Shuttle Mediation

Commercial mediators will be surprised that, for us family mediators, the use of shuttle mediation in family mediation cases is a subject of, sometimes heated, debate. “Why so?” they say as that is their usual model.

For all those of you who are scratching your heads and wondering what on earth I am talking about, I should explain what shuttle mediation is.

The answer lies in the name. It is a form of mediation where the mediator goes backwards and forwards betweeen the parties rather than work with them in the same room as in the usual family mediation model. Another important difference is that, just as in a commercial mediation, the mediator will say things to one party which the other does not hear and can hold things said by each party without necessarily sharing them with the other.

The general practice in family mediation is to work with a couple in the same room when there is self-evidently total transparency as to what is said by the mediator and the clients.

The reality is that the models and methods of family mediation evolve in order to meet changing times and needs. If the clients live in different countries, the mediator may have to use Skype. I guess that many of us now use email to a lesser or greater degree. That may, for instance, be between sessions on a discrete point. I helped a couple to agree complicated Christmas holiday arrangements that way.

Shuttle mediation is controversial as, in using it, one loses the dynamic that comes from working with a couple direct, the dynamic which frequently leads to constructive communication and negotiation. One has no opportunity to work directly with a couple on improving communication. Indeed it can be, and is, argued that in using the shuttle model, one is reinforcing the clients’ inability to communicate directly-particularly important in children cases.

However it does offer the possibility of using family mediation in those extremely problematic cases where the relationship between a couple is such that they cannot even be in the same room together, let alone engage in any meaningful interchange, no matter how skilled the mediator. Getting such couples together can have a very negative effect and make a bad situation even worse. It is possible, working with each separately, to shuttle between them and to help them to craft practical contact arrangements. One thing that assists is that the mediator can be much franker in the giving of legal information to each separately than she or he could be if speaking to the couple together.

This does’nt just apply in children cases. I have used the method in financial cases where there is an impasse over one point, particularly when the only alternative is that a couple will lose the other proposals which they have already discussed if they fail to resolve that one remaining issue.

As we family mediators are increasingly faced with difficult cases, shuttle mediation does offer the possibility of mediation where one might, otherwise, assess a case as unsuitable.


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