Written by Louisa Dickson

Family Mediator at Southern Family Mediation

Louisa set up Southern Family Mediation in 2014 following a successful career in corporate mediation and conflict resolution. She is an Family Mediation Council Accredited Mediator, FMA qualified and she is qualified to consult with children.

“My Ex doesn’t take the virus seriously enough and so I can’t trust my child will be safe with him”

“I am frightened that letting my child travel to the other parent will increase their risk of getting Covid 19”

“I normally see my children in a contact centre, but I have been told it is closed.”

Now more than ever mediation is needed by separated families. Tensions are running higher than ever, everyone is worried or scared for their children and their families, and the courts are running a severely reduced schedule with even longer delays.

Being able to participate from the comfort of their own home can put participants much more at ease, and not having to be in the same room as an ex-partner can easy anxiety and help to think more clearly and less emotionally.

Online mediation works brilliantly at this time, and I can see it being used more often even when the Covid-19 crisis is over. Being able to participate from the comfort of their own home can put participants much more at ease, and not having to be in the same room as an ex-partner can easy anxiety and help to think more clearly and less emotionally. It is also quicker as there is not the travel time and waiting before and after an in-person mediation meeting, making it easier to schedule around the rest of life. Not to mention the fact that you could take part in your pyjama bottoms and no one would know!

So how does on-line mediation work?

The process is still the same as if we were meeting in person. Each parent would have an initial assessment meeting 1:1 with the mediator, then an appointment would be set up for both parents and the mediator. Here at Southern Family Mediation we use Zoom which is very reliable and stable and each person to the mediation can see who is speaking, which helps participants not to talk over the other.

What about if there has been domestic abuse?

The mediator can have each participant in a separate ‘room’ online so in cases where there has been domestic abuse neither party can see or hear the other party. Each parent would speak to the mediator and then the mediator would relay the conversation to the other parent, just as if the parents were in separate actual rooms as in shuttle mediation.

What happens if we can reach an agreement? Or if we can’t?

It really is no different to face-to-face mediation. If an agreement can be reached in online mediation, then the mediator can write up the agreement and email it to both parties. This however is not legally binding, and if both parents wish to have a consent order made through the court then they would apply online to the court as before, ticking the box on the front of the C100 requesting a consent order.

Can we still sort out our finances in mediation during this time?

Absolutely. However,  we are finding that it is taking longer to get some of the information required for this, such as pension valuations. Most information may be gathered electronically nowadays, such as downloading bank statements; and this can be emailed to the mediator who will collate everything and then the final disclosure to each participant. Once agreement has been reached the mediator would draw up the proposals to be checked by the parties to the mediation. This would then be sent to a solicitor who would draw up the financial consent order.

Practical considerations for online mediation

There are a number of practical issues to consider, as for the mediator and the parties mediating.

  • Children at home– if you have children who are in one of the homes, it is important to be aware of where they are. The mediation meeting may take up to an hour and a half, so ensure that your children are occupied and out of earshot from the room that you are in. At Southern Family Mediation we offer mediation meetings late into the evening when children are in bed.
  • Preparation– you are likely to need time to prepare for your mediation, which may include the production of financial disclosure or speaking to your solicitor. Make sure you have enough time set aside to do this given your other childcare, home schooling and work commitments.
  • Software and devices– make sure that you have the right software loaded and have tested out the online conference tool prior to the meeting. Also make sure that your video and audio work. You can use a smartphone, but as a rule, the bigger the screen the better your experience is likely to be. It will make seeing the others taking part and viewing documents so much easier.
  • Internet connection – a reliable broadband connection of at least 2Mbps will give you the best experience. If you haven’t got access to broadband, 4G and 3G networks should also be fine. Just be careful that you don’t use up your data allowance on the call, as video calls rapidly consume a huge amount of data.
  • Therapeutic support– Managing emotions can be difficult during separation or disputes over children.  The current and unprecedented circumstances are placing a huge amount of pressure on everyone; emotions are heightened, and tempers frayed.  It is more important than ever that people have a safe place in which to voice their worries and process their feelings. Having this support available will make it more manageable to engage in the mediation process.

Additional Resources

Recommend Books for parents and children going through separation.

You may also be interested to read ‘What Are The Benefits Of A Mediated Settlement?’

‘What Should I Do About An Unreliable Ex’? also written by Louisa.




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