Has the growing usage of video conferencing such as Zoom for family mediation led to its growing success?
- AuthorMichael Cork
Prior to the COVID- 19 pandemic and lockdown, the use of video conferencing in mediation was a rare and underused resource. Now, Michael Cork, a mediator with the Nottingham office of Family Law Group, examines his experiences with this new technology and how it has changed the landscape of mediation.
In 6 years of mediating, I have had just one experience of this form of working, which was only used because the respondent parent did not wish to travel 200 miles to the office from where he lived.
Since lockdown, and the obvious demand for help with family breakdown disagreements and conflicts, it has become necessary for all of us to become familiar with seeing people on a screen and working from our homes. This is no different for mediators. Moreover, family mediators have had to become skilled, proficient and adapt very quickly in utilising their skills to this way of working and to the technology.
I attended an online webinar on mediation via video conference and have read information guidelines from the College of Mediators and Family Mediation Council. We also have been sharing and learning from each other. Family Law Group opened an account with Zoom and began offering this as a positive remote service to separated couples and parents. This service has increased as the family court has also opened their doors (remotely not literally) and now the work has seen a steady increase in applications and referrals for mediation. I have now undertaken seven remote mediations and two direct children consultations and mostly in the past six weeks.
My experience of it is that the sessions have been positive overall and successful in terms of outcomes.
The feedback gained from clients is that they are pleased that the discussions were productive, handled constructively and respectful. Despite the mediation sessions being undertaken remotely, agreements were still reached in the same way as they are face to face. With some clients there is conflict and this would have been no different had it been face to face; indeed, the session may have become very problematic had they been sitting together in the same room.
For mediators, more preparation is needed for the session than before and, although we may lack the use of flip charts, documents can be shared and the clients can be reassured that the service is secure, that there is no recording (other than the mediator’s note taking) and no other person is involved.
Mediators have become aware of how the technology may empower someone and have become more vigilant as a result. There have been examples around the country where technology has interrupted the mediation, such as loss in connections, but this has not been my experience to date.
The mediator acts and presents the questions to each party in much the same way as before, taking it in turns and asking the other parent to listen before being asked to respond. The children are the central focus of any discussion and the parents are asked for their views of their children’s characteristics, their emotional and physical needs and their learning needs.
For parents, they have the benefit of not having to sit in the same room as their ex-partner, which naturally can be uncomfortable for them. They may well be used to seeing each other on screen, in any event, such as using Facetime with the children and other forms of parental communication. We find that parents are much more comfortable being in their homes and feel much safer, especially where there have been allegations of domestic abuse, which has meant increased anxiety and a loss of trust in the other party. Being in their own homes has also given parents, in my experience, a greater ability to speak more freely and openly; it may be that there has been more honesty in this process than normally is the case.
Another benefit to remote sessions has been the ability to take short breaks and to place people in ‘waiting areas’ without the physical hurdle of moving people and finding separate places to wait. Of course, with coronavirus still ever-present, it is a lot safer not to have to travel to an office.
In the two Zoom meetings I had with three different children, I was able to offer direct consultation with them in the comfort and security of their own homes. They were able to tell me in confidence their wishes and feelings about seeing their other parents and felt that they had been listened to. Talking to a complete stranger using this mechanism may have empowered each of them. All three were familiar with working on laptops and phones and this has not fazed them at all. I had written to each of them and described myself and how the zoom would work for them.
Family Law Group can offer Zoom mediation, irrespective of where you live in the country. For further information, please contact:
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 1777121 to book an appointment.