Breaking up is hard to do - whether it's your husband, or Europe

Kay Day, family mediator, awaits the arrival of clients at Surrey Family and Mediation Services

Kay Day, family mediator, awaits the arrival of clients at Surrey Family and Mediation Services

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The United Kingdom is about to launch itself into a messy divorce from the European Union.

We have done the equivalent of walking out on a 40-year relationship and are now living in a bedsit above a butcher’s shop while we divide the assets.

We’ve refused the offer of counselling and gone straight for the decree nisi, while Europe refuses to give us the copper-bottomed pan set, the painting we bought on that holiday in the Dordogne and our box set of Eurovision CDs.

And so we head for the offices of the mediator, who will try to help us divide the nick-nacks, souvenirs and general tat we have accumulated together.

To get a flavour of how those negotiations may go, we watch Mr v Mrs: Call The Mediator (BBC2, Tuesdays, 9pm), and it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows three couples through the process of mediation at the offices of the National Family Mediation Service.

These three pairings have already split, and have no intention of getting back together – although Nichola and Martin, a couple arguing over their access to their two sons, don’t seem to have got that message, as they seem to have a short-lived, and very angry, reconciliation halfway through the process.

Sue and Peter are trying to divide up their assets after a 28-year marriage, a process made more difficult by Sue’s new partner.

The new partner, 80-year-old Bernard – the Nigel Farage of this particular story – has been telling Sue that she needs to fight for everything that she can, despite the fact they live in Bernard’s million-pound house.

This has led to anguish for Sue, whose youngest son refuses to speak to her, and torment for ex-husband Peter, who may have to sell the family home to pay Sue her share.

When watching them together in the mediator’s office, the words that spring to mind about these couples all end in -nt: truculent; petulant; recalcitrant; intransigent.

It’s when they are interviewed separately that you see they have – however wrong-headedly – their own fears, needs and thoughts.

One of the mediators, Kay, says: “Sitting down to try and resolve a dispute with your partner is very sensible. It’s also very brave.”

I guess we’re all going to have to be brave now.