Mediation: An Alternative to Heading to Court

A more collaborative, and often cheaper, way to resolve legal conflicts in Pennsylvania

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 10, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Maribeth Blessing

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Words matter. What we say to one another can provoke anger, and the situation can soon become unmanageable. Figuring out divorce, end-of-life, or parenting issues can draw up the most intense emotions from even the most placid of people.

This is where mediators come in—skilled professionals in collaborative law.

“As a mediator, you have to be comfortable with people’s conflict. Sitting in the fires of conflict, we are able to get everything on the table. We follow people’s conversations and offer tools to get over impasses in order to find resolutions,” says Maribeth Blessing, an attorney and mediator in Rockledge.

How Mediation Differs From the Court Process

Mediation can take many different forms and has many different styles, but it’s essentially an alternative to formal court proceedings.

The court system has an adversarial structure. Generally, there is a winner and a loser, and the results of a court order or final decision are unpredictable. The litigation process can also be time-consuming and expensive.

This is why the utilization of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has grown in popularity throughout the U.S. for resolving legal issues.

Once all of the feelings and issues are placed on the table, we can drill down on the conflict. Most of the time, people come from a place of fear and, if you can get down the roots of that fear, often you can fix it.

Maribeth Blessing

What Happens in a Mediation Session

In mediation proceedings, the opposing parties are generally represented by their own attorney. A neutral third party called a mediator acts as a facilitator in negotiations, ensuring that all sides are heard. Unlike in court, in mediation, the disputing parties are the decision-makers.

“Once all of the feelings and issues are placed on the table, we can drill down on the conflict,” Blessing says. “Most of the time, people come from a place of fear. If you can get down to the roots of that fear, often you can fix it.”

In many Pennsylvania family law matters, the courts order the parties to sit down in a controlled setting. “We open the doors of possibility and use a transformative model of conflict resolution to empower people to make the choices that are best for them—to have them walk through those open doors to resolution.” Blessing says.

Mediation is not only for family law disputes. The mediation process can also be utilized in:

  • Neighbor disputes
  • Township or government proceedings
  • Dissolution of business partnerships
  • Employment and contract disputes
  • Workers’ compensation claims and more

FINRA reports that the vast majority of business disputes in mediation are resolved.

Mediation gives the disputing parties a bit more control over the result and ensures that every side will be taken into consideration—as was the case with an elder law dispute Blessing mediated that involved over 20 people.

“An elderly woman wanted to leave a nursing home to be able to pass away at home, in peace, and the woman’s husband had made some concerning comments about ending both of their lives. There were seven to eight family members involved, lawyers from both sides, representatives from the department of aging, patient advocates, nursing home representatives, and staff and others,” she says.

There was a real concern from all involved on how to honor wishes while upholding professional responsibilities. With two mediators and four conversations going at all times, the chaos led to a breakthrough.

“The patient spoke for herself: She wanted to go home to die. We had to make that happen,” Blessing says. “Being heard by those involved changed the entire conversation. We now had a goal and we all worked together. Children stepped up to help with care and removal of guns from the house, and other organizations worked to make sure meds were properly administered. It took three or four hours of non-stop work, but nobody wanted to stop. We made such wonderful progress.”

Find an Experienced Mediator for Your Case

If you have a legal problem or challenging issue, consider consulting a reputable and experienced mediator for legal advice on how to resolve the conflict in a productive and empowering way. 

For more information on this legal area, see our overview of alternative dispute resolution.

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