My job reflects the person I am. I was born a Quaker, and have always been someone who believes that, rather than fighting and having a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’, issues are best resolved through talking and finding the right answer for all concerned.
I have been a family mediator for 20 years, working with people of all ages and backgrounds. With no two cases the same, its hard to prepare in too rigid a way beforehand and I can never be certain of a set outcome because everyone is different, with different needs.
What I do is to make sure I treat everyone the same. And most importantly, I listen – and trust that the right answer for all will be found.
Mediation is forward looking. It is not about getting couples back together. What I find most important to get across to people who enter the process is this: even though they are separating, it is helpful for them to accept they have had a joint past together.
Their history has shaped who they are now, and acknowledging it will allow them to get on with their lives. Sure, both parties have to put in the work and I can help them with this. But they soon come to realise – if they didn’t already – why it’s so important.
This is particularly relevant for generation high50, who married for the first time in their thirties. Separating from someone with whom you have spent the majority of your adult life with can be a tough and brave step.
A good divorce needs you to be at peace with your joint past, so that you can work out how to start life again without your previously significant other. Mediation can help make this happen in a measured way to the satisfaction of both.
In these situations, access to children may not be as much of a priority as it is with fractured young families, but there are other issues. For instance, though one of the couple may have given up their career to raise children and so contributed less to the mortgage and pensions, he or she still had a vital role in the relationship.
Mediation goes at a pace that makes both parties feel safe and in control until the right answer has been found.
And talking of time passing: when people get older, health considerations must also be taken into account. For example, what if separation comes after an illness such as cancer? Through mediation, provision for support if the illness returns can be made in an amicable way.
You see, the process gives people the power to be in charge of their own destinies, while at the same time feeling they are being heard by each other. It can even work for the offspring of older divorcing couples, particularly when siblings get into disputes over inheritance or care plans.
In all these cases, it is essential for the mediator to be able to identify any blocks and to allow people to express their feelings in order to move on.
For example, someone may have had an affair and the other party needs to talk about the distress this has caused them and feel that they have been really heard by the other.
Done in a controlled environment, I have even seen it lead to one party saying sorry of their own free will; a watershed moment that led to a positive conclusion.
In mediation each party must adhere to certain ground rules. One is ‘talking with respect’, thus helping to keep the conversation open and productive. This can be hard to remember when discussing sensitive and upsetting matters, but mediators are there to help, and to remind couples why they came in the first place.
There are a lot of misconceptions about mediators, one of them being that we are judges. This is wrong, of course. I reassure people that only they are in control of their own lives, that they must come to their own decisions; and that I am there to help them.
As the mediator, I take care of the process. They are in control of what is said and the outcome. That can be really powerful; reaching your own choices between you and your ex-partner.
When we sit down for the first session, I invite people initially to keep any advice from solicitors out of their minds so they can find their own answers. More often than not, these are largely the same as their legal advice anyway, the difference being that they have found the solution between them.
I also can give people coaching sessions independently of each other to help them keep their strength, resolve and a cool head throughout mediation and bring an amicable end to their relationship.
For all these reasons, I’d urge any reader going through a divorce to consider mediation (and remind them that legal aid is available to help them through this process).
For more information on mediation, try Sorting Out Separation
Viv Hulland has been a qualified and accredited mediator for ten years, specialising in family and commercial mediation, and conflict resolution. As a professional practice consultant, she supervises other mediators and provides support to them. Viv has successfully set up a mediation service for two law firms and trained lawyers in her skills. Having been a partner in an established firm for 19 years, she has developed a range of mediation skills. As a life and business coach, she mentors adults and young people, consults with children directly, and works with couples going through relationship difficulties and divorce.