The goal of mediation is to help parties reach a peaceful agreement to their dispute. Often times, couples need to discuss some very sensitive and painful issues in order to come up with a mutually acceptable outcome. This is especially true in high conflict cases where there is a history of abuse and/or domestic violence. In these types of situations, it can be unsafe or even impossible to have the couple meet face to face in the same room.
Shuttle mediation is a form of mediation in which the mediator meets with each party separately from one another during a mediation session. This can occur in person, by phone, or online. During the mediation, the mediator will go back and forth between the two rooms (or locations) communicating information via notes, a white board or screen, or even just verbally. This is what is considered “shuttle mediation.”
It can be a helpful option for high conflict or abusive couples because it provides the opportunity to communicate sensitively without the risk of being triggered by each other’s presence. It also allows for a more thorough exploration of all issues and can help the mediator to get to the root cause of the conflict. In my experience, this type of mediation also helps the mediator get to a final agreement much more quickly than a face to face meeting because it is less emotional.
There are some challenges with shuttle mediation though. For instance, it can be difficult for the mediator to convey emotions effectively to both parties during the shuttle sessions. Moreover, there are issues of privacy and propriety as it is arguably not ethical for the mediator to share personal or intimate information with the other party during a private session.[i]
In addition to these challenges, shuttle mediation can take longer and be more costly than a face to face mediation. This is because the mediator has to spend equal time with each party and cover all of the same processes twice (e.g. opening statements, setting the agenda and exploring the issues).
Ultimately, it’s a decision that the mediator and the couple must make together based on their situation and safety. In my opinion, it is important to discuss this with the mediator at the pre-mediation assessment and be sure that both parties are comfortable with this arrangement.
That being said, I do believe that there is still a magic to the joint session. It is an incredible moment for both parties to hear directly from each other about what’s most important in their case, the impact that this conflict has had on them, and what they want moving forward. This is a powerful moment and I would encourage anyone to take the time to consider whether they could benefit from this type of mediation. what is shuttle mediation