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Shuttle Mediation. What You Need to Know

shuttle mediation

Shuttle Mediation in Australian Family Law

Mediation has become an increasingly popular method of resolving family law disputes in Australia, offering a less adversarial and more cost-effective alternative to traditional court proceedings. One specific form of mediation that has gained traction in recent years is shuttle mediation. In this article, we will explore what shuttle mediation is, how it is conducted, and the advantages and disadvantages of this approach in the context of Australian family law.

What is Shuttle Mediation?

Shuttle mediation is a type of mediation where the parties do not meet face-to-face. Instead, the mediator acts as a “shuttle” between the parties, communicating with each side separately in different rooms or via telephone or video conferencing. The mediator conveys offers, counteroffers, and other relevant information between the parties, helping them to negotiate and reach a mutually acceptable agreement without direct interaction.

This form of mediation is particularly useful in high-conflict situations where face-to-face meetings may be counterproductive or even impossible due to the level of animosity between the parties. It can also be beneficial in cases where there is a significant power imbalance between the parties, or where there are concerns about violence or intimidation.

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How is Shuttle Mediation Conducted?

The process of shuttle mediation typically begins with the mediator meeting with each party separately to gather information about the dispute and to understand each side’s perspective, concerns, and goals. The mediator will also assess the suitability of mediation for the particular case, taking into account factors such as the level of conflict, the parties’ willingness to negotiate, and any safety concerns.

If shuttle mediation is deemed appropriate, the mediator will then facilitate the exchange of offers and counteroffers between the parties. This may involve the mediator physically moving between rooms where the parties are located, or communicating with each side via telephone or video conferencing. The mediator will convey each party’s proposals and responses to the other side, while also helping to clarify any misunderstandings and explore potential areas of compromise.

Throughout the process, the mediator remains neutral and does not take sides or make decisions for the parties. Instead, the mediator’s role is to facilitate communication, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and assist the parties in generating options for resolution. The mediator may also provide general legal information and help the parties understand the potential outcomes if the matter were to proceed to court.

Shuttle mediation can be a lengthy process, often requiring multiple sessions to allow the parties sufficient time to consider proposals and formulate responses. The duration of the mediation will depend on the complexity of the issues in dispute and the willingness of the parties to compromise and reach an agreement.

Advantages of Shuttle Mediation

1. Reduced conflict: By keeping the parties separate, shuttle mediation can help to reduce the level of conflict and emotional tension that can arise in face-to-face negotiations. This can be particularly beneficial in high-conflict situations where direct interaction may lead to further escalation of the dispute.

2. Safety: In cases where there are concerns about violence or intimidation, shuttle mediation can provide a safer alternative to face-to-face meetings. The physical separation of the parties can help to minimize the risk of harm and allow both sides to participate in the mediation process without fear.

3. Power imbalances: Shuttle mediation can be an effective way to address power imbalances between the parties. By communicating through the mediator, the less powerful party can have their voice heard and their interests represented without being overshadowed or intimidated by the other side.

4. Flexibility: Shuttle mediation allows for greater flexibility in scheduling and participation. Parties can engage in the process from separate locations, which can be particularly useful in cases where the parties live far apart or have conflicting schedules.

5. Cost-effective: Like other forms of mediation, shuttle mediation is generally less expensive than going to court. By reaching an agreement through mediation, parties can save on legal fees and court costs, as well as the time and emotional toll of prolonged litigation.

6. Confidentiality: Mediation, including shuttle mediation, is a confidential process. This means that the discussions and negotiations that take place during mediation cannot be used as evidence in court if the matter does not settle. This confidentiality can encourage parties to be more open and honest in their communication, increasing the chances of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.

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Disadvantages of Shuttle Mediation

1. Lack of direct communication: One of the main drawbacks of shuttle mediation is the lack of direct communication between the parties. Without face-to-face interaction, there may be a greater risk of misunderstandings or miscommunications, as the mediator must relay information between the parties accurately and effectively.

2. Time-consuming: Shuttle mediation can be a more time-consuming process than traditional face-to-face mediation, as the mediator must communicate separately with each party and allow time for them to consider proposals and formulate responses. This can lead to longer mediation sessions and may require more meetings to reach a resolution.

3. Limited rapport-building: In face-to-face mediation, parties have the opportunity to build rapport and establish a level of trust through direct interaction. This rapport-building can be more challenging in shuttle mediation, where the parties do not have the benefit of non-verbal cues and direct conversation.

4. Mediator’s skill: The success of shuttle mediation relies heavily on the skill and experience of the mediator. The mediator must be able to accurately convey information between the parties, manage conflict, and help the parties generate options for resolution. If the mediator is not effective in this role, the mediation process may be less successful.

5. Emotional distance: While the separation of parties in shuttle mediation can help to reduce conflict, it may also create a sense of emotional distance that can make it more difficult for parties to empathize with each other’s perspectives and reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

6. Potential for impasse: In some cases, the lack of direct communication in shuttle mediation may lead to an impasse, where the parties are unable to reach an agreement. This can be frustrating for all involved and may necessitate a shift to a different dispute resolution method, such as arbitration or litigation.


Shuttle mediation has emerged as a valuable tool in the resolution of family law disputes in Australia. By allowing parties to negotiate through a mediator without direct face-to-face interaction, shuttle mediation can help to reduce conflict, ensure safety, and address power imbalances between the parties.

However, it is important to recognize that shuttle mediation also has its limitations, including the potential for misunderstandings, the time-consuming nature of the process, and the reliance on the mediator’s skill and effectiveness.

Ultimately, the decision to use shuttle mediation in a family law dispute will depend on the unique circumstances of the case and the needs and preferences of the parties involved. It is essential for parties considering mediation to discuss their options with a qualified family law professional who can help them assess the suitability of different dispute resolution methods and guide them through the process.

By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of shuttle mediation and working with experienced professionals, parties in family law disputes can make informed decisions about how best to resolve their differences and move forward with their lives in a positive and productive manner.

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