How do you negotiate with difficult people?

children in a forestI 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 effective 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.  
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The denial of fathers’ rights in divorce?

Father walking his childrenThe Family Justice Review (“FJR”) came out at the end of last year, but due to its length it has taken some time for it to be digested and in February the Government proposed new laws to enshrine some of its principles. This caused some press activity because the recommendation or suggestion that children should have a meaningful relationship with both parents was taken as an indication that there should be some sort of automatic contact with both parents. This was then taken to mean a right for fathers to have contact with their children. So a fairly sensible and common sense approach – that children should, generally obviously, have a meaningful relationship with both parents – was somehow turned into a battle of “rights”. Louis de Bernieres wrote a very long article for the Daily Mail bemoaning the lack of fathers’ rights, as though they were in some way denied these by the court. The situation is that the courts have to treat the childrens’ interests as paramount, not either of the parents’ interests. This generally means that both parents should in some way maintain a meaningful relationship with the children, but there is no automatic assumption that a child remains with their mother and has little contact with their father, or vice versa, unless there is some very unusual situation. As with contact, so with finances – there is no automatic right for a mother to remain in the matrimonial home with the children while the father is forced to re-house in a small flat somewhere. The courts have always said that both parents need to be, if possible, adequately rehoused to enable both of them to provide proper accommodation for when they see their children. Why is it then that fathers claim a lack of rights and mothers fear a change in the law will reduce their contact with their children? It is perhaps hard for parents caught in an emotive dispute about their children to see things dispassionately, but actually it is never a question of parent’s rights, but of their responsibilities and obligations towards the children and what the courts are trying to do in a difficult and emotional situation is to try and ensure that children see both parents. Obviously it is practically difficult to arrange the way a child lives so as to be “fair” to the mother, the father and the child. Someone has to lose out and yes, it is unfortunate that divorce often means a lack of contact with a child, but this is often the case for both parents because there is no other practical arrangement. It is not a bias on the part of the courts or a denial of fathers’ rights. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.  
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Changing the rules in divorce

children walking through wheat fieldIn February this year the Government proposed changes to contact arrangements and this caught the headlines.  It is perhaps unfortunate that some of the other less provocative, but very sensible, proposals contained in the report were lost in the discussion about whether or not fathers would have more contact with their children. One proposal was that separating couples would automatically have an on-line information helpline to give them access to all sorts of information when they are separating, not just legal.  I generally suggest that parents take advantage of other non-legal assistance, such as guidance and support in helping their children deal with their separation, or help to deal with their own emotional issues.  It is important that all parties in a divorce can move on from what can be a very difficult emotional situation to a place where there is acceptance and, if necessary, forgiveness.  We all know of people who are trapped in the bitterness of an acrimonious relationship.  Even after many years they can still bemoan their former partner, which actually does more damage to themselves.  It is also of course vitally important that children are helped through what can be a difficult situation. The court encourages parents who are arguing about the children to seek alternative means of resolving these difficulties.  Anyone wishing to apply to the court is required to attend a meeting with a mediator and parents are then referred to a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).  Many lawyers feel that it is unfortunate that the parents attend these separately, becauss although they are separating, they are actually going to remain co-parents of that child or children so need to work together to help the children deal with their separation and ensure that the family survives well post-separation There are various proposals envisaged to change the way parents take matters through the court.  One is to change the terms “contact” and “residence” order to something called a “child arrangement order”, which is said to “encompass all arrangements for children’s care in private law”.  What this will actually mean in practise is of course unknown, but most lawyers feel that it is a good idea to move away from the label of contact and residence which suggest that there is one parent who has care of the children, whereas the other “only” has contact.  Arrangements should be joint, even if in practise the children spend more time with one parent or the other. The overall message is of course that there has to be a better way for families to deal with the issues of separation, whether it be money or children, than arguing through the courts as they still have to exist together as a family, even when the parents are living separately.  In some way or another parents need to be encouraged to address the needs of their children at that time of separation more constructively than many do at the moment.  A court process which polarises parents to take particular positions and a process which can take many weeks to complete, just allows conflict to become further entrenched and any temporary arrangement for the care of the children to become the actual arrangement without any proper consideration of whether this is in fact in the best interests of all parties. The courts have as their overriding principle the welfare of the children, but it tends to get lost in the mire of legal argument and positioning from the parents.  What we need to do is stop that positioning from the outset and persuade parents to approach their separation collaboratively and to resolve their differences through mediation. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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One size does not fit all

