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A family court judge sends a message to proposed litigants in private law cases to consider using Family Mediation Services

HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC called for the need to remove unnecessary, high conflict private law litigation from the family court.  He said that the court must be able to deal with legal services that the public need and deserve.

 In the case of Re: B (a child) (Unnecessary Private Law Applications) (25.09.2020)

The judge’s comments were directed at the unprecedented amount of work the court is dealing with and of his wish for the court to be able to provide members of the public with the legal service that they deserve and need.

He referred to the risks posed by the number of high conflict private law cases which continue to clog up the court.

The judge explained that court time is being used to deal with non legal issues such as dealing with requests surrounding handover venues on the M4 and which junction to use for purposes of child contact handovers. Or, that concern which parent should hold the children’s passports (in a case where there was no suggestion that either parent would detain the children outside the jurisdiction) and as to how should contact be arranged to take place on a Sunday afternoon?

There was a plea made for common sense to prevail and for a clear message to be imparted to clients and lawyers to make use of family mediation to deal with issues such as above.

The message from the judge was “not to bring your private law litigation to the Family court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so. He said, “You should settle your differences (or those of your clients) away from court, except where that is not possible”.

“If you do bring unnecessary cases to this court, you will be criticised, and sanctions may be imposed upon you. There are many other ways to settle disagreements”.

He referred to mediation.

What has led to the courts speaking out?

Reference has been made to family breakdown which in itself is not necessarily a legal dispute, although children are frequently at the centre of a disagreement.

The family courts need help.   My understanding is that too many people are applying to the court about issues that do not constitute legal disputes.

So, where can families who are locked in conflict obtain support?

I read about another recent plea for help surrounding the worrying and damaging effects of parental conflict on children and to a rising number of cases of distressed children as a result of family stress and break up due to the consequences of lockdown and the pandemic.

As an accredited family mediator, I am aware there are worrying stories about children being at the centre of high conflict disputes between separating parents. Mediators are at the focus of disputes between parents who are going through relationship break up.

For parents who are unable to deal with this on their own, there is a need for services available to help to try and minimise conflict in order to help children.

In a Mediation case, one of my first questions to parents is:  How do you communicate?  Where is the common ground?   People are so anxious about the expectations placed upon them by the pandemic.  Where are the children when you argue?

It is vital to be able to hear from each parent and for each of us to listen with regard to   what arrangements they can commit to and to give opportunity to discuss and resolve the genuine difficulties surrounding the parental separation?

Within mediation, our endeavour is to check the sources of anger and which need to be calmed in the hope  that parents can agree together a clear message that they have  agreed to give to children and   in the simplest and most child appropriate language. Importantly, there must be no blame attached to such statements.

Simple questions to ask such as How to avoid unnecessary rows and why these occur? must take place alongside questions as to: How do we talk to one another, especially when facing stressful situations?  Why do we think that children understand this frankly quite scary behaviour of adults when a child has no concept of how to process such confusing adult emotions?

Parents who are considering mediation as an appropriate  way of resolving  the causes of stress is a vital  part of  family mediation screening and to check out the safety needs of children.

The damaging effect of frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict on children’s mental health is a genuine concern. There are organisations who try to work together to help with this and who are offering help for parents in ongoing conflict situations.

Escalating family stress as a result of the corona virus pandemic has meant more children than ever before are exposed to the damaging effects of intense parental conflict.

These organisations are seeking help for parents who are in conflict to receive support and for assessments to be available using resources such as child mental health services and even schools.

They are seeking local authorities, NHS services and courts to offer relationship support services to parents and for nationwide access to a government programme to reduce parental conflict.

If you feel that family mediation could help you please family mediation services.

Tricia Muzalewski, Accredited Law Society and Family Mediation Council Mediator                                                                                                                                                                                             February 2021

 

CHILDREN ARE OUR PRIORITY AND HOW TO HELP THEM TO DEVELOP IN THESE DIFFICULT TIMES

Family Mediation Update – January 2021

I hope that soon we can say goodbye to COVID but there will of course be a lot of work needed to remedy the short term and long term damage caused by this epidemic.  I hope there are some benefits arising from the wonderful opportunity that so many parents have been able to grasp in finding ways of spending more time with their children and to be involved more and more in their growth and development.   The expectation of offering vital home schooling has offered opportunities not only to parents but also to grandparents, friends and other family members to become more involved in our children’s development.   It has presented a sharp learning curve for many of us to get to grips with “Zoom” and “Whatsapp” so we can share these vital tasks and to concentrate on the positive aspects of being able to help children when so many negative stories are circulating.

