A SEASONAL MESSAGE TO GRANDPARENTS

At this difficult time leading up to Christmas it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of grandparents to children.

Very often, grandparents can be the mainstay for children who are struggling with their parents’ separation. They need to know they can go to a reliable person who can speak truthfully and without drama. It is also vital for the parents to have that support because going through separation can feel terrible. It is certain that however sad and upset the parents are feeling, those emotions are mirrored by their children.

Specially trained family mediators who are accredited to work with children (CIM trained) are qualified to talk to children confidentially.

We are aware of how sensitive this role is.  It would be ideal for close family members to do this especially in times of trouble.  This must only happen though if they have a meaningful and on-going relationship with the children who are affected by the confusion and sadness that surrounds a family breaking down.  A genuine wish and ability to significantly benefit these children’s lives is important.  The strong emotions experienced by close family members can impair this vital strength.  Mediators are effective in this role due to their professional code of conduct. An accredited mediator has no personal connection or previous involvement with the family.

Children need constant assurance that their lives will return to normal. They want to enjoy love and trust in grandparents and to be helped in retaining continuing contact with both parents even though they are aware there is a separation.  The grandparents must ensure their role does not impact negatively on other family relationships.  Children must be aware that they are never expected to feel responsible for what has gone wrong in their family and must not be offered false hope of reconciliation between their parents.  The mediation role may not resolve the immediate dispute but it can certainly help to ease the upset and anxieties of children insofar that someone is listening to them also.

It is also reassuring just to know that Mum and Dad are working towards making arrangements for the future and that the children are an important part of those conversations. It does not have to be negative and we know that grandparents are great fun.

The internet is not the only source of information and ideas. The wealth of experience of parents and grandparents can bring so much towards alleviating unhappiness.  Let us remember the innocence of children and help them to have fun and to feel safe to love.  Parents sometimes lose perspective due to their own deep unhappiness. The detached role of grandparents is vital to restore calm and to soothe some of those harsh adult emotions that can be overheard and misunderstood. There is no place for blame.

I recall a mediation I carried out with a family.  The son age 12, and his sister age 9, spoke to me in mediation confidentially about how it felt for them when they heard their parents arguing and shouting at one another. The little girl used to go and hide in a tent where she felt safe and immune. She was unable to reach either of her parents or to stop them arguing. Her brother also hid away and took on a role of protecting his little sister. I shall never forget them. By the end of the mediation and speaking of their own experiences, they were able to laugh as children and to talk freely about their dreams for a happy Christmas. They were able to express their sentiments in a beautiful and rather magical way. But, the message I heard was that their parents were embarrassing and they felt lost.  At the end they asked me to relay to their parents that they wanted them to stop arguing and to please allow them to start to enjoy Mum and Dad again.

 

Tricia Muzalewski FMC and CIM Accredited Family Mediator

Wynn Mediation                                                                                                                              December 2020

 

 

A favourite phrase in the context of Family Law is “Reasonableness”

What is a “reasonable expectation” in financial remedy cases?

This is a phrase relevant to mediation cases and to those cases that go to court having  side-stepped the opportunities offered by the mediation process and the  supportive and practical advice  offered by  individual legal advisors who understand and support families who are within the mediation process.

The following notes may be of use to people who are trying to make sense of this potentially expensive area of law if agreement cannot be reached following full and reciprocal disclosure by the parties in a financial remedy dispute surrounding divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership.

The  “sense of reasonableness” must be followed right from the start where consideration is given to the extent of the financial resources of the separating couple  leading them to the possibility of their negotiating   “a capital clean break settlement”.  If not, “reasonable” consideration should be given to the possibility of one party paying spousal maintenance.

The term “reasonableness” extends to the requirement for parties in financial disputes to work fairly  to avoid the risk of costs orders being made if  court proceedings become necessary to untangle situations where the importance of “reasonableness” in negotiations has been forgotten. In such cases, costs penalties may follow should the statutory requirement to provide full financial disclosure been ignored. “Reasonable needs” are key in the majority of cases.

It follows also that as soon as  a couple have reached the position where they have produced all of their relevant statutory disclosure and have provided clarity in readiness for decisions of fairness to be made, it is vital that the importance of starting “reasonable” negotiations should occur from that moment rather than to face delays and possible repeat disclosure once out of date.

