Carolyn and I do a fair bit of mediation at the D.C. Superior Court. She mediates tax, probate and civil matters. I handle divorce, child protection (neglect and abuse cases), and probate as well. In our court, guardianship for the elderly falls under the Probate Court.
I get a little passionate about some of the cases that I mediate. Actually, mediate isn’t the best term. In the best of circumstances, it’s team building. For example, in child protection cases, helping the parties move — be they the parent or guardian, the Guardian ad Litem (the child’s attorney), social worker(s), or government attorney — to where they are working together to ensure the family is reunified (since most children in these cases have been removed from their homes) and strengthened in the process.
The same in divorce and custody cases. Sure, reaching agreement on custody, visitation and property matters is critical to the parents moving forward without resorting to a lawsuit. But watching parents cooperate on arranging their children’s summer vacations or birthday celebrations is music to my ears.
The Association for Conflict Resolution has several professional sections, e.g., commercial, family, healthcare. Instead of ‘Elder Mediation,’ the ACR calls that section ‘Elder Decision Making and Conflict Resolution.’ But really when Carolyn and I co-mediate these cases, the goal – more often than not – is to move beyond conflict resolution to collaboration on supporting an older adult while honoring his or her dignity and self-respect.
Moving from grievance to agreement is fulfilling. But nothing quite compares with seeing adult siblings shift from disputants to team members supporting a declining parent, ensuring greater transparency regarding inheritances, or arranging transportation for a parent who can no longer drive. Or watching parents, social workers, and attorneys collaborate on how to safely restore a child to his or her family.
One of the most respected nonprofit organizations in Washington, DC, the Center for Community Change, has a motto: “The most important victory is the group itself.” For us as mediators, it adds up to parents still co-parenting, even if they are no longer married; adult siblings who may live miles apart developing a care plan for an aging parent; or a team of social workers, attorneys and the parents themselves restoring a family’s unity.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Halee Burg says
Sig, I love your comments about team building, the victory being the group itself, and honoring the dignify and self-respect (and I’d add, which may be part of each of those – independence) of the elder. As a fellow adult family and elder mediator, I witness over and over the strength of the group, or the family team, as they begin to recognize their shared interests and harness the potential of brainstorming. I can think of few experiences more gratifying than to see parties’ “positions” shift, expressions ease, and tones soften when the dynamic in the room slowly shifts away from “me,” and a bit closer to “we,” through the process of collaborative decision making