Covid made me re-evaluate how my mediation sessions are scheduled and designed, and it was helpful process.
Pre-Covid I would arrange to meet with the mediation participants in a professional setting such as a conference room or space in an attorney’s office. Generally those spaces are neither interesting nor inviting. Glass walled conference rooms are the worst setting if there are not privacy curtains available. Imagine discussing your divorce settlement while people walk by and look in.
During Covid I, as everyone did, needed to get creative. I did still use some conference rooms with the parties seated on opposite ends of the conference table and masked. It felt stiff and rigid but it did work.
As the weather warmed I started offering participants a chance to meet at Bayport Park on the banks of the St. Croix River. The picnic tables are far enough apart that our conversations were private and the tables were shaded by large beautiful trees. People really liked the beautiful setting and nature seemed to help them process better and relax more. We would often pause for a moment while bald eagles flew right over us. Children were particularly more comfortable than in a conference room.
I also relied on Zoom for mediation sessions. Zoom meant people did not have to leave their homes; parents did not need a sitter or grandparent to watch their children. Zoom created some challenges in that people occasionally had a new spouse or a partner off camera but clearly participating by passing notes or jumping in. I did need to ask the person not directly in the mediation to leave the room if the other party in the Zoom meeting was uncomfortable and did not them hearing the mediation. Honestly though, having a “Third Wheel” sometimes helped the parties discuss the hidden issues such as differing parenting styles, boundaries and co-parenting. Zoom also was very effective at capping-off bad behavior because you saw your own face in that little square. Participants saw themselves scowl, roll their eyes, their angry looks and they saw their own body language such a clenched shoulders or Resting Bitch Face. People quickly self-corrected when they actually saw their behavior.
I will continue to offer these different options for their mediations, but the outside in nature option will need to wait until the snow melts.
Rule 114 Qualified Mediator, Parenting Consultant PC
Early Neutral Elevator ENE
Clean Slate Mediation.net