Falling in love or harassment?

weighing scalesDuring last year around the time there were changes made to the law on harassment, I was  reading a book by Robert Dunbar ‘The Signs of Love and Betrayal’ where there is a description of a recognised condition known as Clerambault’s syndrome (named after a French psychiatrist).  It is an obsession or more particularly a delusional belief that a particular individual is very much in love with them.  This particular belief is usually so intense that nothing the object of desire says or does will shake it.  All attempts to stop the unwelcome attention of the individual concerned are interpreted as playing hard to get in order to test the suitor’s resolve.  It is evidently more common in women.  In fact it occurs more frequently in older women and more often women who are or have been married.  There are a few examples of celebrities who have suffered from this and it also features in Ian McEwen’s novel ‘Enduring Love’.  From an evolutionary point of view this kind of obsession makes a certain sense.  Once you have made up your mind whom to take as your lifelong partner, then the best thing is to go for it as hard as you can.   Although women are impressed by attentiveness, men are probably more easily swayed by persistence, if only because to quote the book “they are usually happier than women to settle for whatever they can get”.  As Dunbar goes on to say life is much too short to waste time searching for Mr or Ms Perfect.  There is a trade-off to be had between continuing to search forever and just getting on with the biological business that having a relationship is all about – reproduction.  You are not going to do significantly better by rejecting an endless series of suitors in search of the perfect mate.  Do not forget too, that even if the perfect mate does exist, they know how perfect they are so will only be willing to settle for the perfect mate of the opposite sex.  They end up with the pick of the bunch. If you wait around too long you may be completely left out.  Anyway there is no such thing as the perfect mate although perhaps you need to believe you have found him or her. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

Collaboration and Mediation – what is the difference?

children walking togetherThere has been a lot of publicity about mediation in the context of divorce, but also a lot of misunderstanding. If you are thinking about divorce proceedings you do not have to go to mediation first, it is not compulsory. Changes were introduced by the Government to encourage couples to consider alternatives to going to court and these make mediation part of the process only if you are thinking about going to court to argue about finances (the division of the house, your pensions, etc) or you are arguing about the children. Obviously it is a good idea to look at other ways of resolving difficulties rather than going straight to the courts as this tends to be not only expensive, but a process that polarises people and they end up in a worse situation emotionally as well as financially. Also of course the courts will impose a solution that is not one that the parties have arrived at themselves. Far better to consider other ways of resolving difficulties. The Government is though, now considering making a visit to a mediator a requisite part of any application to court concerning children or finances. Within the context of divorce, collaboration has a very specific meaning, whereas mediation is a general term to cover ways of exploring common ground and possible compromises. Mediation is a means of resolving disputes which arise before, during or after separation or divorce and can also help you to agree issues in relation to your children. It provides a safe environment, helping to reduce hostility and improve the chance of long term positive communication. You can explore different options and the Mediator will assist you in checking how practical your proposals really are and guiding you to acceptable and workable solutions. Above all the outcome you reach is entirely under your control, rather than being imposed by the Courts. It is therefore far less costly than Court proceedings both financially and emotionally. With mediation there is generally one person acting as a mediator for both the parties, but of course it can be that the parties don’t want to sit in the same room as each other, maybe communication has broken down to such an extent that it is almost impossible, or one party feels intimidated by the other. If that is the case but you want to avoid going to court – it may be that using the collaborative approach would be better. With the collaborative process with a divorce, the parties do sit round the table, but they are always accompanied by their lawyer. The difference is that, although they are instructing their lawyer to represent them and their views, both lawyers in a truly collaborative process are trying to seek a solution which as far as possible suits both parties. They are not trying to achieve the best for their client at the expense of the other party. So the typical adversarial approach that you get in court is dispensed with and hopefully replaced by something better. Having your lawyer present can be reassuring, but obviously more expensive than mediation when there is only one mediator rather than two lawyers. At the end of the day there are a limited number of options available to parties who are divorcing, is it not sensible to go through these options in a calm and reasoned way, everyone sitting round the table together making full disclosure of all the assets and trying to reach a rational conclusion? Collaboration or mediation makes sense – emotionally, financially and practically. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.        

What is the etiquette of divorce?

