The Use of Virtual Mediation Reading in the Lockdown in the UK

How are we dealing with this?

We are already in the eighth week of the lockdown, and for me, the time has passed by so quickly that it has become the new normal. During the first week of the course, just the idea of having to do the meditations made me feel sick to my stomach. In the past, I had utilised Zoom with a few clients; however, I had never attempted to do a collaborative Mediation Reading session electronically and had only used the platform to hold assessment sessions online.

Problems that have arisen for me as a mediator during lockdown situations

This gave rise to a number of problems, one of which was, “How can a Mediation Reading session take place talking about child arrangements when the kid is present in the home when lock down is taking place, and there is the risk that the child would overhear the conflict?” During face-to-face mediations, I have also run across the problem of participants trying to record the session by bringing in their laptops or mobile phones in order to do so. This is another challenge I have faced. It is against the rules to record a session, and any talks that take place during mediation are considered to be “without prejudice.” Therefore, the information contained on any recordings cannot be utilised in any manner to hurt the other party. Having said that, a significant amount of contention emerges if other people, even friends and relatives, attempt to impose their viewpoint, and it is critical that conversations between parties take place directly between them. I was concerned that other people may be listening in on a joint session if it was held at someone’s house, or that it might be simpler to record the conversations if they were held there.

I, too, had concerns over the use of technology. Is there nobody around? Is there a chance that the signal won’t be strong enough to allow for fruitful talks to take place? Will there be access for all users when they are at home? After doing some research, I found that Zoom appeared to be the greatest platform, and it even allows you to put people in waiting areas… but how?

I was concerned about the logistics of the joint session taking place, as there are many divorced couples who continue to live together in the same house, and I was also concerned about any potential fallout that may occur after the meeting. The incapacity of a person to speak freely when they are aware that their former spouse is there in the same room as them and that they do not know what will take place after the phone call. The potential for more dialogues to take place following the conclusion of the Mediation Reading session, as well as the protection of any children who are also present in the home.

I am a member of Resolution as well as the Family Mediators Association, both of which have offered mediators assistance and support in order to assist them in adjusting to this newly implemented method of conducting business. In my role as a mediator, I evaluate each case on an individual basis after meeting with both parties to do the evaluation. If they have concerns regarding safeguarding, mediators also have access to a Professional Practice Consultant who may help them discuss the situation.

Despite the fact that all of the aforementioned concerns are still at the forefront of my mind when evaluating whether or not a Mediation Reading is appropriate following an assessment meeting, I have welcomed the new way of working and have swiftly adjusted.

How to find a solution to the problems!

At Solent Family Mediation, we came to the conclusion that the best way for our current mediation customers to determine whether or not virtual mediation is a viable alternative to traditional mediation was to provide them with a free session lasting thirty minutes. To be fair, the vast majority of our customers, including myself, maintained a sceptical stance towards this. I have been able to carry on with the Mediation Reading sessions as usual for the customers of mine who have chosen to take advantage of the option presented by online mediation, and they have been very successful.

I bring this up during the initial meeting for the purpose of ensuring that the parties are not recording the session. I emphasise the fact that if it is discovered that the parties have recorded the session or that someone else was present during the session, then the trust and confidence in the process is broken, and I will consider mediation to be unsuitable. In addition to this, I have modified our Mediation Agreement to include provisions for holding mediations over the internet.

I also ask the parties to walk me through the room while we are on the video conference so that I can confirm that there is no one else in the room. We go through this once more during the session with both of them. I have participated in several Mediation Reading sessions online, all of which resulted with the parties signing the agreement, and I have never seen a situation in which the parties were unable to agree to the conditions.

Having to deal with the challenges presented by the presence of the children in the home has been challenging. When I have my first appointment with a client, one of the questions that I always make sure to ask is: “Who else lives in this house?” I would want to know where the kid or children will be located and what precautions have been taken to ensure their safety in the event that a combined session is held. I have given some thought to how I would handle this situation if I were the client and had my own children living in the house with me. It is possible for someone else to sit with the kids in a room that is more private in my home so that they will not be within hearing distance of what is being discussed. When you live by yourself with the children, this is obviously not an option for you. Even though they are too young to understand what you are saying, it is important to give the mediation your undivided attention even though your children may be too young to comprehend what you are saying. I have two young children of my own, so I am well aware of how distracting they can be when you are trying to have a conversation. It is simpler to busy older children, but it may be harmful to them if they listen in on the conversation and pick up on both the tone and the content of what is being said. In order to circumvent this challenge, I have started doing evening meditation classes at around 7.30 p.m., when smaller children are tucked away safely in bed. Because I am currently in Lockdown with two children aged three and four, this also indicates that mine are fast asleep as well. Rest assured that when I am doing joint Mediation Reading sessions, my spouse will be there to guarantee that the children do not interrupt me in the middle of the process.