father and son on beachWe all know that we are all different and yet we are always faced with situations and circumstances that try and generalise and fit us all into the same box.  In divorce the court assumes a standard separation, a standard divorce, a certain way of dealing with children and money, but obviously everyone is different and there are peculiar circumstances that are unique to every family.  If a court system tries to deal with people’s needs as a process then inevitably all the various requirements of each member of the family cannot be met. Collaborative law and Mediation are no panacea and cannot wave a magic wand, but this approach does try and address the particular needs of every separating couple and look at all the needs of their family.  There is always something unique, an elderly parent to care for, or a child that is having particular difficulties at school or a father that wants to work less and look after the children more.  The reason I am so passionate about collaboration and mediation is that it enables a unique approach to be taken, so we can focus on your particular situation, the unique set of circumstances that are pertinent to you and your family, whatever family means for you. Family can mean same sex partnerships, adopted or step-children, grandparents.  One of the first cases I dealt with collaboratively was a couple both aged 67.  If the matter had gone to court then a normal solution would have been for the house to be sold and everything split 50/50, but the house had subsidence, so it couldn’t be sold, it had been the husband’s house for many years and meant a lot to him.  The wife had moved in with her new partner.   But during the course of the process it became clear that the wife was prepared to forgo her interest in the property and so received a lot less than she was theoretically entitled to, but she recognised the husband’s need to stay and the practical difficulties of selling a property with subsidence issues. Sometimes one party will be convinced that the other is feeling a certain way, or more particularly not feeling anything at all.  When everyone sits round the table, the pain and discomfort and distress experienced by both parties is evident to both of them and they both realise that actually they are in this together and it makes sense to try and work it out together. On other occasions there might be a disabled child which means that the parties are going to have to come up with a unique way of dealing with that child or the family home is also providing accommodation for an elderly parent. At Cotswold Family Law we pride ourselves in taking the time and trouble to achieve a solution, or at least an outcome, that is best suited to your particular needs. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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It’s the children who suffer most

2 children at the windowWe perhaps all know that the traditional nuclear family – mother, father and children that they have produced together, although possibly the “norm” is by no means the only concept of “family” which society recognises. With the increasing recognition of same sex relationships, other family arrangements are made and it follows too that when these new families break down, the court has to adapt some of the traditional concepts of “family” to meet these new challenges. A recently reported case dealt with a family dispute between two same sex relationships who shared the care of two children.  So you had the child’s father with his male partner and the child’s mother living with her female partner.  The two girls lived mainly with their mother and her partner, but had contact with their father and his partner. The adults then fell out and the judge introduced the concept of “principal parents” to describe the two women and “secondary parents” to describe the father and his partner.  The court dispute between the four adults was about what role the men should play in the girls’ upbringing moving forward.  The women felt that it should be limited, whereas the men considered that it should reflect what they felt had been the case so far – to be fully involved in the children’s lives. Unfortunately the situation between the parents became very acrimonious and this had a devastating effect on the children.  A CAFCASS Officer (court welfare officer) was involved on the children’s behalf and she spoke in relation to one of the children of “the horrendous tangle of emotion and conflict that exists between these adults [which] has resulted in such misery for [the child].  The misery is not because of the way in which she was treated, it is because these adults and their failure to manage their own conflicting feelings, reactions and personal baggage, have handed over the responsibility for coping with this mess to the child.” Interestingly the judge put it that the child needed “emotional permission” to continue her relationship with the men and that this permission lay “purely in the gift of the women” and they were not prepared to give it. Although the family arrangement was in some ways far from normal, it does highlight even more clearly how disputes between adults can irrevocably damage children.  It was clear that both children were quite unable to deal with this conflict – and of course why should they have to. Remember, in any family situation it is never separation that damages children, but conflict.  So whatever the family situation, the adults owe it to their children to keep conflict to a minimum and certainly to avoid involving the children at all in their disputes. Taking the mediation route instead of going to court will help ensure that some sort of relationship is maintained between the adults as, going forward, although they are separated they will need to both have contact with the children and that needs to be managed well for all concerned. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Civil Partnerships – a new kind of convention?

