecott).

We need some way to draw the attention of the parents to what is happening to their children. When the parents are aware as to how their relationship is impacting on their children they will naturally be concerned and want to create an environment where their children can thrive

Children don’t want to be the decision makers on what arrangements are made for their care and welfare, but generally, (if they don’t think it’s going to make things worse), they would like to talk about it. If they could talk to someone who is committed to taking their perspectives into discussion with the parents, someone who they can feel confident will not make it worse, someone who can tell their parents things that maybe they haven’t been able to, then they often feel like a heavy burden has been lifted.

When children are helped to talk about their feelings, they begin to understand more and more about what’s going on for them. Children have a need to talk through things so that they can get a sense of how they should think and feel. They are designed to link up their young brains with a grown up adult brain to help make sense of things, to get a bigger picture perspective. When someone helps them to put a word to something they have been feeling but not perhaps not fully understanding, they feel better. We call it ‘naming it (the emotion) and taming it (the fear)’ (Seigel).

If you are thinking of using mediation to help you work out your parenting arrangements for your children now that you have separated, why don’t you ask your mediator to arrange for a child consultant to meet with your children? This will help you both to make plans that will allow your children to thrive, safe in the knowledge that they will appreciate being asked.

Bill Hewlett

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

“It was strange to begin with living with my dad, I’d never had that much to do with him before”.

Written by  Sally aged 16

There are no fixed rules!

When my parents split up it felt like the end of the world to me and that nothing would ever be the same again. I was right in thinking it would not be the same but little did I know that I would be happier now than I ever was when they were together.

I thought I had a perfect family, I had a sister who was two years older than me that I always looked up to, we went on holiday every year together….in my eyes everything was okay but when I was 12 my dad found out that my mum had been having an affair with another man. When I found out I was heartbroken and couldn’t believe what had happened.

That night, my mum left and decided to move in with her other man and I sat and talked to my dad all night about what had happened. A few weeks later my sister decided that she wanted to live with our mum so she left me and my dad.

It was strange to begin with living with my dad, I’d never had that much to do with him before. But we both knew that if we were going to get through this hard time we had to do it together. Neither one of us had ever done a weekly food shop before or bought school clothes for me etc so for the first year everything was a huge adventure!!

Until my mum left I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or who I was as a person but given the freedom and support from my dad within six months I was well on my way to becoming the person I wanted to be.  By the time the divorce had all gone through me and my dad gave my mum her cats and went to the rescue home to get a dog….we both fell in love with the craziest, happiest dog there and took her home a week later.

Almost five years later I still live with my dad and my dog! I began my dream of riding racehorses and would not have been able to become the person I am today if my parents hadn’t split up.

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

“I should buy the mediator Christmas presents every year”

Written by Robert

“I should buy the mediator Christmas presents every year”

Robert went through years of conflict in order to be able to see his children after a bitter divorce, and despite having to go to court on more than one occasion, mediation was what finally helped end those years of stress and misery.

Robert, his wife and the children all suffered physical and mental repercussions due to the stress, but Robert’s experience proves that even if one party insists on using the courts, if you can remain calm and focused, a healthy end result can be achieved, since it’s never too late to tap into using mediation.

In this podcast, Robert shares some of his story:

Robert is currently training to become a Mediator himself, and he supports other fathers via the national charity Families Need Fathers.  Through his own experiences, and those of others he has supported via the Families Need Fathers helpline, Robert has noticed how little support there is from Government for parents.

“Essentially, it’s much better for all the family if parents work together for their children’s benefit rather than to work against each other in the courts. The best way to support children is for their parents to be supportive of each other. The problem is that immediately after separation it’s more likely separating parents will be feeling very sore and wanting to score ‘hits’ over the other rather than being in the mood for cooperation!

Loss of communication, and therefore trust (or vice versa), is often the reason relationships fail. For effective collaboration post family breakdown it is essential to rebuild that communication and trust. Mediators are there to facilitate that process and play an essential part in helping children of broken families escape relatively unscathed by their parent’s misfortunes. There <i>does</i> have to be a will for success on both sides for mediation to be effective though, and this can be very hard to achieve.

A great proportion of parents in broken families come from broken families themselves, and so it goes on through generation to generation. One parent I spoke to said he’d been stopped seeing his children after he’d stuffed a bar of soap in his son’s mouth when he was being naughty – just as his parents did to him as a child. All he wanted to do now was to learn to be a good parent, but parenting courses offered were so expensive there was no chance he could afford them. Lots of government education advertising on what we should eat and drink, smoking etc, but not a lot on the importance of good parenting. Children learn parenting skills from their parents, so if their parents are lacking, generally speaking, their children will be as well.”

