The typical mediation involves five people: the mediator, the two parties and the attorneys for the two parties. (Alternatively, there will be just the parties and the mediator, or perhaps one party will have an attorney and one will not.) If the parties are unable (or unwilling) to meet together, then the mediation will proceed in separate rooms – one party and their attorney in one room, and the other party and their attorney in the other room, with the mediator moving between rooms conducting shuttle diplomacy.
Parties may be unable to meet together because of a history of domestic violence or the existence of a restraining order. If the parties are not otherwise unable to meet together, one or both parties may choose to meet in separate rooms to reduce the tension and avoid a destructive confrontation. (Since mediation is voluntary, so too should the prospect of meeting together in one room be voluntary.)
The session may begin together, and then break out into separate rooms for parts of the session, or possibly for the remainder of the session. The breakout may happen at the request of a party, at the request of an attorney, or at the direction of the mediator. Most often the party or attorney calls for a caucus so that the party and attorney can confer privately. Most often the mediator calls for a caucus because at times more progress can be made using the shuttle diplomacy model.
In addition to the mediator meeting with one party and the party’s attorney, there will sometimes be occasions for the mediator to meet with the attorneys only. Mediators often choose this option in order to determine the most efficient use of time, by addressing with the attorneys what discourse might be helpful in reaching resolution versus other discourse that might simply be a waste of time.