Mediation: An Alternative to Heading to Court
A more collaborative, and often cheaper, way to resolve legal conflicts in PennsylvaniaBy Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 2, 2023
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Words matter. What we say to one another can build to states of fiery anger, and the situation soon becomes unmanageable. Figuring out divorce, death and parenting issues can draw up the most venomous of 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 It 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 sometimes the results are unpredictable. Courtroom battles 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.
In mediation proceedings, two parties are generally each represented by an attorney. A skilled mediator will facilitate the discussion as a neutral third party, and both sides are heard.
“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 and, if you can get down 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.
Not Exclusive to Family Law
Mediation is not only for family law disputes. It gives the sides 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.”
The mediation process can be utilized in neighbor disputes, township or government proceedings, business dissolutions, workers comp claims, and more. FINRA reports that the vast majority of business disputes in mediation are resolved.
“Soon I will be transitioning to a 100 percent peaceful practice, as my daughter takes over the litigation side of the firm,” Blessing says.
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 area, see our overview of mediation and collaborative law.
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