What is shuttle mediation and does it work?
Shuttle mediation is where the two parties in dispute are placed in different rooms and the mediator ‘shuttles’ between them, to try to help them reach an agreement.
This method is useful in situations where the parties involved have a difficult time being in the same room due to strong emotions or power imbalances, or when there is a history of hostility or abuse between them. It allows each party to communicate their needs and concerns to the mediator without fear of retaliation or intimidation from the other party, and can help maintain a more cooperative and respectful atmosphere throughout the mediation process.
Some mediators dislike shuttle mediation. But others see it as a fantastic tool to keep clients out of court and to help them reach an agreement, where mediation might not otherwise take place.
In our first office, the rooms we used for shuttle mediation were on separate floors and by the end of the two-hour session, it felt like we had done a good workout! Most mediators understand that talking things through face to face is the best way to resolve matters. But shuttle mediation can be a very good way of avoiding court for people who cannot or should not mediate in the same room. And at family court you will be in the same room as the person you are in dispute with.
How does shuttle mediation work?
Mediate UK aim to allocate 15-minute slots to each client to ensure parity of time and arrange separate arrival and departure times. The mediator will time each 15-minute slot and will often take the flip-chart with them between rooms. In some situations, the mediator may need to allocate more time with one party to get the best outcome from the session for both of you. For example, if one client is less prepared with their financial disclosure, or has more questions to ask.
It is a different style of mediation to face to face mediation and a different method or reaching an agreement, as you are reliant on the mediator to pass on your ideas, hopes and concerns with the situation for you.
Shuttle mediation can be used for parenting, property and financial issues.
Can I bring someone with me to shuttle mediation?
Yes. For shuttle mediation, you can bring someone to support you to the mediation, although they are not allowed to negotiate directly with the mediator on your behalf. Also, they cannot be a solicitor or family lawyer as this could provide an imbalance in the mediation process. But either of you can bring someone in support as long as they are not discussing matters with the mediator directly
If both parties wish to have their solicitor present during the mediation process, this is called Collaborative mediation and is a different style of mediation in itself.
Collaborative mediation is more popular in the USA than in the UK at present.
What are the disadvantages of shuttle mediation?
One of our mediators had a shuttle case recently, where each time he spoke to the client about his wife’s views on the finances, he got angrier and angrier with the mediator, to the point where he was concerned he was going to attack him!
He managed to calm him down by saying; ‘When you confront me close to my face like that, it makes me fear for my safety. Should I stop this session now to allow you to have some fresh air?’ This immediately calmed the client down but shows how there can be a “shoot the messenger” issue with shuttle mediation.
So the disadvantages are you have to explain your viewpoint through the mediator and this can get lost in translation between the parties. It also tends to take longer. Hence it is therefore more expensive than standard face-to-face mediation.
How long does shuttle mediation last?
Whilst most face-to-face meetings are scheduled for 90 minutes, we usually allocate 2 hours for shuttle mediation. This is to allow time for the mediator to go between the rooms and discuss the issues with each client individually. Therefore, shuttle mediation tends to take longer than face-to-face mediation. Gernerally speaking, most clients will need 2-3 joint shuttle sessions for parenting or financial mediation.
What are the costs involved?
Shuttle mediation costs from £130 per person per hour, which is the same as for all our mediation services. However, there is a fixed fee of £30pp for the hire of the additional room required for shuttle mediation to take place. This fee does not apply if you are mediating online.
Can we do shuttle mediation online?
Yes. You can do shuttle mediation through Zoom – which is the software we use for all our online joint meetings. Zoom allows you to be online in separate rooms, so you do not have to see each other on screen or communicate with each other during the meeting.
The mediator will use a same process to shuttle between the virtual rooms, using 15 minutes at a time with each of you. Many mediators are questioning whether there would be a need for shuttle mediation in the same building, now that people are more comfortable and used to meetings being held online, especially since the Covid-19 outbreak. Shuttle meetings online can be held for 90 or 120 minutes.
How do we arrange shuttle mediation?
Shuttle mediation may be held by agreement between the two parties. If one party does not want to do shuttle mediation and the other party will only do shuttle mediation, then mediation cannot take place. You can discuss shuttle mediation as an option with your mediator at your MIAM appointment.
If you wish to do shuttle mediation then let your mediator know and they will inform the other party. The business support team will arrange for you to arrive at separate times and the mediator will ensure you leave separately as well. It is important to understand that Mediate UK cannot control what happens outside of our offices, so if you have concerns for your personal safety you should discuss this at your MIAM or subsequently with the business support team and it maybe agreed that mediation is not the right form of dispute resolution for your situation.
Can the mediator insist we do shuttle mediation?
Yes. If the mediator believes that the only way to help you reach a successful outcome is to hold the mediation by shuttle mediation, then they will suggest this as an option. If you decline the mediator will need to decide whether standard face to face mediation is the best way for you both. Mediate UK hold regular case reviews to ensure we do everything possible to help you reach an agreement. Shuttle mediation may be a tool we can use to help you get to a resolution.
What other alternatives are there to shuttle mediation?
You may discuss with the mediator that you could arrange a break-out room. This can be helpful to take a break from face to face mediation if things get too emotional. In face-to-face mediation, the mediator will ensure parity in the room and that both your voices are heard. They will also not allow any bullying or name calling.
But it can sometimes help just to take a breather in a separate room, or just schedule in some additional breaks. All of these can be discussed with your mediator at your initial appointment and will then be built into their joint mediation plan. All of these are possible alternatives to holding a shuttle mediation meeting.
Is shuttle mediation successful?
Absolutely. Mediate UK have a 90% success rate for clients who go on to joint mediation – and this includes clients who do shuttle mediation. We have had many success stories over the years with shuttle.
One recent example was where the parents had not spoken for 4 years. They started off with shuttle mediation for their first few sessions, then as things were going so well, they agreed to finish mediation by being in the same room together. They agreed a comprehensive parenting plan between them, that meant the child, who had not seen their mum for 5 years, started to re-integrate into each other’s lives.
It was a difficult case, as the mum had sever alcohol dependency, but one that has been a glowing success, thanks to the mum going sober, the dad forgiving the past and perhaps, just a little bit down to the mediator who managed to bring them together to discuss the way forward.
Give us a call today on 0330 999 0959 or contact us at email@example.com to find out more about shuttle mediation and whether mediation could help in your situation.
Ali is the Managing Director of Divorce Ltd, a mediator, divorce negotiator and has previously been through a divorce himself. He has helped in over 3000 divorce or separations since 2010.