Family Mediation Week 18 - 22 January 2021
Online mediation in a global pandemic.
It is an obvious comment but the events of the Covid-19 have dramatically changed the way that we are all working and living. It is a time of huge stress and uncertainty and as I have seen said on countless tweets and posts on social media “we may be in the same storm but all in very different boats” (source unknown). Whilst the pandemic may have bought some families together reconnecting with family time, for others it has heightened existing tensions or problems or been the source of new ones and sadly resulted in a decision to separate. In a pandemic, with stay at home orders, but deciding to separate where does that leave you?
It is fair to say the traditional family Court system, whilst remaining operational, is at breaking point. Underfunded for many years the pivot to remote working, whilst working thanks to admirable commitment by the Judiciary, Court staff and legal community, has not been without its problems - primarily in the increase in delays due to the volume of people needing Court assistance and reduced resources. Court has its place in some cases and I do not believe it should be demonised as a process but it is important to remember it is only one process – there are many options available to couples facing issues arising from divorce or separation. Court should be, in my view, an option of last resort or necessity rather than a first choice for anyone. There are other, often better, ways – mediation, Arbitration, Collaboration and other innovative dispute resolution methods that any good family lawyer should explore with you if taking legal advice at the outset. The resolution website has a host of useful information as to the options you could consider when faced with a potential, or actual, separation or family law dispute.
I have had numerous enquiries from people recently seeking legal advice saying “I would consider mediation but I can’t now we are in the pandemic” – this is not the case. Many mediators, myself included, offer remote mediation by online methods. Online mediation may work slightly differently to face to face mediation but crucially - it works. Given we have been living under restrictions, in some form or another, for nearly 10 months with no current end in sight for these (although happily with some hope on the horizon with regards to vaccinations) as yet face to face mediation is not something that will be resuming for many providers for some considerable time, myself included.
Safety of participants, their families and that of me, my colleagues and families, is paramount and as such face to face mediation at Purcell will not be resuming for the foreseeable although is something I keep under continual review. I will however continue to offer online mediation even when the restrictions are lifted as it is something that some families- especially those with distance between them – have found extremely beneficial and has removed what would otherwise have been a barrier to mediating.
How does online mediation work?
In short, in a similar way to face to face mediation, but with some important differences.
Before mediation begins it is necessary for each party to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, commonly referred to as a “MIAM”. At Purcell I would see each of you individually for these sessions and it enables me to provide information on how mediation can assist, and enables you to each ask questions of me as the mediator alone, explaining your current situation. It is an opportunity for both me as the mediator, and you, to assess whether you believe that mediation is a suitable process for you to try and resolve disputes. Following those sessions you each will decide whether you wish to proceed to a joint session. This assessment also now includes a careful assessment of whether online mediation is suitable – different but important aspects need to be considered to where mediation is offered face to face, at a physical environment in my office, including but not limited to issues such as will each of you have a device and stable enough internet to support video conferencing? what will happen to any children in the house (very important now that once again schools are sadly closed to face to face teaching)? do you have a safe place to take the call from?; how will we deal with any technology fails etc?
If, following both meetings, the assessment from both myself and each of you is that you do wish to proceed with online mediation then I will make the necessary arrangements for a joint session. This is a meeting with both of you and myself. In online mediation all of those sessions take place over video link, specifically via Zoom (which can be used on a smartphone or tablet device or computer/laptop etc) and I, as the mediator, would “host” the session.
You would simply click the link that I would send and once both of you have joined the meeting I will commence it. It is important that it remains as secure and confidential as it would be face-to-face so there is no recording of the mediation session and there is to be no-one else present at the mediation sessions than me as the mediator and you both as participants.
Another important difference in online mediation is that for financial mediation traditionally you would each bring to the face to face meetings your documents and physically exchange them. Obviously that cannot be done on the online forum so instead I as the mediator would work with you and set out a timetable for when and how the documents are to be exchanged (either by exchange of email or uploading to a secure location using dropbox etc) so that this is managed simultaneously and safely as it would be in face to face mediation and crucially you have the information you need to enable the mediation sessions to be as productive and effective as possible. This would be explored with you both in the MIAM session.
Whatever the method of mediation – online or face to face - the message is the same. I recognise that every family is different and if you choose to mediate with me then I will work with you both to help you to find the right solution for you and your family.
If you wish to explore the mediation service I offer at Purcell solicitors please do not hesitate to contact me on 01908 693000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org