mediationCivil partnerships recognise the validity of same sex relationships. They provide the same legal and social recognition as heterosexual couples who marry. It is a public statement, sign of commitment and a legally recognised category. As with marriage, civil partnership changes the legal relationship between couples and gives them certain rights, responsibilities and entitlements which they would not have if they were in a casual, unrecognised relationship, if they were merely cohabitees as opposed to being married or in a civil partnership. In some ways same sex relationships are flouting convention, possibly not the typical picture of a nuclear family or how society would portray family and marriage relationships generally. Yet civil partnerships once unusual, perhaps unconventional have acquired a new acceptance and have become almost conventional. Not only may they include the exchange of rings but quite often the couple decide to adopt the same surname. Ironically, such outward signs of convention can appear very unconventional and challenging. If two men living together choose to adopt the same surname, this is quite unusual, if same sex couples exchange rings or have a lavish public ceremony, somehow this adoption of classic conventions appears to be flouting them too. It is an interesting situation whereby the very essence of convention and acceptability – a wedding, exchange of rings, adoption of the same surname in a same sex relationship seem challenging and a flouting of convention. We now have the ultimate sign of marriage – the divorce or the dissolution of civil partnerships and these cases are now going through the courts in the same way divorcing couples have for many years. The Lawrence v Gallagher case established clearly that financial claims within a civil partnership are to be dealt with in the same way as a marriage, that means in legal speak that the same financial remedies are available to people within a civil partnership as within a marriage. Couples acquire the same legal rights and remedies. This is also perhaps an example of where the law is ahead of public thinking – there is absolutely no difference between same sex and heterosexual relationships in law but perhaps not yet in society. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Kids at university – let’s get divorced

children walking togetherIt appears to be an ever increasing trend that people are divorcing later in life.  Known as the 'silver splitters', many first time divorcees are now over the age of sixty.  When children leave for university or leave home for other reasons, it often acts as a trigger for parents to re-evaluate their situation.  It is not uncommon to conclude that they do not want to spend the rest of their lives – which is now a longer period than ever - with the same person.  They would rather be on their own, even if poorer, than with someone from whom they have grown apart.  There is always the chance of meeting someone else as of course. As parents move on in their situation, their children too are also moving to a new situation.  If they are at university, this new situation can in fact be very daunting.  It is actually a time when children seek the reassurance of “home” more than ever, something to fall back on  when difficulties arise.  The security of their family, the familiar, their childhood home, constancy, is all suddenly threatened. A good friend of mine is a counsellor who works at a local university.  Many of her student clients have difficulty settling at university, not simply the trauma of leaving home for the first time, but the fact that this reawakened the effects of their parents’ separation in their childhood or more recently.  The sense of loss that children can feel if the family home is sold is often underestimated, particularly if they are deemed to be adults who have “left”.  It is a recognised fact that one trauma – leaving home - can merge with and be made worse by the reawakening of previous traumas. This is not to suggest that parents shouldn’t separate, but just to highlight the fact that children may need your support more, not less, at the time they leave home. Other issues are more important when dealing with divorce later on in life – pensions in particular – and if the parties are tempted to downsize, where will their children “come back to”? Older children will want to retain a good relationship with both parents and the family will need to work together to ensure that is the case.  Children will want the reassurance that they can still be close to both parents without upsetting either one and that both parents will be fully involved in their future life of weddings, grandchildren, etc. So, children leaving home may be a trigger to consider divorce or separation, but don’t forget that those children still need you as parents. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.  
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Who looks after the children?