Whilst on the subject of disclosure, I refer to the pitfalls of pension disclosure. Sometimes, people think these should be kept outside of negotiations. This is not the case particularly when it comes to making full financial disclosure of marital or civil partnership assets.

The question to ask is whether the factors of a case require division of the respective capital values of the individual parties’ pensions or whether they are looking to equalising income from their pensions.

There are  further questions that are frequently raised;  what is the “reasonableness” of offsetting assets, especially pensions? And,  what weight if any may be attached to a proposition that a pension should “reasonably” be excluded from the calculation of marital assets?

I suspect that from a point of view of fairness,  an objective person may think the equality of income is a more appropriate concept than the idea of equality of capital when looking at how to treat pensions in a divorce case where there is no surplus versus “reasonable needs” in the context of finding a home for a pension in terms of  providing post retirement income.  Hence, “reasonable needs” must be considered carefully when helping people to agree what is fair and the other factors that are pertinent within a long marriage case.

The need to consider “the reasonable likelihood” of a court even beginning to consider   excluding a portion of a pension, even if earned pre-marriage,   is probably a sensible and reasonable way to approach  negotiations  in these often difficult  financial cases.  Sound legal advice is available to assist rather than throwing an unfamiliar dice.

Another favourite is to start talking about offsetting pensions against other categories of pensions or even other assets.   This can lead to difficult negotiations unless all aspects of “reasonable financial disclosure” have been dealt with and clarity prevails.  To run these arguments  can be costly unless supported by sound evidence. Once again, “reasonable negotiations” about how  to cover the costs of exploring these scenarios  are necessary in  the pursuit of  achieving fair and affordable outcomes.

Other areas where the question of “reasonableness” prevails, include  dealing with “soft loans”.   Friends and family members frequently offer these in the context of helping parties to an ailing marriage.      “Reasonable negotiations” should include reference to the question of enforceability of  loans in determining whether they are to be treated as “soft” or “hard” i.e. is it to be  repaid in the “reasonably foreseeable future”.  Due consideration should also be paid to the sensitivity and long lasting impact of challenging such arrangements within families.

The question of how to assess “reasonable need for  income”  tops the list for argument leading to frequently “unreasonable negotiations”.    Time is crucial and reference to different forms of income and how to treat these categories. For example, post separation income may be treated differently to income earned during the marriage.

I have tried to demonstrate how complicated a dispute can become  if the original financial disclosure requirements  are  not met from the outset. Mediation provides for communication and opportunity for polite questions to be put.  It can assist in putting matters into context. So,  when  considering whether to ask a particular question, this needs to factor in the associated question of what are  “reasonable income needs”. It is also worth considering whether “winning” an  argument is the true  justification for raising a point or whether it is preferable to settle for  that crucial acknowledgement from the other party instead.

We try to consider these points within the conduct of a family mediation alongside the important professional code of conduct rules of a family mediator.  I refer to the confidentiality and  impartiality set down by the presence of a mediator and the offer of a space to consider the rationale of “reasonableness” when people are naturally feeling upset.

Tricia Muzalewski, FMC and Law Society Accredited Family Mediator/Wynn Mediation  November 2020

Family Mediators are working remotely during COVID-19

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have been inspiring for some. For others, it has not been very good at all.

The underlying structure offered by face to face family mediation is to preserve tradition. Similarly, the idea of ever changing the practices embedded in our judicial system was inconceivable. However, we now have mediators using “Whats App” and “Zoom” and trying hard to learn these new and vital skills to feed our longing to be able to communicate with people in trouble and to help by using our traditional skills of listening and remaining calm, confident and silent alongside our own fears of being unable to keep up with technology.

Court proceedings within the Family Justice system were falling behind and sinking under the restrictions imposed by people being unable to travel into work and for many to be furloughed.

The courts have had to catch up by finding ways of screening hearings and for many working from home.  Then there is  the multi-tasking required of all of us alike, to care for loved ones and friends and to offer our children and grandchildren a seamless transition into a world of “No, you can’t do that” and also to earn a living.

We are not allowed to mix either socially or go to work unless we are key workers or it is deemed to be completely safe.  It is even a struggle to visit the doctor or the optician. You are able to stay at home though.

