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As COVID-19 continues to force limitations upon our movement and interactions with others, for Mediation Week 2021 we explore how family mediation, mediators and families are adapting to change.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): A guide to family mediation during COVID-19 and lockdown

18/01/2021

Those who may have been experiencing relationship and family difficulties before the outbreak of coronavirus are now more likely than others to be struggling to manage their living arrangements. Understandably many people will have concerns and anxieties for the future, and these will be exacerbated in the event of a family breakdown, a separation or pending separation.

Why choose family mediation?

People will need to plan and decide together how they will manage day to day life either now they have separated or until it is possible for them to separate. Mediation should therefore be considered, and you can make contact with a member of the Steele Raymond family team to find out more about this.  Our Mediators are accredited by the Family Mediation Council and are also practising family Lawyers.  We can offer face to face meetings (government guidelines permitting) but are increasingly moving to online remote family mediation meetings.

Find out more about family mediation, what it is and how much it costs >

Meet our accredited family mediators: Michelle Bettell and Lindsay Halliwell

How online remote mediation services are replacing face to face meetings during COVID-19 and beyond

Since the first lockdown in March 2019, we have all needed to change the ways in which we live and work and this of course includes the way in which our mediators work with mediation clients.  The usual practice was for mediations to take place face to face.  That did not have to mean that participants needed to actually meet each other face to face but that they were at least present in the same building at the same time.

We have now moved on and our mediators are offering online remote mediation using video communications technologies such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Currently, due to government guidelines, face to face meetings should not take place but even once restrictions are eventually lifted, it is likely that people would prefer to have the choice as to whether to mediate face to face or to mediate remotely.

What are the benefits of online remote family mediation?

The benefits to online remote mediation include:

  • Cost Savings – for example there are no travel expenses nor travel time incurred. You can join a mediation session from the comfort of your own home/venue of your choice at a time that is most convenient to you. You could even join from abroad if necessary. There is no doubt that the use of online mediation does increase the ability to conduct mediation flexibly,
  • Limiting stress – it is not uncommon for a family mediation session to be a somewhat daunting and anxious time as contact with the person(s) on the other side of the mediation can be undesirable. Arrangements can be made so that you do not need to come into contact at all, whilst remaining in the comfort of your own surroundings.

What about family mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs)?

All mediators have a responsibility to carry out assessments and meet with each party separately first of all. During that meeting, the mediator can check each party’s position, suitability to mediate, any concerns that that party may have and will check with them their safety and that of any child(ren). That meeting can be conducted online and in limited circumstances may also take place over the telephone. The initial individual meeting is confidential, and the mediator will not be sharing any information without expressed permission, including with their former partner.

During the initial assessment meeting, your mediator will have already discussed with you the suitability and practicalities of any joint mediation session and whether this is being held face to face or online. You will also have been asked, as usual, to sign the Agreement to Mediate which binds each party’s commitment to the mediation process.

Find out more about MIAMs and how they differ from mediation >

How does a remote online family mediation session work?

Assuming you will be proceeding with online remote mediation, prior to the first joint session, you will be sent an email with the meeting link.  At the appointed time, all you need to do is click on the link.  Technology enables the mediator to separate people for individual meetings as may be necessary using our online software. Software such as Zoom has the ability to provide both ‘waiting spaces’ and ‘break out’ rooms. Breaks and ‘shuttle mediation’ can still therefore be arranged as necessary.

What is ‘Shuttle Mediation’?

In most cases, our family mediators will conduct the mediation session with both you and your ex-partner in the same room. However, in cases where this might be difficult or problematic, we will perform a ‘shuttle mediation’. During a shuttle mediation, you and your partner will occupy different rooms (whether physical or virtual) and the mediator will ‘shuttle’ between the two.

When is shuttle mediation necessary?

Shuttle mediation may be necessary for a number of reasons and this is where the parties will not come into direct contact with/ see one another at all. If one is unable, for whatever reason, to speak for themselves or is fearful of the consequences of doing so, being in a separate ‘room’ is necessary to ensure that that person has the necessary capacity to engage in the mediation process.

Remote online mediation for cohabiting couples

The mediator should always be mindful of their responsibilities in relation to safeguarding, which must remain in place throughout. During this time, many people will be faced with difficult living arrangements, often having no choice initially than to continue living under the same roof.  Your mediator can discuss with you prior to the mediation session the logistics of any online remote meeting. This will be particularly important if you continue to reside under the same roof as each other and/or any children who may be affected.

You will need a calm space where you can order your thoughts, think about what is most important for you to sort out and have the opportunity to hear one another.

What about remote child inclusive mediation?

We must not underestimate the effect that the pandemic also has on children and young people as they will have their own fears and anxieties.  They will also, although these may be not be obvious to the parents, have their own anxieties and fears in respect of the changes in their home and parental relationships.  This is despite the adults in many households doing their best to shield and reassure children.

Talking directly with children and young people online is a relatively new means of practice for mediators. Our family mediators have been talking with children as part of the mediation process for some years but historically this has been face to face, either at the Steele Raymond offices or at an alternative venue that the child may choose such as their school, or coffee shop for example.

Find out more about Child Inclusive Mediation > 

Is family mediation effective for child access (child custody)?

The family mediation process is voluntary with one major benefit being that it is wholly flexible.  People can use mediation to help them to devise childcare arrangements (previously known as custody/residence and contact) but also arrangements for the children whilst schools are not operational due to coronavirus, caring and home responsibilities.  It is appreciated that it is not only your long term financial and childcare arrangements that are likely to need attention but also your immediate and shorter-term arrangements that will be just as important.

Why children often prefer online remote mediation

Moving forward, there is little doubt that as digital natives, children and young people may prefer to conduct mediation sessions online. Many will already use these technologies to keep in touch with friends and, as a result of COVID-19, will now be getting used to schooling by remote technology too.

Attending a Solicitor’s/Mediator’s office is often daunting for an adult and so plenty of reassurance and confidence building needs to take place with a child before they may feel comfortable meeting with our mediators at a venue.  This anxiety may be addressed by suggesting we have an online remote meeting during which the child(ren) could be in the comfort of their own bedroom should they wish.

Talking with a child as part of the separation process and giving them a voice is not always appropriate for every family however, it is important that parents are aware and given plenty of information regarding the processes so that they are able to make informed decisions about what they feel will help the family as a whole to work through these difficult and challenging times.

Contact us

To speak to one of our family mediator or to arrange an initial mediation consultation, please contact Michelle Bettell or a member of our family team on 01202 983999. Alternatively, you can enquire using the form below.

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