Alexandria Skinner, Attorney and Mediator
My law and mediation practice is devoted to “helping people tackle problems instead of each other.”™ I am licensed as a South Carolina attorney (limiting scope of my practice to divorce, family and elder law), I am a professional mediator (focusing my practice on divorcing couples, extended families, church families and business organizations), and I am an IACP certified collaborative divorce attorney. Law and mediation are two distinct professions.* You have reached the law side of my web site. (For mediation, click HERE.)
Most clients who hire me as their attorney are seeking help with non-adversarial divorce, adoption, name change, prenuptial agreements, agreements designed to protect LGBT partners who are in long term committed relationships, and planning for old age or disability. Once the planning is done or agreement is reached, any needed court action is uncontested. Because I focus on helping families and divorcing couples who seek peaceable resolution of family conflict and elder law issues, I generally do not accept cases where people plan at the outset on suing each other in adversarial proceedings. However, I do make exception to my “no adversarial litigation” rule for cases in probate court involving vulnerable adults. I am also trained as a medical ethicist, and my package for estate planning includes not only a will but also a conference to talk through important business and health care planning decisions and drafting of documents needed to implement your plan in event of disability.
TYPES OF LAW
|FAMILY LAW :
- legal representation to obtain uncontested court orders in cases which have been mediated by other mediators
- uncontested adoptions,
- name changes
- uncontested guardianships for children,
- negotiation and drafting of prenuptial agreements (also known as antenputial agreements),
- collaborative divorce,
- contractual legal arrangements between long term partners and never-married parents (including LGBT couples)
- estate planning for middle class families,
- care planning for elders,
- planning for disability,
- estate planning for blended families,
- legal help for families facing elder care emergencies,
- adult guardianships and legal actions to protect vulnerable adults or people with disabilities,
- durable powers of attorney,
- health care powers of attorney,
- advance directives and medical ethics consultations,
- representation in probate court,
- guidance for guardians and conservators for vulnerable adults regarding compliance with fiduciary duties
To schedule an appointment, please call 803-414-0185, email me, or use the contact form.
*If you are looking for an “attorney mediator” or a “mediating attorney” or a “lawyer mediator,” please be aware that I think there can be no such thing, ethically speaking. Law and mediation are two distinct professional endeavors, requiring different sets of skills and having different professional focus. A mediator is always neutral and never represents one of the parties against the others. A lawyer is always a representative and an advocate. It is not possible for the same person to act as both mediator and attorney in the same case. (I have written in more detail in other places on this web site concerning specific rules of professional ethics that are violated when attorneys and mediators try to wear both hats.) For this reason, the word “attorney mediator” is an oxymoron. I cannot be an attorney and a mediator in the same case. It does not, however, double costs to utilize a mediator as well as an attorney. Because the function of the mediator and the attorney are different, there is also no overlap in services. If I am acting as mediator in a case, I will help you find an attorney who can assist with legal aspects of the case. Similarly, if I am acting as a lawyer in a case, I can help you find a mediator if one is needed. With permission from my clients, I often work collaboratively with other professionals to create a team of professionals who work collaboratively to formulate cost effective, holistic solutions for clients having very complex legal and family needs.
I have been licensed as an attorney in South Carolina since 1984. I have worked for the State of South Carolina in various capacities, including as an appellate judicial law clerk and staff attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General, as an Associate Counsel for the S.C. State Budget and Control Board, and as a Hearing Advisor for the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. In these capacities, I have worked on both the civil and criminal sides of the bar, in administrative law, in appellate practice, and as both a neutral and as an advocate. In 1997, I left law practice to study medical ethics in graduate school and, during that time, was a graduate research assistant at the University of South Carolina Center for Bioethics. I also lived in China for four years from 2004 to 2008, while my husband was on assignment there. Upon returning to the USA to live, I opened my solo practice devoted to family and elder law and mediation.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT THIS PRACTICE?
Small and Personal: My clients receive personal attention from me and from my staff. You will never receive a bill for a postage stamp.
Holistic and Forward Looking: My philosophy is to seek solutions that are going to work in the long term and be healthy and happy for both the individual and the family. Documents I draft are prepared with the goal of avoiding issues that can give rise to family conflict later. My clients rely on me for professional guidance and advice, not merely advocacy for a position.
Nonadversarial wherever possible: My philosophy is that families ought not have to engage in an adversarial process to settle family matters. On the other hand, peacemaking does not mean to cave in either. Conflict needs to be resolved fairly and, where possible, in ways that don’t rip the family apart at the seams. I seek to empower clients, individually and as a team, to identify and implement solutions that reflect their unique and individual values and circumstances and which address the underlying causes or symptoms of the conflict. In my practice, resources are channeled into finding solutions rather than fueling conflict.