Robert

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

 

“Talk to your parents individually and explain how you’re feeling.”

Written by Sophie aged 16

 My parents divorced when I was 3 years old. Some would say that being a young child unaware of what is going on around you can help with the emotional side of a divorce, however I believe that it can be just as hard no matter what age you are when the divorce occurs.

As a child I often felt anger that I was the child amongst my friends who didn’t spend time with both of their parents, as I lived with my mum and spent little time with my dad and his new wife and children. His new relationship caused a lot of problems between my mum and him, which meant that it put me in a difficult position as a young child – I felt like I was torn in the middle as I didn’t want to take ones side over another.

Parents may often unknowingly make you feel pressurised to take their side when trouble occurs but a way of coping with this is to try and explain that you love them both and want to be kept out of their issues. As adults, they shouldn’t bring you into arguments as this isn’t good for you mentally, it can cause distress and anxiety.

Don’t bottle it up if you feel like you are in this situation. Talk to your parents individually and explain how you’re feeling. I now have no involvement in any discussion between my divorced parents and I feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable to contact and see either of them without feeling like I’m betraying one.

www.voicesinthemiddle.org.uk

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Child First Campaign to prevent abusive ex-partners cross examining their victims in court

 

Written by Zina Arinze

Fantastic news – and proof that sanity does eventually (begin to) prevail in the world of Divorce and Families:  As a result of the Child First Campaign bringing the issue of survivors of domestic abuse being cross examined by their abusers in the family courts and the subsequent Guardian investigation into the issue, the Government have announced an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban abusive ex-partners from cross examining their victims.

Women’s Aid say that:

“This will go a long way to ensuring that survivors of domestic abuse are properly able to advocate for the safety of their children when in the family courts and ultimately will help to ensure that there are no further avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact.”

The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Sir James Munby has been key in helping make this review happen:

“I have expressed particular concern about the fact that alleged perpetrators are able to cross-examine their alleged victims, something that, as family judges have been pointing out for many years, would not be permitted in a criminal court. Reform is required as a matter of priority. I would welcome a bar…I am disappointed by how slow the response to these issues has been and welcome the continuing efforts by Women’s Aid to bring these important matters to wider public attention.”

The situation around domestic abuse is complex.

 Divorce Recovery Coach Zina Arinze MIOEE has had personal experience of domestic abuse, and was one of the speakers at the Professional African Women speak out against Domestic Abuse and Violence conference in London on 15th of July 2016.

“Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in couple relationships or between family members, including sadly, children.
It cuts across race, social economic class, gender and faith. And for Black women, dare I say Professional African women, it’s an even bigger problem. Research suggests that Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV than White women.
 
In addition, it is well documented that religious beliefs and negative views about mental health services also factor into why many Black women remain with abusive partners. African women in particular are more likely to rely on religious guidance and faith-based practices when working through relationship issues. And rightly or wrongly these religious beliefs often discourage divorce, encourage forgiveness and occasionally condemns those who seek mental health support/psychiatric help instead of relying on their faith. These as well as other factors have informed our perceptions of what constitutes abuse thereby greatly shaping our paradigms.” Zina Arinze: Post-Divorce Reinvention Queen

 Women’s  Aid will continue to work closely with the Government on this review and see that the voices of survivors are central to this work.  But help is still needed, through continued support from the public through the petition to Justice Secretary, Rt Hon Liz Truss MP, to ensure that there are no further avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact with a known perpetrator of domestic abuse.

Women’s Aid want to ensure that the Government know that there are 50,000 people waiting to see what action they are going to take after the review and to ensure that the family courts are a safe space for survivors of domestic abuse.

Mediation is often said to be unsuitable in domestic abuse cases – but going to court can be far more traumatic. It is important not to automatically dismiss mediation – perhaps shuttle mediation or online mediation – because until the law is changed, a court-based divorce is still best avoided if the physical and mental safety of the victim is kept secure in the mediation process.

In this video, Zina talks about the struggle of divorcing and the support needed – which of course is even more essential if you are experiencing a domestic abuse scenario.

 

 

Zina Arinze is a Post-Divorce Reinvention Coach and founder of www.believeandliveagain.com,which helps divorced women to regain their confidence, self-esteem and start living again.

When you attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) you attend on your own, this allows you the opportunity to discuss your situation to see if mediation is suitable. Mediation is a voluntary process and you will not be asked to meet in the same room if you feel threatened in any way.

