Many fellow mediators have told me that they’d like to write a book. Family mediation involves listening to people’s stories about family breakdown, so we have lots of experience of the separation journey. Some stories crop up repeatedly. Again and again we hear “So he/she did that, and it made me mad, so I said and did …” (something equally unhelpful). Now that we are consulting with children more, we hear what they say, too. Often it is heartbreaking. So I gave one family, the Baileys, a voice in my new novel, Love Lose Live: Divorce is a Rollercoaster.
The characters in my story seemed to be born shouting and the children were bursting to have their say. I let them have their heads and my novel was the result. When it was finished I realised I had written about the classic struggles of so many separating families: the grief and anger, the recriminations and fear, the fighting and destruction and the eventual realisation that the fighting has to stop so that the situation can be sorted out. The book is above all a story, a page-turner giving multiple perspectives, those of Simon, his wife Beth, his new partner Harriet, and Simon and Beth’s three children. The story is seen from each main character’s point of view. The reader experiences Beth’s agony of the discovery of betrayal and then travels with the characters through the painful stages of confusion and grief, witnesses breakdown in communication, the resulting misunderstandings and Simon and Beth’s struggle to work out non-couple parenting boundaries. Sometimes the story is heart-rending, but along the way there is also a great deal of humour.
As mediators this will all be very familiar to you. You may criticise Simon’s and Beth’s separate MIAMs, as I have tried to introduce readers to the possibilities mediation offers in my novel, but I wanted to write a story, not a textbook. When, as so often happens, mediation is bypassed and litigation follows, the characters’ reasoning is made clear. In my Afterword, which probably holds more of interest to mediators and lawyers as professionals, I analyse the dispute drivers and subtext of the story: why the characters do what they do and why the potential for validation in litigation is so alluring. I describe law reforms which could create a faster, more effective dispute resolution system in which, for example, judges as case managers in financial cases would implement the rule that costs should be proportionate to the value of the dispute by steering couples to mediation when legal costs have reached 20% of the family’s assets. Mediation would be embedded in this new system and work in conjunction with litigation. An alternative ending completes this section, contrasting a settlement mediated in the shadow of the court with one that is litigated.
My hope is that separating and divorcing couples may gain some understanding of the well-trodden path they are on by reading my story. Insights from the book may help them avoid some of the common pitfalls it describes. My aim is also to help all those who know and care about couples and children experiencing separation and divorce to understand and sympathise with those at the centre of this most terrifying trauma. However, most of all, Love Lose Live is intended to be fun, a good read, so I hope you enjoy it.
Mary Banham-Hall is Lead Mediator and Managing Director of Focus Mediation, and Family Law Consultant at Heald Solicitors. For more information about her new book, Love Lose Live, Divorce is a Rollercoaster, please go to: www.marybanhamhall.com