Karen and Stephen

Stephen wanted to move from supervised contact with his two children to unsupervised contact, but he said his ex, Karen, wouldn't allow this. 
There was also an issue about the former family home where Stephen still lived, and he was concerned that Karen was demanding money and that he would be forced to sell up and become homeless. 
Stephen approached his local mediation service and, after seeing a mediator, decided that he would like to go ahead and use mediation to resolve the contact and financial issues. 
He was clearly very angry, but didn't disclose any domestic violence issues to the mediator. 
Karen didn't respond to initial attempts to contact her but when the mediator wrote to say that Stephen had seen a mediator, offering her the same opportunity, she made an appointment. 
During that introductory meeting the mediator assessed for domestic violence and it emerged that she had left the family home following a series of increasingly acrimonious and physically violent arguments. 
She was very nervous about mediation, but more so about the prospect of returning to court where she was worried that the outcome would be one that she would find difficult to manage. With the mediator she discussed safeguards to make mediation possible: separate arrival, waiting and departure; perhaps starting with indirect mediation to see if things could progress; and being clear that she could stop at any time.
A first appointment was made with Karen and Stephen in separate rooms with the mediator working between them. Karen arrived and left first so that she would feel safe. 
During the meeting, agreement was reached about unsupervised contact arrangements - with detailed handover arrangements through a mutually acceptable third party who had offered assistance. 
The root of Karen’s concern was not about the safety of the child but her own safety at handover. A further session was arranged with a four-week gap to give the clients time to try out the arrangements and to gather financial information. 
When Karen arrived for the next session early, the mediator checked to see if she still wanted to continue with indirect mediation and she said ‘no’, she would like to try being in the same room, but still to wait separately.
At the start of the session the mediator brought the clients together and began by checking how contact had been working. Both responded positively and were keen to make a start on sorting out their finances so that they could both finally move on. 
Financial disclosure was completed and the clients explained what they were looking to achieve. Stephen was surprised: he had imagined Karen was looking to 'take him to the cleaners'. They discussed some options and narrowed those down to one which they both preferred. They asked at the end of the meeting to find out some information, to check what was realistic and achievable, as well as to seek some legal advice. Karen again left first and was given time to clear the area before Stephen’s departure. 
At their final meeting they both remained in separate rooms until the session started. Both had gathered the relevant information and had taken legal advice. With some adjustment they were able to reach agreed proposals based on their preferred option which was then written up for Karen to take forward through her solicitor alongside their divorce.
In her feedback to the mediator after the case had been closed, Karen expressed her pleasant surprise that mediation had worked and particularly thanked the mediator for making her feel so safe.
This is a real case study from our trained mediators, though names have been changed to protect identities
Read the case study of Bryony and Tom
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