While video conference family mediation has been successfully implemented during lockdown, probably transforming practice for years to come, professionals must be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, says a leading family charity.
In-person contact has an important role in helping separating many couples make parenting, money and property settlements, says Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation.
In a new article for Family Law, she lists some of the advantages that video conference mediation offers compared with face-to-face services. “Appointments can be made quickly; exes don’t need to sit in a room together; offices don’t need to be hired; and travel costs are eliminated,” she says.
But she highlights counter-arguments: “On the other hand, my discussions with mediators mirror some reservations about these methods, highlighted by the publication of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory following its rapid consultation into remote family court hearings.
“There are legitimate concerns about the lack of in-person contact making it hard to read body language or to “communicate in a humane and sensitive way”. So we mustn’t rush to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
National Family Mediation moved swiftly to video conference delivery of its family dispute resolution services following lockdown.
In the article Jane Robey reflects on the changing nature of calls from potential clients. “The nature of enquiries we have been receiving since lockdown has been different. We are inundated, yet people are more tentative with their questions, seeking reassurance about the processes they will need to pursue.
“They suspect – or definitely know – they are now in the early stages of separation or divorce, yet are understandably hesitant to commit to life-changing decisions right now. Instead they focus on research, getting themselves well-placed to take action when some certainty has returned to their lives.
“That’s where the calm professional attitude of staff is so important, increasing the likelihood these enquirers will come back to us – and why a positive future for mediation is in our hands.”