Interest based: I first help clients identify the underlying issues that are causing distress or which may give rise to problems in the future. Then, I help clients identify wholesome, realistic solutions to those issues. When parties work as a team to address or neutralize causes of conflict, rather than as adversaries seeking to gain advantage over one another, it is more likely that they will be able to find creative solutions which meet more of their underlying needs and interests.
Workable: Ideally, people will be happier with their negotiated or mediated settlement than they would be with a solution imposed by a court after a grueling, adversarial battle. Because of the emphasis on finding solutions rather than building walls, this approach also conserves family and elder resources, and family relationships can be strengthened rather than torn apart by litigation. To ensure integrity of long term result, part of the process will include asking whether the negotiated solution is workable in the long run, not just whether it satisfies the immediate need.
Empowering: The approach of a peacemaking lawyer also is backwards from that of a litigating attorney. In a typical divorce case, the very first thing the attorney does is to file legal papers asking a judge to make a decision in the case. After this, settlement negotiations ensue. My approach is the opposite. My clients reach their settlement agreement before they ever file papers. When papers are filed after agreement has already been reached, the case is uncontested and the judge is simply asked to review and approve the settlement.
Ethical: I am also very clear about my role and my ethical obligations. A mediator is neutral and does not represent either party. An attorney is an advocate and cannot be neutral. A mediator who says they can represent one party, or an attorney who says they can mediate, are both violating ethical standards of their professions. I will wear one hat or the other, but not both. This is discussed in initial conversations. If I am working as an attorney in a case which needs a mediator, or vice versa, I will help arrange appropriate assistance from appropriate professionals.
Transparent: I do not claim to the the “right” lawyer for every client. Clients who want to be told what to do and who want to see the world in terms of black and white, who want to view themselves as “good” and the other side as “evil,” will not enjoy my approach to law. I cannot promise to be perfect, and I cannot promise to “fix” everything that is wrong. What I can promise to do is to do my best to be competent and to know the law, to give the best advice I know how to give, to refer clients to others with more expertise when that is appropriate, to be honest with my clients, to be fair in terms of billing, and to earnestly work for the good of my clients.
WHO IS A CANDIDATE FOR A PEACEMAKING APPROACH TO FAMILY LAW?
Committed to Fairness: Mediated and negotiated solutions for family and elder care issues are not appropriate for every case. I only accept family law clients who are committed to finding fair and workable solutions to challenges that face families and elders. I do accept elder law cases which may be litigated in probate court, because of the important value of protecting fairness to the vulnerable adult. By limiting my practice to the niche areas of non-adversarial family law and protection of vulnerable adults, I am able to focus on quality and sustainability of results for people who care deeply about the long term vision for the future of themselves and their families.
Self Aware: The clients who choose to work with me, and with whom I choose to work, are those who: (1) understand the value of focusing on healing and wholeness in the long term, (2) understand the value of finding solutions that are fair, precisely tailored to their needs, practical, and sustainable, (3) are willing to pay a fair rate for those services; (4) agree to consult with consulting experts when appropriate (financial advisers, appraisers, psychologists and therapists, vocational rehabilitation experts, legal advisers); and (5) have a high level of insight into their most important goals and target solutions that reflect those values, rather than having solutions dictated or imposed by an outside third party.
LOOKING FOR A CHEAP DIVORCE?
Focusing on a cheap solution to family and elder issues can be penny wise but pound foolish. The consequences of poor decisions don’t just last a lifetime. They can affect your family for generations, literally.
I spend quality time with every client to learn their values, goals, and circumstances, to help them carefully consider their options, and then to decide on and implement legal solutions which reflect those individual needs and circumstances. Your conversations with me may involve difficult questions and hard answers. This is because half baked, knee jerk, and temporary solutions that punt the hard decisions down the road six months are just as unwise for families as they are for Congress. The most cost effective solution to a challenge is not necessarily the one that is “easiest” or the one with the lowest up front cost, but the one that will meet the parties’ needs in a sustainable and affordable way in the long run.
While it’s true that mediated and collaborative divorce do tend to cost less than litigated divorce, the difference in cost is due to effectiveness of the process and the solutions. All emphasis is on finding workable solutions rather than perpetuating conflict and arguing. Families tend to keep more money in their pocket overall, preserve relationships and ability to work together as families and as parents, and experience less need for future court action. The investment in a peaceable divorce or quality elder care plan is an investment in a better future. But please, don’t make the mistake of focusing on “cheap” when you think in terms of family legal solutions. If you want a “cheap divorce,” keep looking. If what you are looking for, instead, is a fair and cost effective solution to a complex family issue that has legal dimensions to it, you may have come to the right place.