By Susan Tay, Founding Partner of OTP Law Corporation, PracticeForte Advisory Affiliate, Mediator, Collaborative Practice Lawyer, Parenting Co-Ordinator, Mediation Advocate, Neutral Evaluator, Trainer.
I am writing this while serving self-quarantine and working off site. Mylene and I were away in Thailand when we were suddenly told to “grab the 1st flight out and come home” if we want to avoid the mandatory 14 day stay home notice. We were due back 2 days later but heeded all the advice, cancelled our return flight, booked 1st and only flight out of Bangkok the next morning and flew back. That was last week.
I have been working away from office. I haven’t seen my colleagues or mum or siblings except through Zoom since our return. Were we crazy to travel during this time? Trust me, we had our qualms by the buckets. It is of some comfort though that I have since been whisked off for a Covid-19 swab and tested negative.
We went to Bangkok to mediate a family case relating to access to their only child. And after 7 hours of mediation, both parents signed a settlement agreement that hopefully could work for them and their child.
This case was a first on many levels. For one, it is the 1st time, 3 PracticeForte Advisory mediators co-mediated with each other. Our Thai affiliate and mediator Simi Singhsachthep, and the Singapore mediators, Mylene Chua and I. It was also to be the very first family mediation for THAC (Thailand Arbitration Centre) and it turned out to be a case that was the subject matter of a Hague Convention application. I.e. notoriously complex.
Facilities – Mediation was on a Saturday when THAC was closed. We practically had the whole place. Thanks also to COVID 19 and respectable social distancing even as we mediate, the room assigned to us was the biggest. With ceiling to floor glass windows, we had a glorious framed view of Sukhumvit, Bangkok. All the mediators, Simi, Mylene and I, did our accrediting course here in 2017 so its familiar. The breakout rooms were comfortable. Danaipat from THAC was quick to realise at lunch time that the rooms could be too close to each other, so he actually arranged for another room further down. That was a good call. Food was fantastic. Thai food for lunch, cheese cake for dessert and then pizza and ribs for tea. Danaipat took care of everything superbly.
How we got this case – All the mediators are affiliates of PracticeForte Advisory and have a good, previous working relationship.
When Simi got a phone query from one of the parties late January this year, she immediately proposed mediation. When she called me, I offered in a heartbeat, to fly there to mediate with her. She then co-ordinated with THAC to initiate mediation in Thailand. I was notified in February by THAC.
It turned out that this mediation was a significant one for THAC, not only because it was the first Family Mediation for THAC but also a Hague Convention case which is regarded as fairly specialised. Mylene and I went to Berlin, Germany twice for focused and advanced mediation training with MiKK (link) after my basic MiKK training in Singapore to mediate cases like these.
With THAC – It was easy and quite smooth although overseas mediators must expect that decisions happens pretty much at the 11th hour.
Parties submitted a joint Mediation Request (MR) with a few paragraphs of what the case was about.
With Parties – Pre-mediation, Simi (being the local mediator) made a short phone call to both parents just to have a better sense of where parties were.
Mylene and I arrived in Bangkok 2 days before the mediation. we arranged to meet Danaipat at THAC the next day and then to meet with Simi 45 minutes later so we could brief each other.
The next day, at THAC, we checked out the space, the break out rooms and printing facility. We also met with the THAC MD, K. Pasit and the head of arbitration, K. Machimdhorn. It was then we found out this was the 1st ever Family Mediation for THAC. In Thailand, such mediations are usually done at the family courts or parties litigate. K. Pasit told us that he would love to promote more family mediations in THAC.
At this meeting, more facts about the case were shared.
We managed the following:
- Joint session introduction where we got parties to tell us what they hope to achieve
- Caucuses or private sessions when we did fact gathering; these sessions are completely confidential even with regard to the other party. Here, we heard how mum and dad truly felt, their fears and what each side of the story is;
- Joint session when we jointly work on coming up with an agenda; they did not agree on all the items on the list of the agenda but agreement was not the point. The point was to be able to talk about anything that was important to either of them;
- Lunch of 30 minutes all on our own with mediators de-briefing and parties taking a short break
- Joint session as we go through agenda and see if mediators can help parties come up with solutions; expectedly emotions ran very high and we broke into private sessions
- Options generation in caucuses where individually parties let the mediators know what their proposals are; these proposals are also tested on viability, acceptability with alternatives; At the last private sessions with the respective parties, we happily came to an agreement
- Joint session when parties went through the written settlement agreement which essentially were a set of terms relating to access to the Child.
- The signing was done and parties gave feedback in a form of how they felt about the facilities, the process and the mediators
Settlement was after 7 hours with breaks in between to eat. Food was provided at the premises so no one had to leave. Compared to years more in litigation and the cost involved in those litigation, parties managed to settle the access arrangements between them in this one meeting, in this one day over just one set of fees. The fees which were offered on a low bono rate by the mediators was a tiny fraction of litigation costs.
So if you ask me again, was the trip worth it? Well, I will say it all depends now on how parties are after this mediation. If the agreed arrangements can help them better their co-parenting, relationships improve, the child is less triangulated; then and only then, can we say that our efforts are worthwhile.
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