Category Archives: Separation

Day 5 A ray of sunshine – what a relief

By Philippa Johnson, Chair of the FMA

The goal of family mediation is helping families to find fair solutions that make the best of the situation the family is in. Which begs the question, what is a fair solution?

A fair solution is one that everyone in the family can make work for them.
A fair solution is one that everyone in the family will accept and will make a real commitment to.
A fair solution is one that has taken everyone’s concerns into account.
A fair solution is one that the courts and, if you have them, lawyers, will understand is one that meets the family’s needs.
A fair solution is one that will allow everyone in the family to get on with their lives.

So what will help you to find a fair solution?

  • Ask questions about and reflect on what the other person is feeling and thinking – ask them what they think about the situation and really listen to the answers. Be kind, don’t blame the other person; try to think about conversations that have gone well in the past and use strategies that have worked before.
  • Don’t fix yourself into a ‘position’, saying “I won’t” or “I will”. Instead find out what the other person’s needs are and explain what your needs are – when we talk about needs we mean what negotiators describe as ‘interests’, in other words the reasons behind your “position”.
  • Manage your emotions. That doesn’t mean ignoring them; it can really help to explain that you have strong emotions. It does mean working out how to express those emotions in a way that doesn’t end the conversation or cause such hurt that the other person won’t listen to you. It also means accepting that the other person will also have strong emotions.
  • Acknowledge what the other person is saying and feeling. It is especially important to say thank you when someone offers you something you have been saying you wanted – don’t say “thank you, but”. Just say “thank you”. If there has to be a “but” save it until later. Recognise the things that the other person is contributing and has contributed to the family and let them know that you have noticed them. If you show them that you have seen things from their perspective, they are much more likely to see things from yours.
  • Make your points in a positive not a negative way. If you blame and criticise the other person they will stop listening – that is simply human nature. Suggest changes rather than explaining what is wrong. If you don’t like a suggestion that has been made, instead of rejecting it, explain what adaptation you think would work. If you can, find solutions that involve building on the other person’s suggestion, instead of building on your own. Try to offer a number of different solutions; if none of them work for the other person, ask them which one they thought was best and try to adapt that in a creative way.
  • Try to identify some independent standards for what is sensible, fair and reasonable – one of the best independent standards is whether or not the solution is reciprocal – would you accept the solution you are suggesting if you were the other person? Try to let go of the idea that you have a monopoly on good sense, fairness and reason. Accept responsibility for your own feelings and your own part in the disagreement – no-one is right all the time. Try not to use language that suggests that you understand your family situation or what the children feel and that the other person does not.
  • If the conversation is not going well, try not to react. Anything which pushes you back into the old patterns of conversation will probably get in the way of finding a fair solution. Instead ask what you can do to make things better.

Of course a fair solution probably isn’t the same as the solution you wanted when you were thinking about what was best for you, and it isn’t necessarily the same as the solution that you thought was best for the children. A fair solution doesn’t necessarily leave either of you feeling overjoyed. Mediation sometimes helps couples find a good solution that neither of them had thought of before but often finding a fair solution requires compromise. Compromise is rarely easy and it can leave both people a bit dissatisfied with the outcome. No-one feels thrilled about compromising – it just doesn’t sound like fun. But when the alternative is to drift around in the fog, waiting for someone else to make the first move, that’s even less like fun.

So why do we think the end of the mediation will feel like a ray of sunshine? Because finding a solution, even if it is a compromise solution, will take you out of the crisis of separation and divorce and let you start living the rest of your life. You will know that you looked at all the options and worked together to find one that all of you could live with. You will feel relieved and happy, knowing that you sorted this out between yourselves. You will be justifiably proud of the hard work you put into sorting out your family’s problems in a fair way. And that will definitely feel like a ray of sunshine.

National Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.

Day 4 The clouds are parting – starting to see a way through

By Philippa Johnson, Chair of the FMA

One of the most difficult things about divorce and separation is all the uncertainty and confusion. Mediation can help you work out what your options are. Sometimes none of the options will be very good ones from your point of view; sadly, life sometimes brings difficult times and unhappy choices. However, once you know what your real choices are you can start to take control back in your life and decide on the choice that seems to be the best one for your family.