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

FAMILY MEDIATION SERVICES ACROSS THE COUNTRY URGE MORE SEPARATING COUPLES TO CONSIDER MEDIATION BEFORE JUMPING INTO A COURT BATTLE

Written by Gemma Walpole at Norfolk Family Mediation Service

Mediation offers a faster, cheaper way to agree the terms of divorce, separation or child contact, avoiding upsetting and expensive court battles; but a lack of awareness and understanding means thousands of people are missing out. In Family Mediation Week, services join together to highlight the benefits, and encourage more separating couples to give mediation a go.

With more than 100,000 couples filing for divorce each year, and one in three children likely to experience parental separation before the age of 16, mediation services across the country have joined forces to raise awareness about the positive benefits of family mediation.

One of the most persuasive reasons to give mediation a go is the financial aspect. Separating couples going through the courts will spend on average between £5,000 and £20,000 each. A series of mediation sessions however costs around £800 – a fraction of the expense and a small price to pay for a happy outcome.

As mediation is one of the few areas still funded by Legal Aid, it is even free for people on the lowest incomes, significantly easing the financial burden for families who are already struggling.

Sadly, even though the government favours non-dispute resolution for family issues, many people still aren’t aware of mediation, and even more misunderstand its purpose.

The eleven mediation services, who are based across East Anglia, London and the South East, are keen to encourage more people to give mediation a go and avoid the need to go to court.

“During separation, many people feel anger towards their ex-partner and believe that going to court is the only way to have their say and get the outcome they want.” Gemma Walpole, CEO of Norfolk Family Mediation Service explains. “However, separation is not a battle. The court process can be distressing and there are no winners, especially when there are children involved.”

Mediation helps people discuss issues calmly and confidentially, enabling them to address the things that matter to them, and to reach an agreement that works for everyone. Children are often the only common ground left in a failed relationship, so mediation encourages parents to put their children’s needs first, which can be a powerful and positive way to reach a resolution. The success rate is an inspiring 80%, with couples often reaching agreement in just two or three sessions.

But despite the numerous benefits, the Ministry of Justice found that in 2015, just 6% of applicants had attempted mediation before starting court proceedings, and a recent report from Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, found that 30% of the 40,599 private law applications it was involved in last year, had been to court before.

So why aren’t more people choosing to give mediation a go?

“A common misconception is that mediation is a form of counselling”, says Helen Bennett from Surrey Mediation. “Family mediation is not therapy, nor is it about getting couples back together. When a relationship breaks down, we are here to help people sort out the practical aspects of their separation, such as how often a child should see a parent, or how to divide money or property fairly.”

Another common myth is that mediation is only for married couples or those who have just separated.

“People often come to our services months or even years after their divorce or separation,” says Vivienne Keys from Cambridge Family Mediation Service. “They may have a new partner, be moving away, or want to change how much time they spend with their children. Whatever the situation, the door to mediation is always open.”

The breakdown of a relationship is one of the most difficult experiences an individual will go through and it is common for couples to find it hard to communicate after separation. Sadly, a court battle can leave everyone involved emotionally and financially drained. Mediation can offer a calmer, cheaper, altogether less distressing way forward.

As 22nd to 26th January 2018 sees The Family Mediators Association run a special awareness campaign, “Family Mediation Week”, services in Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Southwark, East Sussex, Surrey, Kent and London, felt it was the perfect time to highlight the great work they do, and ensure that many more families benefit from their support this year.

“As family mediation services, many of which are charities, we are here to help,” concludes Gemma, whose service in Norfolk has been helping families for over 30 years. “But we can’t provide the support people need and deserve if they aren’t aware that we exist. “We are really pleased that the Family Mediators Association has dedicated a whole week to help raise awareness of mediation and the great benefits it can bring”.

For more information, please contact Gemma Walpole at Norfolk Family Mediation Service by email gemma@norfolkmediation.co.uk, or by phone on 07909848569, or contact any of the participating services listed below:
Cambridge – www.cambridgefms.co.uk
London & Surrey – www.midmediation.org.uk
Kent – www.kentfms.co.uk
North West London & Herts – www.relatelondonnw.org.uk
Surrey – www.sfms.org.uk
Milton Keynes & Northhampton – www.mediationmk.org.uk
Southwark – www.southwarkmediation.co.uk
East Sussex – www.mediationeastsussex.co.uk
Oxfordshire – www.ofm.org.uk
London and Kent – www.selfmb.org.uk

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Listen, being listened to and staying in control

Written by Bill Hewlett, Civilised Separations

Mediation offers us the chance to listen and be listened to, this might not sound like huge thing in many ways, but if we have a look at what tends to lie under the surface of most relationship breakdowns, we will usually find that not feeling listened to was where it all started. Feeling that the other person in a significant relationship is unaware, or worse, indifferent to us, can hurt us deeply. There is nothing crueller one human being can do to another than to make them feel irrelevant and invisible. Once we reach that desperate state in a relationship, because we have lost the capacity to communicate and therefore to see the humanity in each other, we start to see our conflicts as character driven, i.e. ‘we’re in conflict because he’s a narcissist’, or ‘she’s only interested in the money’. Once the four horsemen of the apocalypse have ridden into a relationship (criticism, defensiveness, stone-walling and contempt), then the likelihood of being able to listen, or to be listened to, are next to none.

