It is more often the case that where lawyers are involved in family law mediations with their clients that there is an expectation that the mediation will continue for a number of hours, in some cases many hours, until agreement is reached or it is clear that the mediation has not resulted in agreement.
In my mediation practice I have learnt the value of multiple meetings. I have found multiple meetings are invaluable as this allows parties:
- To Consider what has been achieved in that mediation session;
- To obtain further information, exchange documents or
- To alleviate the emotions the parties are experiencing during the mediation;
- To stop the participants feeling pressured into making hasty decisions;
- To allow the parties to reflect on the progress made on any interim arrangements achieved during the mediation session and to test those arrangements;
- In some cases to allow the mediator to report back to the parties as to what was achieved and to point out the obvious differences between them.
- To prevent future allegations of threat, duress or coercion because of the effect of long mediation sessions (as was the allegation in the matter of Roux & Herman  FMCAfam 1369)
In relation to the last point I have found that it is a powerful tool to set out in writing to each of the parties, that which has been agreed, and that which remains in contention. I had one party point out to me following his reading of the summary of the mediation to that point: “Randal wouldn’t I look rather silly to an outsider to be arguing over such a small point.” Being able to reflect on one’s decisions with hindsight is a powerful tool.
My usual practice is to not only to present an outline of the parties of what has been discussed and achieved during the previous mediation session but to then commence the next session with a review of any developments since the last meeting. The parties can then discuss and advise whether the point of view each of them had at the last meeting had changed given that there was either new information or a change of heart.
There is no reason why mediations involving lawyers have to be undertaken on the basis of a single period of mediation. In some cases the better course may be to plan to mediate on a number of days or where an impasse has occurred rather than claim the mediation to be a failure, agree to meet again allowing the parties to reconsider their respective positions and give them time to reflect on the proposition “Where do I go from here, and what are the consequences for myself and my family”.
The danger is that during any adjournment that one or both of the parties may resile from their previous temporary or interim agreements or perhaps slip back into a far more positional stance. This can occur where there have been intervening disputes arising or where the have been instances of family violence in the interim. In those cases it is probably not possible to avoid the consequences.
As a precaution I advise the parties about those dangers following mediation sessions so that they might avoid the pitfalls of entering into discussions or attempting to resolve matters between themselves when clearly that is not an option available to them because of their particular circumstances.
Multiple meetings in mediation are effective and may be preferable to a single mediation session in many matters. The parties to mediation should be given options on how their mediation is conducted, including whether it be conducted in one or more sessions.