What is shuttle mediation and does it work?

Shuttle mediation is where the two parties in dispute are sat in different rooms and the mediator ‘shuttles’ between them, to try to reach an agreement.

It can be used when there has been domestic abuse in the relationship, where the couple just cannot be in the same room as each other without fighting or where one of them feels so intimidated by the other, that mediation is unlikely to be successful. 

Most mediators dislike shuttle mediation. In our first office, the rooms were on separate floors, and by the end of the two hour session, I felt I had done a good workout! We know that talking things through, face to face, is the best way to resolve matters, but it can be a good way of avoiding court for people who cannot or should not mediate in the same room.

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 more and more angry with the mediator, to the point where he was concerned he was going to smack him one.

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 is a definite “shoot the messenger” issue with shuttle mediation.

But we have had many success stories with this as well. The one I remember is where the parents had not spoken for 4 years. They started off with shuttle mediation for their first two sessions, then agreed to mediate in the room together. They agreed a parenting plan between them, that meant the child, who had not seen her mum for 5 years, started to re-integrate into each other’s lives. It was a difficult case, as the mum had alcohol issues, 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!

Alistair Carter is founder of Divorce Friend, Surrey Mediation Service and Hampshire Family Mediation and has assisted over 1000 clients divorce or separate amicably. You can email him at Alistair@divorcefriend.co.uk or tweet @alistaircarter9

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