Mediation and Covid-19
In the context of divorce, the use of mediation is long established and well-documented. More family disputes are now being mediated allowing them to be settled privately and in confidence. It is anticipated that the long-term impact of Covid-19 on so many people’s lives will lead to a further increase.
What is mediation?
In essence, mediation enables people to resolve matters in dispute between them in a productive, cost-effective way. It is voluntary, confidential and flexible. Critically, mediation also helps to protect working relationships so that people are able to move forward positively and constructively, allowing them the necessary time and space to find solutions that work for them without any need for further intervention from the courts.
Mediation starts with an initial meeting alone with the mediator. This provides an opportunity to learn more about the process, the different options which are available and to ask any questions that need to be addressed. Once it is confirmed that mediation is a suitable option, then a meeting can be scheduled. Different formats are available. Either a joint meeting can be arranged together, or alternatively, shuttle mediation may be preferred: the parties remain separate while the mediator moves between them.
Conclusion of the process does not result in a fixed agenda since there are no agreements in mediation. Instead, proposals are finalised between the parties to demonstrate what they would each like to happen before moving forward. The final proposal will then be put into a Memorandum of Understanding and given to both parties, or to their legal representatives.
In the current environment of social distancing, it may not be possible to meet face to face. But there are, of course, various ways that meetings can still be held remotely, including via Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Mediators are professionally trained to ensure that they are able to manage the discussions between the parties. The virtual process follows the same pattern as face to face mediation. Likewise, shuttle mediation can still occur virtually: break out rooms can be created within the virtual space, dependent upon the form of software being used.
Benefits of virtual mediation
More than ever parties are now expected to try to resolve disputes between themselves without the need for court intervention. Conducting mediations virtually means that people can try to find a solution without undertaking costly court proceedings. Virtual mediation helps to resolve matters in a way that is potentially beneficial to everyone rather than having a decision imposed upon them. It can also be quicker than having to issue proceedings and provides a forum for everyone to discuss their concerns.
Mediation and domestic violence
In circumstances where domestic violence has, or is alleged to have, occurred there is no automatic bar to mediation taking place. The mediator will need to assess carefully whether it is suitable in the circumstances and if there are any safeguards that can be put in place to ensure that mediation is able to proceed.
This article does not constitute legal advice and parents are encouraged to take specific legal advice on the scenario they face. This update is a statement of the current position as at the time it is written.
Naomi Lelliott is a specialist family mediator and collaborative lawyer at Excello Law.