Distance/Online Mediation

By John Goodwin of John G. Goodwin, Family Mediator/Collaborative Family Lawyer/Family Lawyer posted in Family Mediation on Monday, March 20, 2017.

Normally and ideally, family mediations involve face to face meetings. There are, however, some times when this is not possible or desireable and “distance mediation” can provide a much needed service.

The term “distance mediation” refers to any mediation using information and communication technologies, and in which one or both parties are not present in the same room as the mediator.

There are a number of situations where “distance mediation” makes good sense such as:

(a) in areas with sparse population where legal/judicial resources are scarce,

(b) where the parties do not wish to be in the same room with each other for physical or psychological safety reasons,

(c) where the parties are already living apart and cannot easily arrange to meet in the same place, and also

(d) where the costs of access to justice are high.

What does it look like? There are a number of possible scenarios. The the mediator and one party may meet in one room and the other party is elsewhere, perhaps in another room or city or province or even country. The mediator and both parties may be in 3 separate locations. They may be connected by a 3 way call. The mediator and one party may be in one room connected to the third party by skype. All parties may be connected by skype or other kind of video-conferencing. There are websites that are fully automated and require little human intervention although they are not well suited to the complexities of family mediation. New and better technologies are developing all the time.

There are clearly drawbacks to such meetings, mainly the fact that a very high percentage of what we communicate is non-verbal and one or more of the parties does not have the benefit of receiving this communication. This makes it much harder for the mediator to manage the emotional climate and to keep track of how each party is doing in the process. Screening for safety or domestic violence issues may be difficult or impossible. Also, there may also be costs for using technology to communicate during the mediation.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, this way of providing family mediation service is great for families where some kind of “distance” is a fact of life and the benefits of it will be increasingly available as family mediation services and the technology continue to grow and develop. 

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