Do I Have To Face My Ex In Mediation?

An individual’s first experience of mediation tends to be at the Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) that parties making applications to court usually have to attend. As part of the initial process, trained mediators carry out full screening and assess if mediation is suitable for you and your ex to work through the issues. The mediator will speak with each party separately who will be asked to give their thoughts on being in the same room as their ex. The mediator will also decide whether the case is suitable for joint sessions. But what if you are not comfortable with this decision? Do you have to face your ex in mediation?

My ex is very charming and persuasive. How can I be certain the mediator won’t be biased?

Mediators are experienced in dealing with all sorts of people and are trained to be unbiased. They won’t take sides or decide who they like best and will make sure that both of you have the opportunity to say what you need to. The mediator will also keep things civil and steer you towards reaching an agreed plan for the future.

What options are there if I do not want to be near my ex during mediation?

It is important to keep in mind that mediation is a voluntary process, and people who are forced into facing their ex are unlikely to be amenable to reaching an agreement. A mediator will never compel you to do something you are not happy with, but they will encourage you to mediate in a different way. This could be via:

Remote mediation:

Following the pandemic, the vast majority of mediation sessions are now conducted online using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. So, rather than having to sit in the same room opposite your ex, you are in the comfort of your own home and are totally separate from each other. If you are reluctant to even see your ex on your computer screen, the mediator can assign you individual break-out rooms and move between them, speaking to each of you in turn. This would mean that you don’t have to have any direct contact with your ex at all.

Face-to-face mediation (Shuttle mediation):

If Zoom or Teams are not for you, then face-to-face mediation on a shuttle basis may suit instead. Both parties arrive at the mediator’s office separately and leave that way too, without coming into direct contact. You will both be kept in your own room with the mediator moving between you. This is where the term “shuttle” comes from.

Sometimes, mediation begins on a shuttle basis before the parties come together in a joint session. However, it should be stressed that this would only be done if both parties feel comfortable doing so. Coming together can be useful if parents are having to sort out direct contact arrangements and handovers for the children. Seeing one another at mediation, if only via video call or office setting, can be a good icebreaker, and help communication get onto a better footing.

The important thing to remember is that even once mediation has begun, you have the option to separate if you have started in the same room and are struggling to cope. Alternatively, you can come together if mediation is taking place on a shuttle basis and progress is being made.

I have been the victim of coercive control; am I exempt from attending mediation?

When making an application to court, one of the exemptions to attending mediation is having experienced domestic abuse; this also covers all forms of coercive and financial control. Although it is an option if you have suffered domestic abuse to bypass mediation, it is not a bar to mediation taking place. A skilled mediator can conduct mediation on a shuttle basis and facilitate discussions in a safe environment with no risk of direct contact.

Your safety in mediation is paramount and the mediator will be alert to this throughout the mediation process. If they have concerns at any point, they will separate you or put you in your own room from the outset. This can happen during a session, whenever they consider it necessary, and also where they feel it would help progress discussions.

What if we don’t agree?

The mediator is there to encourage discussion between you and your ex, and inevitably, you won’t agree on certain points. The mediator will assist you both in exploring all the options and even help you generate ideas and solutions you may not have considered.

A mediator is not there to tell you what to do or what to say, but is there to help you say what you need to constructively and safely. Their main objective is to assist you in thinking about shared goals, and how you can communicate more effectively with your ex in the long term.

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