with Nina Mensing
(Family Matters Mediation)
What is your background and how did you come to do mediation?
I come from a journalism and photography background. However due to my ex-husband’s mental illness I became involved in mental health and began facilitating workshops and support groups for families who have a member suffering from a mental illness. I also wrote and published a book called A Manic Marriage that was well received in the field here and internationally.
Over time I realised that I wanted to study further in the mental health field and so achieved my Diploma in Counselling and Communication from the South African College of Applied Psychology. I have worked at and managed various NGO’s in adolescent and family counselling, as well as skills training.
In 2011 I got divorced, initially with a mediated consent paper. The following year my ex-husband went through a severe manic episode and since then I have been in and out of the court system trying to protect myself and my children, as well as to get maintenance for my children. Through this experience I realised the positive impact that mediation can have as opposed to the adversarial legal process. I then went on to become an accredited FAMAC mediator.
I am also hoping to further my training soon by doing honours for Restorative Justice after getting my degree in Applied Social Science. I do pro bono work in the Cape Town family court for parenting plans, as well as domestic violence mediations in the community court in Gugulethu. I am currently doing a certification course in Gender Based Violence Mediation. I also offer private mediations for a full divorce, for any family disputes, parenting plans or for changes to existing parenting plans and maintenance orders. Due to my on-going personal experience with maintenance court I am involved in running an online countrywide group helping people with their maintenance court applications by giving support, suggestions and information. I am also NABFAM accredited and a member of SAAM.
Tell us more about your philosophy & methodology?
I work from an ecological systems methodology, concentrating on trans-generational factors. When mediating divorces and parenting plans, I am child-focused. I am also aware that many disputing parties are operating in crisis mode and so my experience in crisis and trauma counselling helps me to understand those factors. Obviously having been through these various processes myself, mediated and litigated in court, I have empathy for my clients and can understand from a personal and a professional perspective.
Why is it so important to maintain our mental health when going through divorce?
Divorce is known as one of the most stressful transitions in life. By getting the right support structures in place one is more likely to be able to navigate all the processes effectively. From a crisis perspective one should eventually manage to find the positives in the situation, learn from the process and come out stronger. If one does not look after ones mental health during this time there is a likelihood of the divorce having a very negative long term impact on all the parties involved.
How do we decide whether we need therapy?
I prefer to use the term ‘counselling’. Therapy has a connotation of there being something wrong with a person. I suggest counselling to all of my clients, individually and for the children. Counselling is a vital support structure to put into place during any stressful life event in order to maintain one’s health, both mentally and physically.
A counsellor will help one to understand your own and others’ reactions and together you will come up with ideas on how to strengthen yourself in order to manage the situation. A counsellor is very different from a friend or family member who is supporting you through the divorce, as they are an independent professional party and are not emotionally involved.
What practical advice would you give people going through divorce?
- Do your own research about the process, and then decide how you would like to proceed.
- Know and understand your finances. Get financial advice from an account or tax consultant before the mediation.
- Be aware of listening to the advice of family and friends who are emotionally involved, rather get advice from independent professionals who are able to view the process from a macro perspective.
- Open communication with children is vital. However this should be age appropriate. Your children need your support through this and despite their often best efforts to support you, it is not their job. Be the adult.
- Think long term. This is very difficult when you are in the thick of the emotional turmoil, however small ‘wins’ now might mean long term relationship problems with your ex in the future – someone you need to be co-parenting with.
- When it comes to communication – don’t react immediately. Think about how you are going to respond before you do. Use a third party for communication if necessary. This is one of the most important aspects that a counsellor will help you with.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Divorce happens in six stages – emotional, legal, economic, co-parental, community and psychic. It is worthwhile getting as much support through the process as possible. By using a mediator, one is more likely to be able to navigate the process in a more mature way that leaves space for the relationship to continue. A divorce does not end everything in a marriage, especially when there are children involved. Research has shown that mediated divorce parents have a better co-parenting relationship afterwards. This goes a long way towards the mental health of your children.
Economically it is also known as a far cheaper way to divorce, leaving more funds available for co-parenting once the divorce is through. A mediator will refer to others when necessary – lawyers, social workers, psychologists, counsellors and accountants.
However throughout the process you are in control. This empowerment during your divorce is vital for the outcome and one’s long term mental health.
Posted by Sinta Ebersohn (Creator of fairdivorce.co.za – Stellenbosch RSA)