If you are wondering whether Elder Mediation can help your family, you are probably asking the question because your family is having some challenges or disagreements involving issues related to an elder or a vulnerable adult, or a probate matter. If your family is having such conflict, it is always worthwhile to at least consider mediation.
You may wonder, “What is Elder Mediation,” and even, “What is Mediation?!” Please take three minutes here to learn more. Then, if you are interested in exploring in more detail, please call 803-414-0185 for a phone consultation, or submit a question by filling out the contact form on this web site.
What is mediation? Mediation is a meeting, guided by a neutral conflict resolution professional, for the purpose of helping people communicate and understand each other’s positions and then to reach voluntary, concrete, enforceable agreements. Mediation is private, flexible, voluntary, and enables people to devise their own, unique remedies for complex conflict.
A very first hurdle is to get all parties to a conflict to consider mediation. You may think this is an impossible task, but don’t give up hope yet! If one party is interested in mediation, it is helpful for the neutral mediator to contact the other potential parties. This is because people who are engaged in conflict are often more receptive to ideas coming from a neutral rather than someone they see as being in opposition to themselves. When other members of an extended family catch a vision of the potential benefits of mediation, they often will be willing to try it. Which leads to another aspect of mediation. Mediation is confidential, and nothing said during mediation can be used against a party later in court. For this reason, there is very little risk to trying it.
So, what are the benefits of Elder Mediation? Exactly how does mediation help families divided by conflict?
No matter how difficult conflict may be, mediation offers perhaps your best opportunity to find win-win solutions:
Mediation offers the promise of a better solution. The mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, utilize a collaborative model of mediation. This means that experts in different fields (e.g. attorneys, accountants, geriatric care managers, physicians, psychologists, or social workers) may be utilized in helping to understand, evaluate, and create solutions to various challenges. Rather than shooting from the hip blindly with half baked responses, parties will be encouraged utilize these professionals to take careful aim to meet a targeted objective.
Mediation helps you work together in the future. One risk from conflict is that a family member may become estranged from the others. Mediation helps address conflict in ways that prevent estrangement. On the other side of conflict, mediation can also be helpful when parties are in litigation. When the claims and counterclaims of court actions start building up, feelings get hurt and mistrust increases. No matter what a court orders, the barriers created by the court action can make it difficult to work together in the future. Mediation offers a middle ground. Even when families are deeply divided, mediation creates a basis for the members to continue working together for their common goals.
Mediation addresses problems at their root. It enables families to forge agreements that truly meet their underlying needs.
Mediation empowers parties to devise solutions that are custom-tailored to meet their needs. A judge can only order certain things. Parties to mediation can agree to anything so long as it is practical and not illegal.
Mediation is cost effective. Court actions require all sides to “lawyer up” and build walls and defenses, rather than bridges. Lawyers can be involved in mediation, and parties may bring their lawyers to mediation with them, but it’s not necessary. Mediation can occur at any stage in a conflict, from when a family is just having trouble coming to agreement all the way up to when they are ready for a full blown court hearing.
A second way that mediation is cost effective is that it forges solutions that work, that people agree to, and thus that do not need to be revisited or enforced through court orders. The cost of doing nothing, in the case of a vulnerable or incapacitated person, can be tragedy. And the cost of litigation can be astronomical, when the true cost is tallied at the end. Mediation offers a way of meeting real needs in a very efficient manner.
Mediation sometimes results in the “magic” of healing and reconciliation. For example, a judge cannot order one family member to be nice to the other one. But reconciliation achieved through mediation may, just possibly, achieve that result. Magic doesn’t always happen in mediation, and the primary objective of elder mediation will be to achieve an agreement about specific things that everyone can live with. But be aware that sometimes mediation opens the door to profound moments of healing.
Why, specifically, does mediation work? There are many theories about why mediation works. The same basic process is used in family mediation that is used in international boundary disputes. There is a saying, attributed to Albert Einstein, that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” The mediator brings a different level of awareness, a new level of skill, and hopefully raises the entire meeting to a new skill level as well. Some immediate thoughts are that three things make a huge difference: (1) Mediation brings in a skilled conflict professional to guide and control the meeting. (2) The mediator brings a very different perspective on the conflict. (3) The mediator is a trained professional who has a large toolbox of skills and techniques to facilitate communication and conflict resolution.
Conflict resolution is not a skill that is often taught in our society. Many of us have had classes in English and Math, but how many of us have taken courses in conflict resolution? What conflict resolution was modeled in your own childhood home? The mediator, in contrast, has devoted his or her career to conflict resolution. Just a few specific differences in perspective the mediator will bring:
A mediator views conflict not as a battle between good and evil, but as a normal thing that happens when different people have different viewpoints, needs, and priorities.
The mediator will try to set the stage so that every affected person can communicate with the others about their viewpoint, cares and concerns.
Then, after these concerns are aired, the mediator will guide discussions designed to address the issues raised and to find positive solutions that truly meet the needs of the parties.
Now, assuming you are interested in mediation, why should you look for a mediator with particular training in Elder Mediation?
Because elder mediation is unique in several particulars:
It involves multiple parties, some of whom may live in distant locations.
It involves complex family systems, with deep issues of parent-child and sibling dynamics.
It often involves complex legal, medical, and care providing issues.
It involves our loved ones, and deep emotional issues.
It often involves a vulnerable adult, whose rights and interests must be protected.
These factors mean that elder mediation, to be done right, requires a high level of skill on the part of the mediator, as well as familiarity with many specialized topics. The mediators of Just Mediation, LLC, are specifically trained and experience in mediation of elder issues. (Alexandria Skinner trained in elder mediation under Zena Zumeta (formerly with the Center for Social Gerontology) and has been chair or c0-chair the Program section of the Elder Section of the professional mediator organization, Association for Conflict Resolution, since 2009.)
Even when conflict seems complex, emotional, overwhelming or unsolvable, don’t give up hope. A professional mediator may be able to help your family find peace. It is relatively risk-free to attempt mediation and find out for yourself the benefits of this relatively new approach to conflict resolution.