My client, who has children in the house who are over the age of 16 and still resides with her husband, came up with another wonderful suggestion, which was to hold the mediation session in different cars in the driveway. This has proven to be a successful strategy thus far. When the limits imposed by the lockdown are lifted, it may become simpler for someone to monitor the children while negotiations are taking place. In my opinion, it will be quite some time before we will be able to carry out mediations in the time-honored fashion of meeting face to face.

Everyone appears to be embracing technology, and I have not had a single session in which either partner was unable to perform the session over a video link. Although we could use Skype, WhatsApp, or Messenger instead, my preference is to utilise Zoom because of the ability to share the screen and the waiting rooms it provides.

It’s possible that online mediation could soon become the standard.

My prediction is that in the not-too-distant future, online mediation will be the standard. In most cases, I would not recommend mediation to those who are going through domestic abuse or who live a great distance from one another. As a result of the elimination of the problem caused by geographical separation brought about by the use of online mediation, I will no longer use this factor as a reason why mediation should not take place in the first place. My Mediation Reading Information Assessment Meetings have been revised so that we may now talk about all of the possible choices.

People who have not had any face-to-face contact with their ex-partner and who are then suddenly thrust into a room with them to talk children or financial concerns might find it quite scary to do so. Domestic violence is still a worry, but this can be especially difficult for people. Many customers have stated that they feel they are able to communicate more freely and do not have to deal with the discomfort of sitting across the table from one another while conducting business through video connection. Additionally, I have discovered that the mute button is an excellent tool for preventing one participant from taking the lead in the talks. In the event that this is required, I explain to the group that I will provide a chance for everyone to speak, and that I will unmute you when it is your turn to speak. I really hope that this feature could be made available in real life since it assures that both parties listen to one another, which is something that does not typically occur in their relationship. I can also talk to them in different rooms if the idea of seeing their spouse, even digitally, is too challenging for them.

Mediation through Zoom

Because of the screen sharing function on Zoom, I am now able to conduct my Mediation Reading sessions in a manner that is more appropriate for the 21st century. I cannot imagine going back to using flip boards and taking lengthy notes on paper.

I have never been comfortable using a laptop during in-person mediations because I believe it creates an unnecessary barrier between myself and the parties involved in the dispute. During virtual sessions, I am able to type my notes while continuing to wear my head set; as a result, this has allowed me to reduce the amount of time I spend writing the record session thereafter and has improved its correctness. In face-to-face sessions, I always use a flip chart, and then I have to keep the sheets when the session is over. During mediations conducted via video connection, I will share my screen with the parties present and draw out the agenda together. It is also better for the environment and our company’s efforts to become paperless, so it is a win-win situation.

During the joint session, I will typically capture the parties’ financial disclosure on a flip chart. However, I have recently developed a template for an Excel spreadsheet that I will use instead. I will share the screen with the parties and we will update this jointly. Because it calculates everything on its own, there is far less potential for error, and the process takes much less time than using a calculator would.

Due to the fact that I handle a significant number of high-net-worth financial affairs, finding a time that is convenient for all three parties involved in the joint session can be challenging. The fact that individuals are able to schedule a two-hour session even though there is no need to drive or bother about parking, etc., makes this procedure a great deal simpler in my experience.

The Emergence of Online Mediation in the Near Future

When I get back to the workplace, I already have plans to fit my new manner of working into the typical flow of things there. I have fully accepted the new style of working, and my company is committed to maintaining our virtual Mediation Reading services while also actively promoting their use. We shall not wait until it is absolutely necessary before recommending that evaluation meetings and joint sessions be held by video connection. We are going to embrace new technology and make an investment in interactive white boards; this means that we will no longer be using flip charts.

My time spent in lockdown has given me the opportunity to evaluate the way in which I conduct mediations, and I am confident that Solent Family Mediation Reading will emerge from lockdown having embraced technology and being able to provide a service that is of higher quality and more streamlined throughout the UK.

Contact a Family mediator in Reading today on 0238 161 1051

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