Little boy playing with a toy boatIt seems to me that there should be a guide on how to behave during a divorce, whether you are the couples themselves or their friends and families.  Everyone knows people who are separating or going through a divorce and it is usually a painful process for all concerned.  Although it is a common occurrence it is perhaps not talked about enough – it is almost a taboo subject along with death; we recognise its inevitability but do not talk about it as openly and freely as perhaps we should. Perhaps we do not know how to or what to say or how to behave.  Friends of couples who are separating often worry about what to say and how to behave towards each party.  If they have been a long standing friend with say the husband, can they stay friends with the wife or does this seem in some way disloyal to the husband and vice versa of course?  Does divorce automatically mean divorce for friends too?  Remaining friends with both parties should not imply taking sides in any sense.  Surely we should be able to maintain these relationships without having to take a view one way or the other on the separation.  It is difficult but not impossible particularly, if we all begin to have these conversations. Much more importantly of course is how those separating couples behave to each other.  If they can maintain a relationship then so can everyone else.  We need to accept that feelings are running high, people can be angry, bitter, confused, hurt and a combination of all of those; but it might help the separating couples stay civilised if their friends don’t take sides but try to maintain relationships. The most important people in any separation are the children.  They have to cope with a whole series of new relationships thrust upon them by adults who are often caught up in  their own emotional issues.  I think children need a lot more help than they are given in dealing with these new relationships.  How do you relate to a new mum or dad, what do you call them?  What about new siblings, do you have to treat those the same as your biological siblings?  Children are often expected just to absorb these new situations as after all “children are so adaptable aren’t they”.  What I think we need to allow for is the fact that children have, and have a right to have, strong emotions, prejudices, likes and dislikes, as do adults.  They are not necessarily going to take kindly to a new partner for their mum or dad, or new siblings – they are bound to feel jealous and confused.  Change should be introduced gradually and with a great deal of understanding and open discussion. We do seem to expect a lot of our children having to cope with these changing family situations as well as all the other emotional issues that may be going on in their own lives with their own relationships – with friends and at school or work. I think we as a society should be a lot more open about discussing the issues surrounding divorce and separation.  It is a common occurrence but just because it happens a lot does not mean that it is not painful and difficult for all those experiencing it.  But if we had more open conversations about how to deal with these difficult situations, it might in some small way help. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

Is a pain-free divorce possible?

2 children at the windowI think the short answer to this is possibly not, unless it is a short marriage without children, then it might be, but even then I am sure one person will be more upset than the other if they are in some way on the receiving end of news that they did not want to hear. Most divorces occur after several years and there are children who are bound to be confused, if not hurt and upset, by their parents’ separation.  Although, if there are problems in the marriage, the children are bound to know about it even if the parents think they do not. So if a completely painless separation is not possible, what can be done to make the process better?  Should we make the process better?  I ask that question because parliament, in its infinite wisdom, has still not agreed to the concept of a no-fault divorce which means that unless the parties agree to live apart for two years, then one has to in some way blame the other for the divorce which does not help. The first step in a potentially pain-free divorce is for everyone to agree not to fight.  There are going to be no winners, only the lawyers, if parties argue through Court.  I do think that it is wise to seek help and advice from someone outside of the immediate family – someone who can look rationally at the circumstances and give solid practical advice about the legal situation (marriage, after all, is a legal contract which has to be dissolved by a Court) and how best to deal with the practical issues of where and how the parties are going to live in the future.  Take advice from someone who is committed to reduce and not increase the tension.  Do not be tempted to think that you can score points over the other or “win” in any way.  I am not suggesting that you turn the other cheek in a passive sense but that you do something much more constructive; seek realistic advice, and together, work out how to use your joint resources in the best possible way. That’s not just the financial resources – house, pension, salaries etc – but also your joint parenting skills to make the separation as easy and pain-free for the children as possible.  Change of any sort can be difficult to deal with but change is not necessarily always for the worst – it can be an opportunity to do things differently and better. Mums and Dads can and will have to acquire new parenting skills to deal with a new situation, to adapt to dealing with the children on their own and ultimately probably introducing the children to new partners and possibly new siblings.  Step parenting is a skill that more and more parents are having to acquire and it’s much easier if the initial separation or divorce has been dealt with positively and with as much kindness as the parties can muster because it’s only the start of something new. It is a great mistake to look at the short-term – to concentrate on the divorce and regard it as a battle to try and get as much as possible (much in terms of financial resources and much in terms of contact or “possession” of the children).   Try and look on the divorce as a change that has got to be made to everyone’s lives but a change that, if made with the positive input of all concerned, can be if not for the better than at least not for the worst. Resources to help you include the really excellent Government website www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk for financial help and advice, and Resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) for details of collaborative lawyers and trained mediators. Nicky Gough is a trained mediator - for more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