Sadly, the experience of COVID has been negative for some children who are unable to take advantage of virtual learning and, sadly, some children have been exposed to abuse and subsequent feelings of loss of self worth or even depression. Their childish sparkle is at risk of diminishing in spite of the hard work and goodwill of their individual parents, due to the loss of routine and structure offered by school in normal times.

Some difficult situations exist whereby those caring for children are simply unable to perform these additional tasks. Teachers are professionally trained and their job is made easier by the facilities offered to children to attend school to study and to socialise, away from their homes.  School is the domain of children and I look forward to hearing that children are back taking advantage of that opportunity.

Home schooling requires time, patience and space at the very least.  Modern life rarely presents such opportunities. Children are losing the value of friends who have otherwise offered respite from the arguments that frequently occur behind the closed doors of private homes and occur especially where there is a family breakdown. Children are drawn into those arguments and are even expected to take sides in a parental dispute that is none of their doing.  Parental alienation is really harmful and will eventually destroy a loving relationship between a parent and a child if the practice is not stemmed.

When people are going through separation and divorce. It takes such strength and awareness of   the risks on the part of children who may feel that their special needs for love and attention are no longer their parents’ priority.  They may be feeling they have lost the joy of being children.  Time, patience, warmth, kindness and understanding can become metered.  This is not intended to make parents feel guilty. Nobody intends to forget to think how their children are feeling. Generally the negative feelings experienced by a separated parent are mirrored by their children.  We also believe that most parents, Mums and Dads alike, genuinely believe that they are doing their absolute best and that they are right.  This is ok provided   the parents are able to continue to parent jointly and back each other up.   This is difficult where there may be underlying trust issues and a sense of personal loss from a relationship break up.  Where there is a lack of agreement over routine and structure, this is really troublesome for children who need cohesive parenting.   They simply end up feeling confused and angry and ultimately very upset.

We all get it wrong at times; especially if things are not great at home and when home space is limited.  Communication is tough and so easily misunderstood.  I think we all feel vulnerable when everything has changed over the past year.

We need good listeners who are impartial and where there is honesty but no judgement.   It appears that   social media has become the greatest guide to life because people are not afraid of asking “Google” how to tackle things.   Unlike the ignominy of asking the other parent for help or advice.   Remember though that children still need you both to make decisions and to guide them. They must not become the advisors or the mediators and should not become your friends.

I believe that, with willingness for creativity and changing methods of teaching, that children will adapt very quickly towards finding their optimum way of learning.  Many will catch up hopefully and this will highlight the areas of learning that do not work and identify new opportunities for those who are committed to succeed.

Parental support is crucial but hopefully the current education load placed upon parents will soon be passed back to those who are trained to complement the love and work put in by those at home.

I recall my parenting experiences, juggling the needs of children and managing virtually impossible situations of journey times and meeting work deadlines.  Who took priority in these situations? I really don’t remember but we got by. I expect we just did our best and hoped our children would understand.

I am not a great fan of drama and find that Mediation offers a calm and objective approach for people to look for solutions together and to resolve disputes.  The opportunities to consider options for change work well and people become more confident to discuss what they would hope to achieve without the fear of judgement or ridicule. Mediation is respectful and positive, especially if you know that a young person is going to benefit from this joint commitment to a new way of working together.

We need to reintroduce  to children the opportunity, within appropriate boundaries, the excellence of parental guidance, sticking together and showing respect for a decision making process that can be improved and altered safely by parents.

I hope that children will continue to look for opportunity to learn from parents in terms of respect and compassion and belief that we are there for them.   A physically divided family has great challenges to overcome and in those cases there is a need for reassurance for children to feel safe with both parents.  Strong parenting can still happen and mediation can strengthen those skills.  There is no reason for children to be tasked with the responsibility of becoming involved in adult disputes. The risk of not using mediation is that families become alienated and which then descends into a downward spiral if not tackled in the early stages of separation.  The risks to children are great if they lose the chance to see their parents working together on their behalf and for their benefit and with one voice.

Tricia Muzalewski                                                                                                                 January 2021

WYNN MEDIATION

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

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