This was the stuff of dreams for me when I was at school. I recall watching our beautiful, luxurious, comfortable, grey cat, Marcus, warming his tummy on top of the boiler in the kitchen in the mornings and watching from the corner of his eye the frantic preparations for his adoring family to leave the warmth. For Marcus, it was just another opportunity for an uninterrupted long, dreamy, cosy sleep. For me, it was rain coat and “wellies” to walk that long mile to school and to arrive often soaking wet and cold to start lessons after eternal assembly.

They were good days actually and we all had to do it.  We were pretty tough.

We now have a generation who appears to be developing depression and anxiety. We experience fears of going out in case we are breaking rules and at the risk of offending someone.  It is not that bad and people are beginning to think for themselves and to rationalise where they stand. After all we are all much in the same place.

This is actually mediation. There are choices available and families are working together sharing incredible and innovative ideas to keep children physically and mentally fit.  This is such a strong focus. I heard of one mother who gave her teenage children specific roles of the day.  Firstly, the fun of doing the “Joe Wicks” workout and then “enjoying” the structure of home schooling, only to be followed by the opportunity of shopping with individual lists and trusted individual purchasing power. This must have served a mutual need to have some space away from home and siblings.

We have had the opportunity to learn about children and how they are affected by the changes and the need for families to access mediation and other resources to help alleviate the loneliness and the giving in or flexibility   that aligns with being able to cope.  I am fascinated by human beings and their wonderful attitudes ranging from young and old to meet these new challenges.  For some, this is not new. For others, it has been revealing just how much can be achieved by remaining at home or even giving some time to a person who is alone or even, just a smile. This is of course difficult behind a mask but all is possible. So, this morning waiting for that blood test and listening to the conversation about the shared problem of glasses steaming up when wearing a mask and possible ways to overcome this. Then there was the poor man who believed he had an appointment today and his efforts to persuade the masked lady behind her desk that he had made an on-line appointment.  No luck there I am afraid. He did concede but it was difficult for him.

Then, the joy of being told that I have fantastic veins, which is the dream of any phlebotomist apparently.  There is so much that we take for granted and it can actually add to our day and apparently for others.  Just try to keep positive and take advantage of those moments when you want to share those feelings even at the risk of sounding daft.

This is the role of a family mediator. We hear some very sad stories but are always willing to listen. We are unable to invoke change but do, in some ways, help people to feel acknowledged and to feel a sense of normality in this difficult and trying time.  In turn, they can then share their own sentiments and wishes to make change which may seem insurmountable when you are left alone to worry.

So, when did you last have a holiday?   That used to be a very ordinary question. Now, it is probably not the best way to start off a positive conversation. Perhaps, instead we should be checking out the best hair dye and how much we have learned from having to do these things ourselves. After all, we are in the same boat.

There are new opportunities for learning and considering the future of others once our clever scientists have discovered how to put Coronavirus back in its box.   The trick is not to become disillusioned. I watch people walking their beloved dogs and the joy and time they are having to spend together.  They are lucky of course and many do not have that opportunity other than to make plans for the future. They may be feeling that their only route is towards disillusionment and depression. Then, there is the gentleman who lives round the corner and who sat outside enjoying the summer months.  He is 93 and I didn’t notice him before but I have learned so much from him over these past few months. For example his joy of simple pleasures past and of his calm acquiescence to the privileges of old age and experience.  The government during crisis has to gauge behaviour shifts in adults. I ask is it working. I hope so but if only we all had the wisdom of that old man but it doesn’t work like that and never did.

In mediation, people who have private law family disputes are told by the judicial system that they will need to go to a mediation assessment before they are able to take their legal case to court. They seem ok about this as it is an opportunity to speak and rationalise about what is happening in their personal life and how it impacts on others. It really is important.

We have discovered just how capable many people are once they realise their own skills which may be enhanced by the help of a mediator who is a facilitator and an impartial third party to other people’s disputes. For many, the “bossiness” from the powers that be, ranging from politicians to the courts still work but I believe that people are beginning to think differently. We used to listen to our mothers and grandparents for advice. We now listen to Google.

I like being part of the mediation world because mediation is empowering people; not bossiness. It has to embrace change which keeps everyone relevant.