How does the mediation process help?

Mediation is a sort of a structured conversation, in which a professional helps the people who are mediating to discuss difficult things in a safe space. A qualified mediator will keep the discussion focused on the important issues and will encourage you both to think about the future rather than the past. In family mediation much more than in other kinds of mediation the people mediating have probably had a great many difficult conversations over the years, especially recently and you may be used to conversations that make things worse rather than better. If that is true, it can be difficult to hear the other person or to feel that you have been heard. The mediator is there to help you have a very different conversation. It often helps to set your own ground rules for the conversation – what is or isn’t going to help both of you to talk to one another in a positive way.

The first thing to do is to identify the issues – in other words you need to set an agenda. To make best use of your time with the mediator it really helps to go to your first mediation knowing what is important to you. Try to keep an open mind about what the practical solution might look like but identify the questions that you believe need answering. These will be unique to your family, but might include, for example: “how can we protect our children from all the adult stuff?”, “where will we both live”?, “how am I going to pay the bills?”

You will both have an opportunity to explain what you think the important issues are. It is very important that you both listen carefully to what the other person is saying. In particular you both need to explain to the other person what things are making you anxious about the future – what you are most frightened of happening – and to identify anything that you believe will improve the situation for both of you. Try to think about what you would believe would be a good outcome for the family at some time in the future – in six months’ time or a year’s time or in two years’ time. Often, people have remarkably similar ideas about what a good outcome would look like in the future. In all your discussions with your ex partner keep that good outcome in mind as a goal and try not to do anything that will make that good outcome less likely. You may have important questions – the mediator can’t give you advice about your individual situation but they can give you information about the way the courts approach divorce and separation and suggest places you can go to find out more. They are there to help you to make decisions, although not to make decisions for you. If you want to understand more about the legal background to divorce, have a look at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/tags/divorce which has a collection of useful guides.

If you have financial issues to discuss, you will need to provide each other with the important financial information so that you can understand what your real financial choices are – you can decide between yourselves that something isn’t important to you as a family, but you will need to show each other all the information you have about your income, your property, your savings, investments and pensions and any loans or debts. You can find some useful free advice on how to do this, including a budget planner at https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/how-to-sort-out-your-finances-on-divorce-or-dissolution. You will also need to understand what you spend your money on so that you can work out a budget going forward. The mediator will record all the information provided in a document, which you will sign once it is ready and which both of you can use outside the mediation, including in court.

If you have children arrangements to discuss, you will need to gather together the important information that impacts on them so that you can understand what your real choices are. If you are feeling overwhelmed, have a look at https://www.sortingoutseparation.org.uk/children-parenting/parenting-arrangements-children/ who will give you some ideas about what usually happens. There is an expectation that children aged 10 and above will have an opportunity to talk to the mediators about what they think is important, unless there is a special reason not to send them an invitation. Their views can then be fed into your discussions – you are still the parents and it is your responsibility to make decisions, but knowing what your children think and feel about their situation is likely to help you to make better decisions.

The next stage involves exploring the options that are in practice open to you – these will depend very much on your personal circumstances and what is important to your family. Both of you can and should say how you feel about these options but you will probably both find it less frustrating if you have a full and honest conversation about each option, including the ones that you don’t like very much. Make sure you think about all of the practical options rather than rejecting or accepting an option quickly. Talking through the options will often mean going away and finding something out. Sometimes talking through the options will involve inviting someone else into the mediation room, an expert or an adviser. Sometimes talking things through will help you both transform an option from one that really doesn’t work for one person to one that works for both of you, by changing one element. Sometimes, understanding why someone doesn’t like a particular option helps the other person to come up with a different solution that works better. A solution will never be forced on you so please don’t worry that just discussing an option leaves you vulnerable.

Working your way through to a clear understanding of your options isn’t easy but there is a clear pathway and once you have started down it, each step will take closer to your goal.

National Family Mediation Week 21-25th January 2019, Click here to find out everything you need to know about Family Mediation and how it can help.