Yet the longing to be heard and have our genuinely heartfelt perspectives understood and appreciated never goes away. That’s why we keep repeating our stories, even though we’re sick of saying them, because we think that if we tell the other person just one more time, that they will finally understand what they have done to us and how they have made us feel. Unfortunately, the nature of conflict means that whenever we have tried this in the past, our worst fears about the other person have always proven to be correct.

Mediation can make this important conversation possible, where finally both people can say something they’ve been trying to say for years, but on this occasion, to finally feel listened to. Mediation can bring about a sense of acknowledgement of our experiences by helping the other person to listen to us, and in turn, for us to be able to listen to them, this can lead to a sense of acknowledgement, which can allow us to let go of what may have been years of pent up unexpressed anger and frustration.

It now appears from very recent research on the brain, that we are none of us as ultimately responsible for the conflict that exists in our lives as was once previously considered to be the case, this makes the humanising aspects of mediation all the more essential and it also makes the court based process that support the idea that someone has to take responsibility for consciously and intentionally bringing about the break-down of a relationship, all the more inappropriate.

When our relationships break down it appears that we routinely perceive ‘other’ people to have deliberately, wantonly and intentionally indulged themselves at our expense and that of our relationship with them, in other words we blame them for their character traits and we are particularly incensed by what we perceive to be concrete evidence of their constant intention to always prioritise their needs over ours. As our relationships have declined, we will have consistently been seeing evidence of their selfishness and ego-centeredness, but actually what we have been witnessing is evidence of them reacting with lightning speed to the anticipations of danger set up by their childhoods. In other words, they have been miscuing us and we have been witnessing them innocently and unknowingly playing out the consequences of their childhood experiences with their caregivers.

It seems now that actually most of our conflict with other people is driven by unconscious forces that drive us to behave in ways that are not what we would actually choose to be doing at all, in other words we’re not actually, really in charge of how we behave and how we react to other people. It seems that our childhood experiences directly intercede (without invitation and without declaring themselves) to inform us about how we should respond when someone treats us in a particular way. For example, if you had a childhood that resulted sometimes in you feeling that your feelings didn’t matter, your unconscious mind will make an instant assessment in your current day to day interactions with other people in accordance with that childhood experience, i.e. you will expect to be ignored. You will quite possibly react aggressively or defensively to this perceived danger and respond disproportionately to what could actually be a harmless and benign situation, because in some undeclared way, your implicit memory perceives you to be at risk.

Really, if we want to blame anyone for the breakdown of a relationship, then we should be looking to our ancestors and the ancestors of the other parent, because that’s when the first stressful memory originally occurred (war, famine, natural disasters, who could possibly know?) and consequent generations of offspring have been unknowingly and undeservingly experiencing the consequences of these events, and blaming each other for something over which in reality, they had very little control.

Mediation offers a process that is wise enough, patient enough and kind enough to take into account these unconscious factors that have contributed to the conflict with no real desire on anyone’s part to bring it about. Mediation can facilitate listening and being listened to and this will help both parents to see that they have been equally undone by forces outside of their control, this brings about a forgiveness that means discussion about their newly separated lives will be amicable and definitely in their child’s bests interests.

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

 

What you are listening to and what you want the other person to hear is important.

Written by Andrew Baines, FMA Board Member

 

Family breakdown ranges in severity from a place of toxic recrimination where both people in the relationship are hurting, to a mess where the people in the relationship simply want to find a way out. Mediation is about using communication to sort out a strategy which will take you from the place where you are, which is where you don’t want to be, to a different place, which is where you do want to be. That communication is in large part about listening and being listened to.

Changing the way you communicate with your former partner can be difficult and it usually takes practice to avoid falling back into the old ways of talking to each other. It may be the case that talking with your ex has been so painful that it has become easier simply not to talk at all. When you are in this place any kind of conversation will be difficult. But communicate you must, if you are to find a way forward that doesn’t hand over the reins of your life to a stranger.

