Mediation with a small “m” or Mediation with a capital “M,” and what’s the difference?
It’s a matter of style and paradigm. Read More
It’s a matter of style and paradigm. Read More
What, is mediation, and what makes it such a positive tool for conflict resolution within families? I hope to explain mediation and its benefits in this post. Mediation is often described as a “meeting” in which the parties meet with a neutral mediator who helps them reach agreement. Having a face to face meeting between two parties is common, but it is only one from among a wide range of options for mediation. Sometimes parties to a mediation do not meet together at all. Sometimes they meet numerous times. Some forms of mediation will involve an entire extended family or organization. Using modern technology, mediation can also take place internationally or over long distances. The key element of all these variations of mediation is that the parties utilize a neutral facilitator who guides a process designed to help them reach their own, voluntary and authentic agreement.
Mediation seeks to give parties tools they need to resolve their own dispute, using whatever information they believe is relevant, based on their own values and circumstances, and reaching an agreement that is truly their own and which they feel is fair and workable. Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not. The beauty of mediation is that, if all parties are mutually committed to fairness, mediators have a large toolbox of conflict resolution skills and processes which can be utilized to help parties reach authentic, fair agreements that everyone can live with.
Sometimes individuals, families, or organizations wonder how they can possibly reach agreement, if they are stuck at an impasse already. The answer is that your impasse is not the end of the story. When you reach your own dead end and aren’t sure where to turn next, that is your signal that it’s time to call in a mediator, to see if they can help. The mediator is a professional who has many tools to help parties overcome barriers to agreement. Even if the strategies you have already employed have not resulted in a solution, there is a good chance that a mediator has more tools that can might help you.
The signature style of Just Mediation, LLC, is particularly suited to mediation of conflict in which relationships are key and where there are mutual, personal goals. Mediation within the court system is focused on cases already in litigation, involving only two parties, and focused exclusively on settlement of “this” case. While settlement through mediation in these cases is generally preferable (for many reasons) to resolution through courtroom battle, it does dis-service to mediation if it is seen merely as a tool for settlement of an adversarial, litigated case. Mediation offers so much more. Mediation need not be seen as a step along the way in the legal process. Rather, mediation offers a distinctive and different paradigm for addressing conflict, with many benefits. Here is a chart that highlights a few of the differences:
|Empowers parties to make their own agreement based on their own individual values, circumstances, and priorities||Puts decision in hands of a stranger (a judge) who must impose ruling from outside in, and based on general legal principles|
|Is not adversarial. Teamwork and collaboration is encouraged||The parties are pitted against one another as adversaries|
|Parties can decide upon and implement custom tailored, win-win solutions||The judge making the decision in the case is limited to a set range of options|
|Parties can communicate what is important and mutually hear what is important to the other side, without regard to whether evidence would technically be admissible in court||Because the judge can only base a decision on reliable, probative evidence, much effort is made to keep the judge from hearing or seeing “unreliable” evidence|
|Parties may decide mutually to engage neutral experts to assist in formulating solutions||Each party hires an expert to “prove” their case is right and the other is wrong|
The mediators for Just Mediation, LLC, are skilled in many types of mediation, including mediation for extended families and organizations. Our signature style of mediation is deeply committed to the idea of conflict transformation as an integral part of the experience of growing through the painful process of conflict resolution. While there are many aspects of transformative type mediation, a significant aspect is that it is focused not just on “settling” a case, but on helping you — the parties — find solutions that are authentic to your values and circumstances and also which will be workable and sustainable for you in the long haul. Using this approach, mediators for Just Mediation, LLC, help with many types of conflict, including not just divorce and parenting issues but also mediation and conflict coaching for extended families and for business and church organizations.
The principal of Just Mediation, LLC, Alexandria Skinner, trained in divorce mediation with Carl Schneider and Eileen Coen, a therapist-attorney team in Bethesda, Maryland. The training offered by this duo equips mediators to deal not only in legal aspects of divorce but also with the emotional and psychological aspects of the divorce and family transition. It also meets standards promulgated by the Association for Conflict Resolution as the starting point towards seeking certification as an Advanced Practitioner Family Mediator with that organization, a standard that is not met by any training offered in the State of South Carolina. Ms. Skinner also received additional and specific training in mediation of elder care disputes (Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick of Ann Arbor, Michigan), church conflict and disputes (Richard Blackburn of Lombard Mennonite Peace Center), special education issues (Cotton Harness through S.C. Department of Education), facilitative style mediation for certification as a S.C. Circuit Court mediator, and training as a community mediator (Beth Padgett through Community Mediation Center). Additionally, as an attorney, Skinner has worked on a wide variety of cases through her former work as an appellate court law clerk and staff attorney and as a lawyer for state government working on civil, criminal, and administrative cases and issues. She is also one of a handful of attorneys in South Carolina who is certified as an interdisciplinary collaborative professional by the IACP.
To request more information or a consultation, please fill out the contact form below.
