I was married for 11 years and had two daughters with my husband. When we separated and I knew wouldn’t have been able to afford the mortgage repayments on my own, as well as the debt we had got into. That was one of the reasons for not ending the marriage sooner because I couldn’t see a way out of it really.
About two years before we actually separated I said to my husband I want out, I‘ve had enough. There were other factors, but part of the reason for staying was that I didn’t see how I would survive with two children, I didn’t know what I could do, I couldn’t see a way out of it. We were in debt, we were half way through an extension that went wrong; there were so many different things, as well as money issues. .
You feel financially strangled, it fixes you to what you know. As bad as it was, it somehow felt safer to stay in something that I knew was not right and was not good, than to think there may be a way out of this but it would mean losing my house, my children’s home – it was all those things as well.
Not only are you ending your marriage with their father, but they’ll lose their bedroom. The children’s bedrooms were important to them, my eldest more so than my youngest as she has a few issues with change anyway – so to uproot her, to uproot her from school, was difficult.
I got the point when I just snapped one day, I thought enough is enough, it can’t go on like this. I think something did snap inside me and I thought anything has got to be better than this. Somehow I’ll work a way, and if I have to sell, it’s got to be better than my children growing up in an unhappy house, that’s just unhealthy.
My husband moved out and rented a two bedroom flat nearby. Because of his debt, he had no way to pay it back, unless we sold the house. I couldn’t afford to buy him out. We sold the house last Spring. My husband cleared his debts. And I had enough to put down a deposit on somewhere else. I was very lucky.
Everybody’s situation is different but the worst thing you can to is to stay. If the relationship has broken down, then staying for anything, for financial reasons or for the children, you just get deeper and deeper into a horrible situation.
Seek advice, speak to someone, use free legal advice. The worst thing you can do is to stay. Once I’d made the decision to leave it was a relief. I spoke to a mediator which allowed me to look at all the options I was facing following the separation. We used mediation to sort out arrangements related to our separation. It was tough, but we did it.
The biggest fear for me was the unknown. My parents and grandparents are still together. Separation has never happened in my family. All those pressures compounded and made it worse. But once I had decided enough was enough it was like a weight lifted, and I could then deal with everything else. When I ended the relationship it then gave me the strength to deal with all the other things.
If you’re worried about ending a relationship contact us for further information. We also help people work out agreements following separation. You can also get in touch with Shelter who provide advice on options for homeowners and for tenants.
The government keeps harping on about this additional £10 million they are pumping into mediation, which takes the total budget for publicly funded mediation to £25 million.
I raised this recently at a legal aid event and will continue to do so. The LAA is in the process of cutting its budget down to £1.5 billion and continues to do so, this includes redudancies to staff and the rationalising of resoucres.
On one hand they are saying they’re pumping money into and promoting mediation, but on the other, they’ve just narrowed all the criteria for access to legal aid in mediation (see nw guidelines for mediation means assesssment). What we are finding at NFM since 1st April is that 1/3 of our clients that were previously eligible for legal aid are no longer eligible.
My question is – does this mean that they’re going to have a surplus in this £25 million legal aid for mediation budget? Because mediation providers aren’t using it, because people are falling outside of scope – what happens to the leftover money in the budget?
My guess – as cynical as it may be – is that government will say: ‘oh well, mediation providers didn’t need it anyway, so where can we move it…which other budget needs topping up’. The money will be moved away from mediation, and who knows…might be cut as part of the larger legal aid cuts by the year 2017. Gird your loins, people.
Kirsten Naudé (Director of Services, National Family Mediation)
I am often asked how Family Mediation fits in with other forms of Mediation and I always give the same answer. Mediation is about communication, communication and communication. And in the end it’s about people coming to an agreement. If people could communicate with each other and find agreements for themselves, they wouldn’t need us. So we must be one of the few professions where the aim is to work ourselves out of a job. The better we are, the less we are needed. Now, there’s a thought.
The fact is, of course, that in all areas of life, communication between people does sometimes break down and I think we would agree that mediation is better than conflict. All of us in this room would also agree, I think, that mediation is better than litigation as a way of reducing conflict – at least as a first port of call. So, identifying common ground, communicating and working to find agreements, that’s what we strive for.
I will cover two topics in this article:
1) whether mediation in general is becoming more important in national life;
2) the development of Family Mediation and where I see that going;
To answer the first question I think it may be helpful to look back at the origins of mediation which can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was then a philosophical movement aimed at making people think about their relationships with others and consequently about themselves. Plato signed up to the belief that an individual has knowledge which is stored in his or her subconscious, accumulated from previous generations. Mediation is a way of enabling people to express or find this knowledge and develop individual responsibility.
