Divorce proposals aim to accelerate no-fault settlements: Esther Oxford meets two people who believe counsellors have a useful role

COUNSELLING SHOWED ME I COULD COPE

Jean Cobb separated from her husband two-and-a-half years ago. She has two children aged 17 and 18. She has been seeing a mediator with her husband once every three months for two years. She lives in Battersea, south London. Service cost: pounds 1,000 for two.

MY FEET were off the ground during the first two years of our separation - I didn't know what was happening. The mediator was the only stable factor in my life.

I hadn't wanted the divorce. I wanted us to stay together for the sake of our two children. But it was important for us to start the counselling sessions from the same perspective so I went away for two weeks and had counselling every day. I got rid of my anger there. 'We are two rational beings,' I told myself. 'If we must divorce then it is better to see it as a positive step forward.'

When I first started going to the mediating sessions it was hard to think that I would ever be able to get by without them. Sometimes I would get profoundly upset. The mediator would stop us both and say: 'I think Jean is justified in feeling so upset'. Then he would turn to my husband and ask: 'What do you think?' My husband is a very rational man. He would usually agree. That would calm me down and we would be able to get on.

The mediator usually took a very passive stance. He didn't tell us the solutions - he helped us find our own. If we started going off on a tangent he kept us on the right track. But if I wanted to work through feelings he let me. Sometimes I would come away highly charged and go home for a stiff drink. I would shake for 24 hours. But I never dreaded going back.

At the end of the two years I emerged a more rational being. William, my mediator, took me through it. From feeling powerless, from not knowing where to go, who to turn to, he showed me that there was a solution, that I could cope. He gave me a sense of pride.

It's been two and a half years since we started. We have not finished yet. But we do know the parameters and we know what we're going to say to the judge. Nearly all the discussions have focused on money - it was extraordinarily complex.

My expectations have changed. I've learnt what matters to me. Material things have had to mean less - our lifestyle has diminished and I've discovered who my real friends are. My attitude to life has changed too - for the better I hope. I don't want to end up playing the 'deserted woman'. I want to make the best of what I have left.

A MEDIATOR MIGHT HAVE HELPED ME EXPLAIN MYSELF

Mike, 47, separated from his wife 12 years ago without a mediator. He has remarried. He and his ex-wife have two children.

I LEFT my wife after eight years of marriage because I realised I had made an awful mistake. I decided I had to leave and just did it.

Looking back, I can see I was rash and impetuous, but all I could think of at the time were the practicalities of the separation. I wanted to make sure my family would be secure and comfortable.

As a GP I had worked mornings and evenings - leaving the afternoon free to spend with the two children. I loved looking after them. When I told my ex-wife that I wanted to leave she created an all-or- nothing situation.

She said I had committed myself when we married and had children so I should stay and do my duty. My concern was that we should do everything we could to help the children live a fulfilling and productive life. Our agendas were so far apart. I had already made my decision to leave.

The legal wrangle was nasty. In the end we were given joint custody of the children but I lost my home and almost all its contents. I was told to pay pounds 500 a month for the maintenance of the two children - and that was 10 years ago.

My ex-wife wanted me to see the children once a month at the most. I wanted to be there for the day-to-day events. At the time I thought it was right to fight for more access but looking back I can see that the children's life would have been a lot quieter her way.

A mediator would have stopped the ad hoc use of the children. There were occasions when I was denied access at the door. I felt she was using the children to control me, to hurt me and to work out her own pain. Then four years ago she packed her bags, sold the house and took the children up north. I had a nervous breakdown. I gave up my job.

The divorce was very traumatic for both of us but it is only now that I see why my wife was so bitter. Her fury is understandable. Maybe I was too defensive - this could have been misinterpreted as hostility. A mediator might have helped me to explain myself a little better.

I miss some of my personal belongings - I lost them all when she got the house. This year I went into her home for the first time. I saw my books on the shelf but I couldn't ask for them back. We are trying to build some kind of working relationship. I don't want to raise any hostility.

It was a very unhappy, very tense period. A mediator might have given some hope. It would have been good to have someone positive around, one person that both sides trust.

(Photograph omitted)

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