children walking through wheat fieldRecent statistics have revealed that not only in most families do both parents work, full or part time, but also more surprising the increasing number of families where the woman is the main breadwinner.  We should not be surprised though it should perhaps lead us to question some other perceptions about who is or should be looking after the children. When parents separate there is often a fear on the part of fathers that they will in some way “lose their children”, that if they go to Court the odds are stacked against them because the perception is that children always stay with their mothers. But Judges do actually live in the real world, they and all the Court staff are part of the working population where it is normal for both parents to be juggling work and childcare.  So when parents separate it is only logical that Courts will see that men and women may both work and both want to see their children.  We have plenty of female Judges who may have a stay at home partner looking after their children.  There really is no longer any automatic prejudice in favour of mothers except in the case of very small babies who may be physically dependant on their mother.  It still happens though that the person, often the mother, who has the major child caring role considers that contact is their gift to dispense with as they decide.  The Court's view is that what is most important is what is in the child’s best interests.  Not what either parent may want. If we focus on what is in the best interests of the children, it is of course that the parents should not go to Court, should not argue about childcare but should resolve their differences through negotiation and compromise.  This itself conveys valuable lessons to the children. Fathers are often very fearful about losing contact which can make them over aggressive, anxious that they will lose their children forever.  Perhaps if they were more reassured that the Court’s attitude is very much that children should spend time with both parents, a lot of the hostility could be avoided. Historically children were very much the man’s property and women had no rights at all on separation or divorce.  Then the approach was that children always stayed with their mother,  possibly we now have a more sensible view which looks at the practical realities of daily life, the needs of the children and the importance of avoiding conflict. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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Is divorce contagious?

3 children runningI recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” in which he talks about how events that were, at one point, unusual become common place, styles that were uncommon suddenly become all the rage. One example he used was Hush Puppies, a shoe that went out of fashion suddenly came back into fashion for no other apparent reason than a few people started to wear them, then a few more, then a few more and then the ‘tipping point’ is reached and suddenly they are the height of fashion and what everybody wants to wear. He gives another example of yawning. If you read about people yawning, even just the word ‘yawn’ or see people yawning, then what do you want to do? Yawn yourself. It’s contagious. Is divorce contagious, is it more common than it used to be? Is there a point at which it becomes so common place that it loses it’s significance? Certainly there are trends and I have written before about the growing trend that I see, of divorce amongst those aged 55 and over, coined 'the silver splitters', often deciding to get divorced when the children leave home. For my parent’s generation, divorce was unusual. In my daughter’s class at school, she and one other were the only children whose parents are not divorced. So the situation where children are spending weekends with different parents becomes the norm. Is this a good thing or not? Obviously for people trapped in unhappy marriages it has to be an advantage that divorce is made as easy as possible with practical help and support, and no social stigma – but if it becomes too ‘easy’ does it mean that people don’t try to make marriage work? Well, as someone who deals with divorce everyday, I have yet to find anyone whose separation is at all easy. Even if you are the one who is initiating proceedings, it is full of emotional and financial difficulties. Although it might be becoming more common and more acceptable, it is still never easy. My job is to try and help people going through a divorce or separation and to make it as un-contentious as possible, and certainly I would also say that the more that can be agreed and the more that can be dealt with in a civilised and non adversarial way – the better. But it is never easy. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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5 ways to avoid divorce

Kids playing on the beach1)   Marry the right person. This may sound obvious, but it is amazing how many people really do marry the wrong person, or fail to take sufficient time to make sure they make the right decision. Far better to try and ensure a correct decision than have to undo the wrong on later. Divorce is never easy. 2)   Don’t expect your spouse to change. People do not fundamentally change, annoying habits do not go away, things that irritate you are never going to get any better. Learn to love the characteristics of your partner. 3)   Beware of holidays.  Holidays, particularly when you have children, can be very stressful. Peak times for divorce are September after the summer holidays and January after Christmas. This may be because the family is spending time together, or expectations were too high.  Be realistic - the ideal family does not exist – nor the perfect holiday. 4)   In a similar vein beware of Christmas. It can be an extremely stressful experience entertaining other family members, dealing with over-excited children or concluding that you cannot face another Christmas in with your current partner. 5)   Remember the grass is not always greener. You may not be married to the perfect person, but what is the alternative? Would you rather put up with the person you are living with than being on your own or taking a chance with someone new? For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email info@cotswoldmediation.com.
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