It remains difficult for parents to give advice since none of the old reassurances or job hunting tips now apply.  Even meeting new people is different and obtaining new opportunities that previously were available by way of graduate schemes, apprentices. These have largely disappeared I believe. I try to focus on children who are in need of urgent help to plan their lives and who are faced with predictions of high unemployment levels and also the change of family structures. These are the people who need our help in looking at pooling family resources to stay together and help old and young.

Let us hope that we shall soon return to enjoy the things we rather took for granted and to perhaps make some changes in addressing our own individual futures.

Tricia Muzalewski FMC and Law Society Accredited Family Mediator

Wynn Mediation                                                                                                              November 2020

Family Mediation has never been needed more than now.

I have heard so many remarks about bullying, prejudice and demoralisation and how human relationships are in crisis.

I recently attended the 2020   On-Line Family Mediators Association (FMA) Annual Conference. The theme was mediating in a time of Change and trying to determine what is “the new normal in family mediation”?

At a time when there seems to be so much despair amongst families who are struggling  due to financial worries and no end of other troubles as the list is endless.

A lot of time was devoted at the Conference in reviewing the role of Family Mediators who have a strong sense of wishing to facilitate conversation. Like everybody else, there is a need for mediators to adapt and change but how far does this take us? Whatever we do, family mediators by their nature are out there to do what comes naturally to them…. Mediate.

I believe that mediation is a process that involves kindness and compassion.  We need a proper understanding of mental health and how it affects people not only during Covid but also when it comes to dealing with the difficult decisions to be made when divorcing and separating.  We too have to look after ourselves as we do others and to address our own mental health.

 

We have seen our divorce system change following the Divorce Act 2020 and are mediating in times of change which requires resourcefulness and resilience alongside compassion to achieve to help protect the wellbeing of families and mediators in times of isolation and change.

Compassion must be twinned with finding objective, reliable and safe outcomes in mediation to eliminate the weaponising of children who are so distressed when parents are in dispute and who live in fear of being left without seeing either one of their parents.  Then there is the fear of responsibility being placed on children who also suffer from mental health problems, anxiety and eating disorders to mention a few, because we have been living in uncertain times.   The mediator has to be aware of the impact of these problems and to work to understand possible cultural differences in order to be effective in helping people to make change that will help to rebuild better family communication, trust and fairness.

Mediators are not angels but they are usually very patient and willing to join in with the discussions between parties who are in dispute to find the next step in trying to move forward. The parenting relationship never stands still. Neither the court nor family law practitioners can make changes for others but it is possible to work towards minimising the areas of dispute so that minds can start working towards building a better future and to concentrate on making adult and children’s lives better now and in the future.

Tricia Muzalewski,   FMC and Law Society Accredited Family Mediator

Wynn Mediation                                                                                                              October 2020

WHY DO KIDS GET INTO DRUGS?

Some parents are at odds as to why after all of the love and nurturing that goes on in the proverbial nest is lost when their children decide to gamble with their mental health.

This can happen so simply and without parental knowledge or at least the strength to acknowledge and to prevent their children interacting with drug dealers.

As children, we were told by everyone “Do not talk to strangers”.  There were dangers then and it was easier for parents to protect their children.  They had a better idea of what they were protecting their children from and our parents seemed to be tough.

The situation now has moved to “Out of control”.

Parents often have little idea of what their children are looking at and who they can turn to when they are learning about stuff that they know isn’t what their parents want them to find out about.  Just to be grown up and to be able to converse with these forces puts them ahead of the others.

So they believe.

It appears to be worse for children whose parents have indulged them and who have a bit more money to spend and to offer children additional opportunities.  They soon become targets for those who have not had the same opportunities.  There may even be evil intent.

Young teenage boys have always wanted to be tough but somehow the message has to be given that there is nothing tough about a drug addict or the person who has no boundaries in regard to what they are drinking and   what they smoke, or worse.   Some of the products available through pushers are irretrievably dangerous.

Even if they eventually manage to kick an addiction they can be scarred for the rest of their lives. They won’t have any friends then.

Sometimes it is the happiest and most beautiful young people who are affected and who become vulnerable to the practices of drug taking which is so often akin to drinking drinks that don’t appear to contain much alcohol.

