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Attorney Christine Pate says mediators are not judges.
“If two or more people have a dispute, they may be thinking about taking it to court. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. You may have one or two mediators assisting the parties to facilitate an agreement. I think the term is that the ‘mediator owns the process, and the participants own the content.’ So the mediator doesn’t really make decisions for the parties, they just help them reach an agreement.”
With the exception of cases involving juveniles, the American court system is open to the public. The messiest divorces and lawsuits are available for anyone’s inspection. While this makes headlines for Donald and Ivana, attorney Corrie Bosman says mediation might be for the rest of us.
“It’s confidential. Sometimes people have a dispute of a nature that they don’t really want to be aired in the public – which it is in the courts. It also offers great flexibility in how you craft solutions. The courts oftentimes are limited in what they can do, but in mediation the parties can come up with almost anything within the realm of legality, at least. It also is useful in helping people to mend and build relationships and trust. And that’s a real important dynamic, especially when you come to family disputes.”
Bosman also says mediation can be far less expensive than going to court.
Still, most people who end up in mediation are referred by the court system. There are two mediation programs within the state courts: Child Custody and Visitation, and the relatively new Adult Guardianship and Conservatorship, which is designed to settle disputes involving “vulnerable” adults over the age of eighteen.
But Bosman says mediation is useful over a spectrum of issues.
“Almost any type of dispute can be mediated. There are certainly a few exceptions to that. One would be child abuse or neglect; the issue of domestic violence itself can’t be mediated; also criminal guilt cannot be mediated. Beyond that, mediation is used in a broad realm of issues: labor disputes, property disputes, all kinds of domestic disputes.”
Bosman and Pate both serve as private mediators, in addition to their work for the courts. This past Wednesday (6-23-10) they convened a meeting of the Sitka Bar to introduce other local attorneys to the Adult Guardianship Mediation program, and also met with the community’s adult service providers.
Their guest was Karen Largent, the mediation coordinator for the Alaska Court System. Largent came to mediation from work as a clinical social worker. She’s found the courts to be very receptive to mediation.
“I think judges really appreciate the agreements that come out of mediation. What judges and masters tend to think is that parties have been involved in a very thoughtful process. One of the benefits of mediation is that the participants really stay in control of the decision-making, so they’re not turning that over to someone outside of their family or their caregiving system to make decisions for them.”
Largent says that courts typically review mediated agreements. If it wins a judge’s approval, an agreement then has the force of court ruling.
And, according to Christine Pate, people leave mediation feeling better about a decision than they do in a court setting – especially in domestic disputes. Arguments are exchanged in court; in mediation it’s all about dialogue.
“The court system is not always the best place to settle family law disputes. People come in with a disagreement, and they leave with even harder feelings. What happens in court often reinforces that negativity that people went into the case with. And you’re also placing your hands and your future with a judge who may not know a lot about your case and your family. We have a lot of excellent judges and they make good decisions, but they may not know your situation.”
Pate says mediation uses the people who are most vested in the outcome of a dispute to craft the resolution.
KCAW's Shady Grove Oliver contributed to this report.
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