The Greek translation of the word means “midwife”. Mediators help people “give birth” to their own ideas and become responsible for them. I quite like that idea and I think it’s more accurate than some of the definitions we hear today which suggest we are “neutral” or that we “just listen”. We are impartial, and we do listen of course, but I think mediation is more than that. We direct conversations between people and we are active in helping them find agreement. In that way it is helpful to see us as “midwives” in the process of creating agreements.
I do think mediation is becoming more important in national life today, yes. But I also think we have a long way to go. We have family mediation, workplace mediation, mediation to resolve disputes in schools but sometimes it is “keep it out of court” mediation rather than a genuine development of communication. No matter, you may say, at least it is resolving conflict through mediation, and I would agree. First steps first. And mediation today IS beginning to divert conflict resolution away from the adversarial court system. But if we are about nurturing and encouraging communication between parties we have to be ambitious. We have to let people know that mediation is the best way to resolve all conflict. We are getting there and in some areas of life the law and government is supporting us.
Which brings me to my specialist subject, Family Mediation. National Family Mediation is the largest provider of Family Mediation in the country. We have a national network of 47 services and provide around 16,000 mediations a year. We only deal with people who are separating or divorcing and we always offer child inclusive mediation where a child counsellor or separate mediator will talk to the child whose parents are divorcing, and on occasion, will feed the views of the child back into the mediation. National Family Mediation is the only not for profit mediation service and all our services have a mix of legally aided and private clients.
Just over a year ago the government decided that all people applying to the court for a divorce MUST try mediation first, before they take their dispute in front of a judge. You’d have thought we’d be run off our feet with thousands of people banging on our doors demanding our excellent services. Well, as you know, it doesn’t quite work like that but I would say that in line with mediation in general, family mediation is becoming a better recognised way of sorting out divorce and we are seeing more people choosing to mediate rather than fight it out in court.
But as we all know, for mediation to work, both parties in the dispute have to want to make it work. It has to be voluntary and where divorce is concerned, as you can imagine, there is often some reluctance for people to sit in a room and talk. But we are making progress. Not only is mediation four times quicker than going to court, it’s also four times cheaper and that is important in this day and age. Next year when legal aid for family solicitors is cut, there will still be legal aid for mediation. We just have to make sure people know about it.
Reducing conflict in families and helping people work together as separated parents is our bread and butter business but we have not yet seen the culture shift we need to make people go to a mediator rather than a lawyer when they first think about getting a divorce. Our experience is that mediation is far more likely to work well if people do come to us first before they have entered the adversarial court system. With that in mind, and taking into account the cuts in legal aid, we are developing fixed fee packages with solicitors for couples getting divorced. The solicitors have cut their fees to be part of a package, where couples in mediation will see a solicitor once, twice or as many times as they need, alongside the mediation process. The advantage for couples is that they can see how much their divorce is going to cost before they set out, rather than paying a ridiculous legal bill after a court battle.
We are also getting as much information out to people as we can using the internet, the media and events like these where we are talking about the benefits of mediation as a way of resolving disputes.
So where do I see Family Mediation going? Well, I am cautiously optimistic. The change in government policy in the Family Justice Review, and a greater awareness of mediation generally, is leading to the beginning of a culture shift towards mediation rather than litigation amongst the general public.
Where I’m slightly less optimistic is in the reaction of the courts to the move towards mediation. In short, they seem to be ignoring it. I suppose it is to be expected, that most people aren’t quite as keen to work themselves out of job as we are, but it is disappointing that in a recent survey 80% of people going to court had NOT tried mediation first. And the judges had done nothing about it. That does mean that we are seeing too many people AFTER they have begun the court process, if at all, and we are lobbying the government to tighten up the protocol and put pressure on judges to do more to keep people out of court. I do recognise that’s a bit like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas but we have got to the stage where the evidence that mediation is a better way of resolving disputes in divorce, so very much better or children, that we can no longer wait for some of the more pompous members of the judiciary to catch up. Some judges, of course, are great. I should just say that in case you thought I had it in for the entire legal profession!
We need to look at changing the culture in our society so that private disputes between families or neighbours or even work colleagues are ones that should be sorted out through mediation. People should not be running to the courts as they do in other countries, like the United States, where the culture of litigation has had a disastrous effect on many areas of life. You cannot cross the road without someone threatening to take legal action against you, it seems to me. And some of that “I’ll see you in court” mentality has found its way into our culture too. That’s what I want to change. I agree that “I’ll see you in mediation” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but we do need to make mediation the place people will go to if they are in dispute. It is a tall order but I’ll leave you with this thought.
20 years ago it was acceptable to drink and drive. Remember the old saying “have another one for the road”? 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, it was OK to smoke in public. 20 years ago it was quite common for fathers to stop seeing their children after their marriages broke down. All these things have changed. There’s no reason, if we all work together, we can’t change things so that people do see mediation as the way to solve their disputes rather than litigation or an escalating conflict. To quote from one of the greatest ever mediators…”I have a dream”….
Jane Robey – Chief Exective Officer (National Family Mediation)