Welcome to the family and elder law and mediation practice of Alexandria Skinner, J.D. (located at 3924 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC).
This is a practice only for people who want to be fair to themselves and to each other in planning for or implementing personal and family transitions. Whether parties need help finding what is fair or whether they want to implement an agreement they already think is fair, most clients coming to this practice are seeking help with:
It is said that if the only tool in your tool kit is a hammer, then the whole world looks like a nail. Often, when parties are in conflict consult with an attorney, that attorney’s first response is to suggest the filing of legal papers. Certainly, filing of cases in court (also called “litigation”) is an important and valuable tool for addressing conflict. However, litigation is not the only tool utilized in this practice. There are many tools available for resolution of conflict, some of which may be objectively better than a lawsuit, in a given case. Parties are wise to consider all of the tools in the toolbox before deciding which approach to use.
Sometimes parties file papers only to find that this action compounded their troubles (and cost) instead of making their situation better. Each individual case is unique and deserves an approach tailored to the needs of the parties, not just a one-size-fits-all, knee-jerk response. The first step is always a consultation to discuss your needs, goals, and unique circumstances. If your needs are straightforward, that’s great. If they are not, more sophisticated or less obvious options will be explored.
In this integrative style practice, options explored may include conflict coaching, negotiation, multiple forms of mediation (mediation is a term that refers to many different forms of conflict resolution and in this practice includes transformative, narrative, facilitative, and evaluative styles of mediation), preventive legal planning, and also including lawsuits in appropriate cases. Subject matter experts may be consulted, on a case by case basis, to ensure that all client needs have been considered and that negative consequences can be avoided to the extent possible. The goal in every case is to utilize the entire toolbox in such a way as to meet the unique goals, needs, and values of the parties themselves. An equally important goal is for remedies to be long term, sustainable, and cost effective.
Not every law or mediation practice is the right fit for every client. To see if this is the right practice for you, please request either a telephone, internet, or office consultation, using the contact form below, or call 803-414-0185 to speak with someone.
TYPES OF LAW
|FAMILY LAW :
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.
Integrative: My philosophy is to seek a solution that is going to meet all needs in a wholesome way, to the extent possible. As an IACP certified collaborative professional, I fully support incorporating the wisdom of other, subject matter experts (as warranted) to come up with solutions designed to address the needs and goals of my clients in a “big picture” way of thinking.
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 LAWYER?
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 approaches do tend to cost less than litigation, 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 fix,” 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.
If you are looking for a caring and competent divorce, family, and elder mediator in South Carolina, you have come to a good place. My comfortable office in Columbia, SC, is a central and neutral location for clients who come from all over the state — with or without attorneys — for help in reaching divorce separation agreements, parenting and custody plans, elder care plans, and other family issues outside of court. With help of one of our highly qualified, neutral mediators, divorcing couples and families reach voluntary, fair, and amicable settlement agreements. The goal of mediation is to help you reach agreement and to make sure it is done in a fair way that does not leave out or overlook any issues or future challenges. After a complete settlement agreement is reached covering all issues in a manner both parties believe is fair, an attorney is usually hired to manage the very simple process of having it made into an enforceable court order.
But mediation is a relatively new way of settling divorce and family conflict issues. What if one spouse needs more protection? How will you know if an agreement is fair? How can you know if your case is appropriate to settle outside of court, at all? Do you need a divorce attorney to fight for you? These are important concerns. My very first step as a professional divorce guide is to help you gain the knowledge you need to answer all those questions. You cannot know what is needed in your individual situation until you have learned about the benefits and drawbacks of the four main approaches to divorce: litigated divorce, collaborative divorce, mediated divorce, and uncontested divorce. Therefore, my first role will be to assist you in learning about your divorce options and then to help you decide what options might work best in your circumstances. Read More
Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce are options for people who want to avoid courtroom battle, but who at the same time don’t want to cut corners on thoroughness or fairness.
Mediated divorce, in general, costs significantly less than the cost of a litigated divorce. How much? Rumor is that it’s somewhere in the range of 10 – 20% the cost of litigation. Collaborative divorce costs roughly half the cost of litigation. But while this cannot be guaranteed in any given case, the primary goal of mediation isn’t to save money.
Imagine that the road to divorce is like getting from one side of New York City (married) to the other side of New York City (divorced). You’re not sure how to get there, so you need some help from someone who does.
Most people just go hire an attorney who files papers in court and proceeds with litigation to decide every issue which must be resolved in order to “resolve” the financial and parenting issues of the parties. This is effective, but it might be a bit like hiring a Sherman Tank and a contingent of marines to guide your way.
Well, nothing. Nothing, that is, if you really want to bankrupt yourself, make enemies with the other parent of your children, and spend the rest of your life thinking about how you got shafted in your divorce. Does this ending sound all too familiar? If you haven’t heard this ending before, you haven’t talked with very many divorced people. It’s not hard to find people who have been through horrific, painful divorces. Read More