What you are listening to and what you want the other person to hear is important. You may want to sort out who’s to blame for the mess you are in, you may want to justify yourself to the other person. But that conversation doesn’t actually help you work out what you need to do in the future in order to get you to the place you want to be. The starting point is being clear about your own needs financially and as a parent. It is equally important to be clear about the other person’s needs financially and as a parent. This clarity only comes about where each of you have listened to the other person and have been listened to. Misunderstandings can be dealt with this way too.

“You know when you say that you want to speak with Amy when she’s with me, it makes me think you don’t trust me and are checking up on me. That annoys me and it’s why I don’t like you doing it. So that’s why I want it to stop. But have I got that right?”

“Not really. I do trust you to look after Amy, I know she’s safe with you, it’s just that I find it so difficult not to worry and a quick phone call to Amy puts my mind at rest, even though I know you would never let her come to any harm.”

“Thanks for letting me know that you believe Amy is safe with me. Believe it or not, it’s important to me that you think Amy is safe with me. That helps. I guess you will always be a little worried and I’m always going to be a bit annoyed when you ring. So how about we agree a couple of times a week to stop our arguments about it getting out of hand?

Would a judge have sorted that out any better than these parents were able to? Unlikely – this solution came about because each parent felt heard, they felt safe enough to admit to what was really bugging them, they felt safe enough to check in with the other parent.

Family Mediation Week 2018, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

‘I wish my parents had known about family mediation’.

I would like to remain anonymous

I have chosen to share this part of my story because I believe that separation is a moment of absolute crisis. How we cope and work through that crisis shapes us and our children. When everything feels out of control and changing, we can choose how we make changes and whose feelings and priorities we put first. Mediation helps you do this in a secure and safe environment. It allows you to make a positive start for how you would like to relate to each other in the future.

My experience of my parents’ separation changed over time. My father often worked away from home, abroad for many months at a time, so we saw him intermittently and mainly at high points like holidays and celebrations. My parents maintained this contact after he moved out, and we even continued with doing things together when my parents had other partners. Despite this seeming togetherness, they continued to argue and there were always sticking points that proved difficult for them to negotiate. For example, I think my father would have liked to have had more contact with us, especially as we got older.

At one point he had a very proactive partner, who encouraged him to ask us to stay with him for part of the holidays. This was a chance to get to know our father better. She also encouraged us all as a family to go to family mediation (or perhaps it was called family conflict resolution?). This was primarily to help us as a family arrange holiday dates, which were often something, I think, perhaps in retrospect, my father felt left out from.

I remember meeting with the psychologists individually and then sitting as a group talking about what we would like best for the arrangements. I think I must have been in my early teens, or perhaps 11 or 12 years old. I really enjoyed the chance to speak objectively to someone about what I thought my parents’ dynamic was and how it affected my sister and myself. The psychologist asked how their behaviour made me feel and I also remember commenting on how I perceived their behaviour. They also asked how best we would like to arrange the holidays. They then gathered the opinions together and we resolved the holiday dates taking everyone’s wants and needs into account. I remember thinking it was incredibly civilized, and not feeling at all bad about making compromises, so long as we all understood each others’ needs and wishes. As a child I also wondered why all adults couldn’t behave like this and felt my own parents were gripped in a dynamic – why couldn’t they just unlock themselves from certain patterns of behaviour, where one person’s actions / words always triggered a known reaction? I could literally feel these actions and reactions approaching and would try to intervene. The mediators listened and they presented our views as important.

Separation is hard for everyone. Parents feel hurt. Children want to feel secure. They want to know that their parents can work together to parent them. Mediation can help separate out the issues and make different needs and desires clear. It can offer practical solutions at a time when everything feels messy and out of order and scary. Because it is based on working things out face-to-face it is also very good practice for the kind of relationship you want to establish with your ex-partner later on, something legal proceedings would not do. If my child had been older, I would also have liked him to be involved. My own experience of being taken seriously as a child by mediators was very empowering and let me feel like I was part of the decision-making process. It was good to be asked what I felt and wanted. While often having to witness their negotiations as arguments, I was allowed to take part in the decisions and see them working as adults respectfully together, with us.

 My experience of mediation after my own separation has been very positive. Mediation puts the child’s needs at the centre, allowing parents to work out how best they can create a supportive environment for their children. After separation there will always be changes. Some of them will be hard to accept and we may worry about the impact on our children. Being able to act with respect for each other is the best example and gift we can give to our children. It makes children feel the changes are less scary. As adults, we have a choice to be the exemplary people we would like them to be.

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