As I strive to cut away the technology in my life- put down my cell phone, turn off my computer, and generally unplug- I'm falling in love with a new (to me) techie tool: online mediation. It's a great option for couples going through separation or settling post-divorce disagreements and particularly helpful for high-conflict parents needing parenting coordination.
Video conferencing opens up the option of mediation for more people in a variety of situations. Using basic computer or handheld device technology, the parties meet with the mediator, share documents, create lists, or hold private meetings just as they would in person.
- It creates ease of access for people who live far apart. When the two parties no longer live in the same area, face-to-face mediation becomes a headache, if not impossible.
- It allows for more comfort and safety. Occasionally, one person doesn’t feel safe or comfortable in the presence of the other party. Even if they aren’t afraid of physical contact, they may feel intimidated and less confident to speak freely.
- It is convenient. Meditations are conducted in the comfort of a home or office on virtually any computer or device. You can be the first of your friends to get divorced wearing you pajama bottoms.
- It allows you to work with any online mediator, anywhere. People living in small towns or remote locations can work with a mediator who doesn't already know everyone in their family,
Here’s how online mediation worked for “Tiffany and Mark”...
When they separated a year ago, Tiffany returned to the small town where the children were born and where she had a job. Mark stayed in the city they had moved to three years prior for his work. Since they now live two hours apart, they needed to develop a creative parenting plan that allowed both parents to play active roles in the children’s lives. They agreed that the children return to the schools where Tiffany lived, but they wanted to ensure Mark’s involvement would be significant and he would not become the Vacation Dad. Initially, they spoke on the phone, trying to sort it out. These conversations devolved into arguments over who was to blame for their new and challenging co-parenting arrangement.
Eventually Tiffany contacted me to set up an online mediation. Before the meeting, I spoke to both parents separately on the phone to introduce myself, learn a little bit about their perspectives and help them begin to reframe their conflict so that they didn’t see it as unsolvable. I also sent them a link to a video conferencing site which allowed them to simply log on at the agreed-upon time.
Once in session, the mediation proceeded much as it would in a face-to-face meeting. They listed their shared goals for the children and they developed agreements about how they wanted to work together in raising them. Mark shared his work schedule and Tiffany posted the children’s school calendars so that we could see when each were available to have the kids. I posted a blank calendar on our shared wall on which I noted the dates as they agreed to them. Over the course of an hour or two, the calendar filled in with agreed upon dates so that eventually the year was blocked out. It showed where the kids would be at any given time. We then discussed when and where the transitions would occur and what would happen if they needed to make a change.
Both Tiffany and Mark ended our call by saying that they didn’t believe they would really come to an agreement. Mark admitted that he feared that they would end up in court. They were immensely relieved that they were able to resolve this conflict so simply.