I am sure that most young boys and girls see their parents as wishing to spoil their fun.  It takes a strong family to help guide children through these dangerous and unprotected times.  It can break families. There is no blame attached to this because family structures have changed. Parents are both expected to work in order to bring in much needed cash for the benefit of the family.

However, parents must not be naive when it comes to checking up who their children are in contact with.   This does not mean they do not love and it does not amount to disrespecting your child.

Younger children, teenagers and kids in their 20s who want to be accepted and noticed  by their peer group, cannot have any understanding of how the innocent acceptance of a “joint” from a so called friend  can start a downward cycle that may affect them for the rest of their life.

The offer to simply try a drug when under the influence of a few drinks may come from a source with intent to make that young person a target to influence them.  Once hooked, it becomes easy to impose harder drugs on the unsuspecting youngster.

Parents, by that time, no longer have the ability to communicate with their son or daughter because they hear lies and assurances that are fragile at the very least, in terms of truth.    It is too late by then especially if your son or daughter has become impressed by the initial ease of life when experimenting.

Your child may even be targeted by an adult who, maybe, they have never even met, and who wants to adopt a younger friend because of their own shortcomings with their own peer group.  That person will not have the slightest hesitation of imposing a drug culture on your child especially if there are rich pickings to be enjoyed by future supply as most drugs are totally addictive.

All children need to be educated in the negative aspects of using drugs.  People seem to want to make changes to themselves all of the time.  This again is due to the strength of media targeting. It is so easy to get in to a youngster’s head and to make them feel inadequate if they remain as they are. Such intentions to change another are generally fuelled by jealousy and hatred.

This culture may also bring down a family.  Parents start to feel guilty for not approaching their children sooner.  There may even be a breakdown in communication between the parents, especially where there is a separation.  At the time, it sounds so negative and unnecessary.   Next, they are out of control and when dealing with a young adult, you will find there is no one out there to help, and, especially, from the person who you are actually trying to help.  Zero acknowledgement as the paranoia has already set in.

The impact of drug abuse also affects relationships as many who use strong drugs have little self control and are subject to mood swings.  They simply cannot engage. Children lose out all of the time.  Realistic help, alongside professional advice, needs to be obtained in order to actively help young people before it is too late for themselves to make changes.

The mental health and psychiatry services offered under the NHS cannot possibly meet the needs of all.   If you are able to get treatment, the difficulty is maintaining compliance with the effective anti psychotic and other types of medication available.

We are witnessing sad and lonely people walking around the streets who have lost the ability to converse and enjoy simple warm social conversation. They are unable to engage in close relationships or to parent children themselves due to their own mental health issues. Many suffer from psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia. This is terrifying and hard to acknowledge once it takes a hold and a person remains unmedicated.

They do not see the need for medication themselves and most people turn a blind eye.    This is not surprising as an unmedicated person who has suffered the side effects of drug taking will not be an attractive prospect to sit and chat to.   There needs to be help to encourage treatment for these poor youngsters who risk being lost forever because they have gone beyond listening or to acceding to the good wishes of their family, nor from having a role in society.

We hear of the son or daughter who has chosen to stop engaging in prescribed medication and who lives in a world of delusion and paranoia.  He or she comes back from time to time but the condition gets worse enhanced by drinking.

What happens next?

Families and friends lose any influence or the will to help because of the monstrous ill effects of those early joints smoked on the walk home from school. This is often done to impress and then moves on to a completely new league which few manage to escape from.

The friends, who once thought it was cool to laugh, move on with their lives and pay no regard to what happened to their friend who got caught up in drugs, for whatever reason.

Apologies for being so negative but as a family mediator, I hear about the lonely path for a mother and father who actually still love their son or daughter but appear powerless to do anything other than offer love which is invariably thrown back or simply frozen out.

If this story affects you and you feel that family mediation can help you to communicate regarding a dispute with a close family member further to a marriage break up or separation, please contact:

Tricia Muzalewski, FMCA and Law Society Accredited Mediator at Wynn Mediation 612 – 614 London Road, Westcliff on Sea, Essex SS0 9HW.

Contact details:  www.wynnmediation.com

Email: enquiries@wynnmediation.com

Tel: 01702 341241

PMM/ August 2018