The high cost of divorce

Father walking his childrenThere has been plenty in the press about the rising number of complaints about family lawyers, in particular to the legal ombudsman.  The main reason for those complaints seems to be the cost of divorce in terms of legal fees.  I am not going to defend the position of family lawyers here but I think anyone involved in divorce, in whatever capacity, knows that things often do not go well – there is often an over-optimistic approach and while everyone hopes that matters will be resolved amicably, sometimes they are not!  As I always say, the more people can agree between themselves, the better, not only for them personally and emotionally but also to reduce legal costs. One thing that often gets in the way is the grudge.  One or both parties bear a grudge and they do not let it go.  I am told that US lawyers are advised to “pour honey over the heart of resentment”.  Not something that I have ever felt moved to do but perhaps it would be useful if we could all accept responsibility for times we have over-reacted to a supposed offence.  We may have to accept that bad stuff happens to good people for no reason and we all need to move forward. In an ideal world I am sure divorcing couples would have access to divorce coaches, counsellors, psychologists, family therapists e.t.c. as well as the lawyer.  But since the lawyers alone tend to be more than people can afford, these other resources are just not going to be available. So the question remains:  how does one move forward after a divorce?  It is easy to say forgiveness and acceptance are important criteria but the Decree Absolute or Court proceedings cannot themselves be a grudge to an end.  Part of the divorce process should allow and enable both parties to move on without any anger, resentment or bitterness that may well affect any future relationships. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

How do you negotiate with “difficult” people?

office-interiorI suspect no one considers themselves to be “difficult” so we are perhaps talking about people with strong opinions which they consider correct.  I would always advocate attempting negotiation or mediation rather than simply assuming an adversarial approach and heading to Court.  It always helps as a first step to actually take a step back and get some perspective on the situation.  It is easy to be so convinced of your own position that you do not look at the alternatives which might have some unforeseen benefits. As we all know, under stress even reasonable people can become angry, intractable and entrenched in their view.  Anger and hostility may also hide fear and mistrust, confusion and distress.  You need to deal with not only that person’s behaviour but your reaction to it which can easily perpetuate the very behaviour you would like to stop.  If you react angrily, negotiation may become impossible. The aim is to move from face-to-face confrontation to side-by-side problem solving - it is always worth a try.  Working together to seek solutions rather than having an angry confrontation which goes nowhere. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”. Ambrose Bierce Sometimes people may try to wind you up - if you succumb to anger you stop thinking clearly and by reacting you become part of the problem.  It is important not to react to provocation or try to provoke a reaction! Sometimes the most affective negotiation is accomplished by saying nothing. Sometimes emotional reactions indicate a need for recognition of pain or distress or hurt.  We all have a deep need for recognition, and satisfying that need can help create a climate for agreement.  Acknowledging the other’s point of view does not mean that you necessary agree with it.  It means that you accept it as one valid point of view amongst others, but it sends a conciliatory message.  Agree wherever you can.  It is possible to agree without conceding. Saying “Yes, you have a point there” or “Yes, I agree with you” always goes down well. As well as using yes a lot use “we” and try and find out what each party really wants as there may be more mutual ground than first thought.  It is important too that no one loses face and the other acknowledges that.  The bottom line is that it is better for people to negotiate an agreement, to engage in mediation or have discussions, to reach their own solution rather than getting into any sort of Court argument with a decision imposed by a third party. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com. See also “Getting Past No” by William Ury.

