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
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