26th February, 2024

Online v face to face? Which is better for separation mediation?

The era of Covid lockdowns showed us that video conferencing works well in some contexts but not all. Training seminars? Bring it on. Meetings with an accountant? You beauty. Birthday parties? Yeah, nah!

But what about family mediation? Most times (but not always) video mediation is the best option. Read on to learn why that is and the circumstances where face to face is the right choice.

A little bit of distance can be a good thing

One of the biggest challenges of any separation is navigating the change in how you relate to each other.  You’ll be working out how to live separate lives while still maintaining enough connection to co-parent effectively and amicably negotiate a financial settlement. You’ll probably find that being in each other’s physical presence is challenging. Being physically close may bring up longing for the intimacy you once shared. Or it might trigger anger or frustration or guilt. A benefit of video mediation is that it reduces the physical proximity. If you’re having a shuttle mediation you won’t need to see or hear the other person at all and there is no risk of accidental encounters in the car park or waiting room. If you’re having a same room mediation you’ll be able to see and hear them but you won’t need to manage the more subconscious effects of familiar smells and physical closeness.

Being together is better for resolving misunderstandings

Sometimes the key to an effective mediation is to unravel a misunderstanding – to work through a past event to find forgiveness so you can move on. For that type of mediation, being physically together matters because people need the subtleties of body language to gauge whether it is safe to trust again. Surprisingly these types of discussions are rare in family mediation. The healing work more commonly happens in a therapist’s office. Mediators are tasked with helping people make pragmatic decisions and come up with practical plans for the future.

It’s easier to be on time

A practical benefit of online mediation is that you don’t need to go anywhere. There’s no managing traffic and no finding a parking space. The benefits of this go beyond cost and time as it also takes away a layer of stress when you’re preparing for an important conversation.

Technology is great until it isn’t

People are often nervous about the prospect of tech problems in an online mediation. These do happen sometimes but if you’re working with a mediator who works solely or predominantly in online mediation they’ll be able to help you solve these problems quickly.

There are some circumstances though where tech limitations will mean that a face to face mediation is a better option. If you don’t have a reliable internet connection then online mediation won’t be a good fit. Screen size matters too. I do a lot of screen sharing during my mediations. These work great if you’re on a tablet or computer but can be hard to see on a phone screen. So if your only internet enabled device is a phone you might be better served by face to face mediation.


For many separated families there have been incidents of violence and abuse during the relationship and also after separation. Sometimes this means that mediation is not appropriate. Other times mediation is exactly the right intervention because it provides the structure and support needed for a civil conversation to happen and for a silenced voice to be heard. By enabling people to be in different physical locations online mediation can help ensure that people are physically and emotionally safe.

The era of Covid lockdowns seem to be over now, so most of us are able to freely use face to face services. But if you are someone for whom Covid continues to pose a serious health risk then virtual mediation gives you the option to participate in a mediation without compromising your safety.

Being in your own space

The fact that you will be in your own space can be a pro or con of online mediation.

It is very important to be in a private space when you are in a mediation. It’s important that your children not be able to hear the conversation. You will also need to be in a different physical space to the other person because the mediator will need to have private talks with each of you. If you don’t have access to a private space away from your children and the other person then you might need you to use face to face mediation.

If you do have access to a private space then being in your own space is a huge benefit of online mediation. There will be times during mediation that the mediator is having private conversations with the other person. If you are in a face to face mediation you’ll be sitting, probably alone, in a small room at the mediator’s office waiting for the mediator to reappear. At best this is really boring. At worst it can unravel you as you imagine what’s being said in the other room or wonder why it is taking so long.

If you’re in your own home you can make yourself a cup of tea or go outside for some fresh air. If you’re a person who manages stress by keeping busy you can fold some washing or start alphabetizing the bookshelf. This freedom during break times is especially helpful in shuttle mediations where there will be lots of alone time for each of you.

If it sounds like online mediation is the right fit for you reach out to Liz Keogh, a specialist family mediator who works predominantly online.