Who has the children?

children walking togetherWhen parents separate a key question is what is going to happen to the children.  Contrary to popular belief both parents not just fathers, fear that they will see less of their children.  Obviously dads worry that they may not have so much contact with their children but mums worry about that too.  The question of who gets the children can and does cause enormous stress and stress can lead to anger and resentment. A lot of that anger is in the form of assuming that the Courts in some way favour women/mothers but the reality is very different.  Most disputes over children thankfully never get anywhere near the Courts and are resolved by other means.  But the overriding guidelines are that when parents separate they both remain parents of the children, they both have a role to play in children’s lives which mean that they both have equal rights and responsibilities with regard to those children. Obviously if they are living separately then practical arrangements will need to be made about when the children see and stay with each parent.  But if it is made on the clear understanding that whatever the practical arrangements it is a shared and joint arrangement, it can reduce a lot of the anxiety and anger. It is helpful for both parents if they recognise that they are both going to be involved in their children’s lives whatever the outcome of the separation. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

Changes in Family Law – a new dedicated Family Court

The Crime and Courts Act 2013 introduced the concept of a single Family Court, which will deal only with family matters.  This, it is anticipated, will be operational from April 2014.  The Family Court will deal with all family cases with the exception of two areas of law: those involving the jurisdiction of the High Court - i.e. serious and unusual matters such as Wardship - and International cases. Three children in woodsThe Family Court will include all levels of Judge and there will not be the transfer between Magistrates and County Court as there is at the moment which should enable cases to be heard quicker and in less time. As there are various levels of Judges it is important to ensure that each case is allocated to the correct level which is hoped will be achieved by a specific team when cases are submitted.  Court staff have been assured that there will be no Court closures or redundancies as a result of this single Family Court – we shall see! The big change after the reduction of the availability of Legal Aid in April is of course the number of people who are making applications in person rather than using a Solicitor or Barrister.  As they are often not aware of the procedure, cases can take longer and Judges are being given specific training on how to deal with litigants in person.   The new Family Court is presumably to make the whole process easier for everyone to use. Other key changes being introduced are: -
  1. Attendance at a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) will be a  prerequisite before making an application to the Court (unless there are specified exemptions such as domestic violence).  This is a meeting before a Mediator who gives both parties (not necessarily together) information about the options available to them and encourages Mediation rather than an application to the Court.
  2. There is to be a presumption that both parents should be involved in the life of the child and that this will be in the child’s best interests – unless of course there is an exception indicating one parent’s unsuitability.
  3. Contact and Residence Orders are to go - they will be replaced by “Child Arrangement Orders” specifying with whom a child is to live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with, and when they are to do so.
The most important change is of course the introduction of a single Family Court which it is hoped and intended will speed up the hearing of children proceedings which should of course be in everyone’s interest. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.

