A dispute between a couple who divorced five years ago but where there have been ongoing difficulties between them
Frankie and Johnny were married for five years during which time they had two children, John and Jane who are now aged 10 and 12.
Initially they were very happy but five years ago a combination of economic and social factors, coupled with Frankie’s strong but incorrect suspicions that her husband was being unfaithful resulted in a very acrimonious divorce.
Although at that time their solicitors gave them balanced, sensible advice they fought bitterly over a range of financial issues.
They also argued extensively about how often they should each be able to spend time with John and Jane. Outwardly at least they resolved these issues. However, this was partly because they were both emotionally drained and partly because they had run up very large legal bills and just wanted to get things over and done with.
Although Frankie and Johnny were in principle prepared to work within the framework that their divorce settlement provided, they had not managed to resolve any of their personal differences and to date there has been a lot of ill disguised resentment on both sides.
This is particularly true of Johnny who had reluctantly agreed to sign the family home over to Frankie and now has to live in unsatisfactory and quite costly rented accommodation.
Because the children live with Frankie and only stay with him at weekends, he feels that his ex-wife is calling all the shots and that he is little more than what he terms “a meal provider”.
Frankie is not prepared to be at all flexible, interprets the settlement provisions about Johnny’s contact with the children very literally and repeatedly makes hurtful remarks to him.
Johnny retaliates by badmouthing Frankie in front of John and Jane even though it upsets them and is invariably late in making maintenance payments.
Each and every time they meet, Frankie and Johnny row, often in public or in front of the children. Frankie’s mother, Daphne, who has never liked Johnny and whom he considers to be an interfering busybody becomes involved and repeatedly criticises him in front of the children.
Recently, two or three mutual friends in whom Frankie and Johnny have both confided decided that enough was enough and strongly suggested that they go to family mediation.
Ostensibly, the purpose of the mediation is for them to revisit the question of how often Johnny sees John and Jane and to consider John’s stated wish that he has more say in his children’s upbringing, particularly their education.
Subsequently, in the process of initially speaking to Frankie and Johnny individually to see whether mediation is appropriate, it becomes apparent to the mediator, Angela, that although at first glance the original divorce settlement appears to have been quite sensible, in reality there are lots of unresolved issues. She initially suggests four sessions but because a lot of progress is made matters are resolved in three.
During their first session, Frankie and Johnny barely speak to one another.
However, once they have grasped that their mediator is not there to impose a settlement on them, they both privately concede that the other is “not all bad”. They both realise that for the first time they have the opportunity to speak to one another with facilitation from an objective, independent third party who is not a lawyer or a counsellor and is prepared to listen and to help them try to reach a settlement that they will both be comfortable with.
In subsequent sessions they are more focused. Johnny concedes that Frankie is a good mother and that it is in John and Jane’s best interests to live with her.
However, he asks her to acknowledge that he is doing his best in difficult circumstances, that he bitterly resents her suggestions of past infidelity on his part, and that his wish to play a more active role in the children’s day-to-day lives is genuine. He also politely but very strongly suggests that Daphne stops interfering, something that in truth Frankie agrees with.
Having listened to Johnny, Frankie takes a step back. She acknowledges Johnny’s views and agrees that she will try to rein Daphne in.
The net effect is that although Frankie and Johnny do not resolve their personal differences, they agree that they have to put John and Jane first and that they have to try and be more civil with one another. Frankie agrees to be a little more flexible about access arrangements and to keep in touch with Johnny in order to discuss things such as the children’s schooling with him.
In turn Johnny agrees that unless there are any genuine difficulties he will make any required financial payments on time. Both agree that they will keep financial and other issues under review.
Frankie and Johnny liaise with their solicitors and decide not to request the court to make a consent order amending the order made at the time of their divorce. Instead with their solicitors’ help they record their revised agreement in correspondence.
The obvious benefit resulting from Frankie and Johnny going to mediation and entering into a written agreement is that John and Jane are much happier and feel much more secure.
Their parents have effectively saved themselves a good deal of anguish and upset and feel better able to get on with their lives. They have established some lines of communication and because they have to some extent accepted their own failings they are better placed to be civil to one another Their acrimonious feelings about one another do not melt away but they have at the very least agreed to disagree about such matters and they are able to put their animosities to one side.
Paul Sandford is an accredited civil mediator, family mediator and Tribunal Judge
He mediates for a leading UK charity, has been appointed a governor/mediator at a London Secondary School and has the benefit of having worked as a solicitor for around 25 years. He has also worked as a trainer and university lecturer and has considerable experience of working with people who are disabled or who do not have English as a first language.
As well as being Regents University accredited, Paul recently completed ADRg civil/commercial and family training and is working towards becoming an accredited family mediator.
He has particular knowledge and experience of housing, property/commercial, medical and public law issues and employment, workplace, family and educational disputes. He is a member of two mediation panels: Clerksroom, which has excellent conference call facilities, and the Business Mediation Group. In his spare time Paul enjoys cooking, football, test cricket and listening to the blues, and fundraises for his school.
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