Suitable dispute resolution for families who are experiencing high conflict including domestic violence can often be challenging and it is important to take care when selecting mediators. In many cases this will mean that mediation must be conducted on a shuttle basis, meaning that the parties never meet each other directly during their individual mediation appointments. This can be done face-to-face, via telephone or online and it is an option that is used by many family law mediators.
At the MIAM appointment it is important for each party to explain their point of view to the mediator and that includes expressing any needs or requests they have from their ex-partner. Generally in shuttle mediation this happens one-on-one with the mediator, but can also happen at the same time with the ex-partner (depending on whether they are willing to mediate together). The mediator then shuttles back and forth between the rooms (or separate locations) where the parties are meeting, taking notes as they go and relaying what they have heard to the other party/parties.
Shuttle mediation can be very effective and there are certainly times when it is the best choice for a couple, particularly where one or both parties feel uncomfortable with sitting in the same room as their former partner. However, it is crucial to have a discussion with your mediator around your concerns and to ensure that you are comfortable with the mediation process being conducted on a shuttle basis.
It is important for a mediator to be aware of any potential issues that may arise from conducting a mediation on a shuttle basis, particularly where there has been a history of domestic abuse or other forms of trauma. There has been some research that suggests that the use of shuttle mediation can actually cause additional trauma and distress for those who have experienced domestic violence and this is something that a skilled mediator should be aware of and sensitive to.
The main problem with shuttle mediation is that it can be difficult to achieve the same level of agreement in a settlement as if the parties were able to meet together. There can be a sense that the parties have to negotiate through their lawyers, which can make it hard for them to express their own viewpoint and what they are really trying to get out of the dispute. This can also make it difficult to move from positions where both parties are stuck, to reaching compromises and finding solutions.
There are a number of other practical challenges with shuttle mediation such as timing issues when scheduling appointments, the fact that there can be lengthy delays during the mediation session as all processes need to be repeated (opening statements, setting the agenda and exploring the issues) and that it is easier for parties to vent to their mediator than in a face-to-face session. This can lead to a lack of trust and in some cases the mediator may be perceived as biased towards one of the parties[iv]. It is also important for a mediator to balance the expectations of both parties and to help them see that they need to consider a range of options not just their own. shuttle mediation pros and cons