Cycling from London to Edinburgh and back in four days

London Edinburgh Cycle 1As most of you know, I recently embarked on a cycling event for Oxfam (my Just Giving page is www.justgiving.com/nickysbike).  This was a cycling event which takes place once every four years.  It is run by Audax UK which is an International long distance cycling organisation and riders from all over the world participate.  Entry was limited to about 1000 riders and over 60% were from overseas  - Europe, Canada, Australia, America, Japan, New Zealand…. the riders from overseas were amazed by the scenery we have in this country particularly in Scotland.  The aim was to cycle from London to Edinburgh and back, a total distance of 1419km (provided you do not get lost!) within a set time.   London Edinburgh Cycle 2Riders were started off in groups of about 50 every fifteen minutes or so.  I left at 7.45am on Sunday morning which meant that I had to complete the event by 4am Friday morning.  In the end I arrived back in London at 10pm on Thursday evening having endured temperatures of over 30 degrees that day and a cross wind in the Fens which felt more like a hairdryer.  We all had a route sheet detailing our route and certain controls to check in at.  They were mainly schools that had been taken over to provide food, showers, somewhere to keep the bikes for an hour or two and mattresses to grab a few hours sleep.   London Edinburgh Cycle 3The first control was at St. Ives after 100km - the other controls were Kirton, Market Rasen, Pocklington, Thirsk, Barnard Castle, Brampton, Moffat then Edinburgh and then on the way back two small controls in the middle of nowhere, Traquair and Eskdalemur, and then back to Brampton, Barnard Castle, Thirsk, Pocklington, across the Humber Bridge again, Market Rasen, Kirton, St. Ives and London (Loughton).  Food was always available and riders would be coming and going at all times of the day and night.  I tended to cycle until about 11pm and then catch a few hours sleep, get up about 3am/4am and set off just before dawn.  This meant I had some tremendous rides in the Scottish Borders as the dawn rose over absolutely amazing countryside and then again climbing over Yad Moss, Pennines as the sun rose.  On the way up, unfortunately, I had cycled over Yad Moss in a hailstorm so had seen very little of the scenery.  As cyclists checked in at the controls we grabbed some food – this could be breakfast, lunch or any combination.  Quite often breakfast would consist of porridge, pasta and sponge pudding and custard at 4am in the morning!  You did need to eat quite a lot - on average I probably used about 6000 calories a day.   It was an amazing experience and the helpers at the controls were great, enthusiastic, helpful, encouraging and lively - all on 24 hour shifts.  At each control there was also a mechanic to carry out any necessary repairs.   London Edinburgh Cycle 5Fortunately nothing went wrong with my bike until I arrived back in London.  My gears had been playing up a little bit and when I looked the front gear cable had actually rusted through the metal and underneath the wires had frayed and split  - so I only just made it in time.  At one point I was cycling with a German lawyer who had brought with him a very high spec brand new bike with electric gear change which unfortunately failed just after Edinburgh - from then on he was stuck in one gear and in effect did the whole event on a fixed wheel bike.  But as he said, on a number of occasions, giving up was not an option!   London Edinburgh Cycle 6As well as normal bikes there was a whole array of cycling paraphernalia - velos which are the encased bikes which go really fast over 40mph on the flat, recumbents which also go really fast, tandems and fixed wheel bikes.   Fixed wheel mean that they have only one gear so cyclists often have to weave from side to side to get up hills and if there is no free wheel - they have to peddle downhill.  You can imagine what that is like if you are going really fast! And finally there was the onion seller - a guy dressed as a French onion seller - this time with vines rather than a string of onions (so a vineyard owner!) on a 1920s bike which only had two gears and to go uphill he needed to pedal backwards.  It takes all sorts.   London Edinburgh Cycle 7We were lucky with the weather and stunned by the scenery, encouraged by our companions and all in all had a terrific time  - I hope this goes some way to explaining why I actually enjoyed cycling 1400km in four days.

Is it possible to have a happy family holiday post-divorce?

children and father on holidayIs it possible to have a happy family holiday post-divorce?  No divorcing person needs to be told how important their children are and no divorcing parent needs to be told how stressful the process can be and how difficult, in particular, the summer holiday period can be.  There is the practical difficulties of arranging childcare over the summer holiday with your partner or ex-partner, and of course deciding who is to go on holiday with whom and when.  Added to all of this there will be the fact that having separated or divorced, the parties are generally worse off financially, so all of this combines to produce what can be a very stressful situation. Among the issues you and your children may be worried about this holiday period are:-
  • Which parent will have access to the children and when?
  • Will the children be able to fully relax and have a fun time with only one parent, will they not feel disloyal or miss the other parent?
  • Will there be any competition between parents about the provision of a holiday, is the parent with the better job or a new partner able to give the children a better holiday?
  • How do you deal with the fact that there may be sad memories of past holidays when you were all together?
Of course holidays will never be the same post-separation but here are some practical suggestions to have the best possible holiday:
  1. Start by planning ahead - having a schedule in place for when the children will be with which partner will ease their anxiety and help any transitions between parents.
  2. Before going away make a mental resolution to enjoy the holiday, whatever the circumstances are during the lead up to it.  Whatever trauma and stress you may have been through as a family, whatever you might be feeling towards your ex, try and have a good time away with your children.
  3. Have the best holiday you possibly can under the circumstances.  Show the children that whatever has happened to the family, you still love them and want to share your holiday, and in particular, your time with them.
  4. Don’t say unpleasant things about the other parent. You don’t want your children to feel guilty or confused about spending holiday time with your ex-partner.
  5. Let your former partner have their quality time with the children and don’t argue about it or interfere.  You both have as much right to spend time with the children as each other.
  6. Appreciate that your children may be sad that their parents can’t both be there to enjoy the holiday together. Let them know that it is okay to feel that way.  Don’t pressure them to act happy if they don’t honestly feel it.
I am grateful for Dan Couvrette of Divorce Magazine for some of these tips. Further tips are available from Nicola Menage who specializes in stress management including stress resulting from relationship breakdown. Above all, try and have a good holiday! For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.