Couples who are divorcing often find it difficult to communicate with each other. This is only to be expected at the end of a relationship, and is one of the reasons why mediation is so effective at helping divorcing couples agree on such difficult issues as, how to split their assets and finances and how they will each maintain good relationships with their children after they divorce. Having a neutral, impartial person in the room helps calm the atmosphere and keep the discussions objective and on track.
But what if things are much worse between the couple? What if there is a history of aggression and violence, or one person does not feel safe with the other, or if they simply can’t bear to be in the same room as each other? Is there any hope for mediation in these situations?
This article will explain a form of mediation that can help in these extreme situations.
What is shuttle mediation?
The participants do not come face-to-face with each other in shuttle mediation. Instead, they remain in separate rooms and the mediator literally “shuttles” between them – discussing with one person, then going to the other to have a similar discussion, relaying suggestions and proposals put forward by the other, and then going back to pass on the replies and counter-suggestions, and continuing the negotiations.
This approach also works well with online mediation, which is an increasingly popular alternative to travelling to the mediator’s office for mediation sessions. In this case, the participants would not see or hear each other on screen, and the mediator will discuss matters individually.
When might shuttle mediation be a good choice?
There are four situations where shuttle mediation is particularly useful:
- Where there is a history of violence, intimidation or abuse between the people taking part in mediation.
- Where the relationship between the mediation participants is so acrimonious that it is fairly clear that face-to-face discussion will not be constructive.
- Where there is a power imbalance between the individuals, which would mean that one of them would be likely to feel intimidated and not able to express what they think and feel, which would mean that mediation was not equal, balanced and fair.
- Where one or both participants feel too uncomfortable or anxious about meeting in person.
Who decides when we should use shuttle mediation?
The decision to use shuttle mediation can be made by anyone coming to mediation – including the mediator!
Each person has their own individual, confidential MIAM meeting with the mediator before the mediation sessions are booked. This provides them with a safe place to tell the mediator if they have concerns about face-to-face mediation and ask for the mediation sessions to be done by shuttle. If the other participant refuses to do shuttle mediation, mediation would not be able to go ahead.
Sometimes the mediator might notice during the mediation sessions that face-to-face mediation is not working well – the discussions might suddenly turn bitter, acrimonious or abusive. In this case, the mediator might suggest switching to shuttle mediation, at least for a while, to help calm things down. If both participants did not agree and the mediator believed that face-to-face mediation was unfair to one of the parties, the mediator would take some time to reflect on the situation and decide whether mediation was still going to be a fair and effective way for the couple to resolve the issues they needed to discuss. Ultimately, as a last resort, any of the participants in mediation – including the mediator – can decide not to continue.
Are there any disadvantages?
The main drawback with shuttle mediation is that it is quite a lot more time-consuming than face-to-face mediation. Because the mediator has to communicate separately with each party, essentially having the same conversations twice, the individual sessions will probably need to be longer, and there will probably need to be more sessions than normal.
There is also a higher risk of miscommunication or misunderstandings. It is harder for the mediator to check that the message that they are passing to the other participant is exactly what was intended. The mediator can spot signs of these sorts of misunderstandings much better in face-to-face mediation.
The lack of direct interaction between the two participants as they gradually reach agreements can also be a drawback. Mediation is rarely an easy thing for a couple to do, but the fact that they find out during mediation that there is actually a way they can discuss things together and agree – even with the help of a third party – can actually help them move forward. Sometimes, when agreements have been reached at the end of shuttle mediation, the two parties might feel confident enough to have a brief meeting together, with the mediator, in the same room. It might be the first time for a long time that they actually have something they both can agree on.
Is shuttle mediation not as good as face-to-face mediation?
The outcome from shuttle mediation has every chance of being as good as it would have been with normal face-to-face mediation. Used in the right circumstances, it actually produces a better outcome than face-to-face mediation would achieve because it can prevent one participant ending up feeling they were pressured, intimidated or bullied into agreeing something that they didn’t want to. In these circumstances, it can be well worth the extra time and effort invested.
Mediation in general is often a particularly effective way of resolving disputes. While shuttle mediation might not be suitable for every case, it’s a crucial tool in the mediator’s toolbox, offering a safe and effective alternative when standard mediation is not feasible or appropriate. Despite its limitations, particularly the longer time it takes, it offers a valuable option for those who would struggle with speaking directly with the other party, enabling them to participate fully and equitably in the dispute resolution process.
Talk to one of our friendly and experienced team to find out how mediation from Direct Mediation Services can help you as you pick your way through these difficult financial discussions with your ex.
Frequently Asked Questions
My ex wants to do shuttle mediation. Will that put me at a disadvantage?
No. Mediation is all about enabling equal and fair discussions to take place. Shuttle mediation doesn’t change that objective. The mediator will aim as far as possible to spend an equal amount of time with each of you. If face to face mediation is less likely to be equal and fair to both participants because of the situation between them, that is a valid reason to select shuttle mediation.
Can I be forced to do shuttle mediation?
You do not have to accept the mediator’s recommendation to use shuttle mediation, but the reality is that if you do not accept the suggestion, it is likely that the other participant will not feel comfortable or safe having the discussions jointly with you and mediation will therefore not be a suitable way to resolve your dispute.
Is shuttle mediation more expensive?
The actual hourly rate you pay for mediation is the same. In practice, though, shuttle mediation will end up costing more because of the longer time it takes. Individual sessions will be longer and it is likely to take more sessions to reach agreement than would be needed with face-to-face mediation.
Can we do shuttle mediation online?
Definitely yes, in fact, shuttle mediation works more smoothly with online mediation because it is quicker for the mediator to switch from one person to another online than it is for them to physically move to a different room.
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