There was a significant moment for all family law practitioners earlier this month, with the publication of a road map for the operation of family courts over many months to come.
In 'The Road Ahead,' President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, says “there is now a bedrock of experience of remote working.” There certainly is.
As Sir Andrew points out, there are positive and negative elements involved, and you may recall in my previous article for Family Law, I set out some of the plusses and minuses as they relate to family mediators’ practice.
It seems clear that, just as family courts will continue to operate online for the foreseeable future, so in large part will family mediation. Having gained wide experience in techniques which take advantage of the potential of video conference technology, experiencing and learning from some of the pitfalls along the way, our mediators have become adept at online delivery.
For several weeks, the closure of community venues they hired for mediation sessions had forced their hand and, whilst halls and serviced offices gradually re-open, difficulties travelling to meetings on public transport – for clients as well as mediators – hugely inhibits a return to anything like it used to be. This will remain the case for some time to come.
As leading provider of family mediation training, we have also been working hard to adapt courses so they too can be delivered by video conference. It’s vital we provide an agile response to the numerous restrictions imposed on us all … and this effectively rules out in-person, face-to-face training sessions.
We also know there will be substantial demand for family dispute resolution services as part of the fall-out of Covid-19. Surges in divorce enquiries have already been reported in places including Australia and China. So we also believe the need for high quality training of mediators is greater than ever. This presents a considerable challenge.
Training providers globally have understood that the ‘usual’ five- or six-hour in-person face-to-face course cannot realistically be delivered in the same way online. The number of hours spent in front of a screen can’t just be a replica of in-person time.
So our trainers have put in considerable work, thought, and planning in adapting content that is accessible and realistic in these unprecedented times. Careful consideration has duly been given to health and safety issues, whilst ensuring the same high training standards are maintained.
The online training will be focused and dynamic, using various delivery methods in order to keep participants’ attention and interest. The training also offers an opportunity to bring the mediator community closer together at a crucial time for practitioners, whose sense of isolation has been mounting during the months of working alone.
It’s been a challenge, but it is one that we are confident is being met.