Can Family and Divorce Issues be Mediated Online? If So, Should They Be?

Sandy Balick of by Consensus Point Mediation LLC explores the pros and cons of on-line divorce mediation.The first question almost doesn’t count – of course the technology supports internet mediation. Like so much else in the techniverse, the technology just gets better and cheaper all the time with numerous audio and video options available, some for free or nearly so. The operative issue is whether their use is appropriate.

It’s my guess that answers to this question will at least partially reflect one’s age. My childhood was back in the Pleistocene era – dinosaurs and all that. I’ve adjusted nicely to modern communications and social media but I think the younger someone is, the more likely it is that the answer to the second question – is online mediation appropriate – is a reflexive, “absolutely”. This word would be followed in short order by the words, “why not” and “get with it, man” and possibly the accusation that I’m still mired in the Pleistocene.

I must confess – there are obvious significant advantages to online mediation. Individuals remote from one another may actively participate, interact and reach decisions quite effectively. Also, although amenable to mediation, some soon-to-be-ex-spouses would prefer not to share physical space with the other soon-to-be-ex and the online aspect provides a necessary remove between the two.

I wonder though, whether the immediacy afforded by the joint presence of the spouses in a room isn’t preferable – especially where the parties are local and there are no barriers to their physical attendance at the proceedings. Viewed from the mediator’s chair, the ability to fully observe the parties, their posture, physical expressions, etc., may yield valuable clues to the couple’s dynamics. This opportunity may be diminished or dulled through an audio connection. Even in a video conference the dynamics may be less vivid and informative to the mediator.

Is the risk of this dulling effect enough to say that online mediation is inappropriate? In a word, no. While I cling to the belief that there are preferable aspects to having everyone present in one space, the ability to conference in participants eliminates barriers, that for some, would preclude the mediation alternative. A couple may face practical difficulties in transiting to the mediation location (even if only occasionally). For instance, one or both may travel frequently or simply face local transit obstacles and even weather issues. It’s also much more convenient to the scheduling of a shorter session on short notice where necessary in order to clarify a particular issue.

In the end, I think the greatest potential concern over online mediation pertains to the issue of confidentiality, a vital touchstone of family mediation. Without the assurance of confidentiality, mediation would lose considerable appeal. Some online research quickly reveals a variety of opinions on online security. There are real concerns, but many, if not most of the prominent online service providers, offer security, whether through encryption or otherwise. Therapists have faced this issue, particularly under the HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) law but security concerns have not proven a deterrent to online medical and therapeutic care. However, it’s important that both mediator and participants satisfy themselves that the service being utilized provides the necessary security.

Feel free to ask any questions, to comment, or to request more information in the Comments Box below. Also, please feel free to forward this blog to anyone you know who might be interested in its topic.

Sanford (Sandy) Balick, Attorney & Mediator in New York Sandy Balick signature
Sanford E. Balick, Esq.
Founder & Principal Mediator
Consensus Point Mediation, LLC.

Phone: (646) 340-3434


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