MEDIATION is not COUNSELING

When a relationship begins to disintegrate, such as that between a husband and wife, they are often encouraged to get into counseling. Absolutely nothing wrong with that suggestion. In fact, I have known many couples who have been helped immensely by counseling. Counseling (also called therapy or psychotherapy) uses various psychological perspectives and tools to help bring about lasting changes in patterns of behavior, including changes in communication. Mediation is not that. There is a place for both counseling and for mediation and they do not serve the same function.

Instead of helping people change their patterns of behavior over time with the hope that those changes will endure (i.e. counseling), mediation seeks to intervene in a single moment of conflict and to move two or more people from division to some degree of unity. There is no intent to change established behavior and communication patterns in a lasting way. There is no weekly session. There is no training and practice in effective habits. However, when a couple experience success in resolving one conflict with help, a side-effect often is the ability to resolve another one without help. Relationships heading towards destruction often are redirected onto a new course through a single intervention in the conflict.

Again, I am an advocate of counseling, but if people have gotten to the point where divorce is filed or even planned, then they are incredibly unlikely to entertain the notion of marital counseling. Even if they do agree to counseling, most sessions are limited to an hour or less per week so it takes a number of sessions before the whole story is unfolded. Many will go to a few sessions, but their level of engagement in the process stops there before counseling even gets its traction. Also, in counseling, there remains the risk that what is said in those sessions could be brought out in court; the counselor could be compelled to testify. Lastly, counseling may give tools to communicate and resolve conflict, but it does not result in a resolution committed to paper that is legally binding.

In contrast to the time limitations and confidentiality limitations of counseling, and in contrast to the absence of any actual, binding agreement, mediation is a forum that exceeds those bounds. A mediation session lasts from two to several hours and can be accomplished over the course of a single day or a few days back to back. Ample time is given for the entire story to unfold and for each party to be heard. The telling of each person’s story as it relates to the issues in dispute clears the way for problem solving to occur. It does not guarantee resolutions of each issue, but it creates the potential for those resolutions better than any other forum. Mediation is not counseling and does not attempt all that counseling promises, but it is the intentional resolution of defined issues of conflict that are then committed to paper as binding agreements.

Do you feel that relationship is beyond the reach of counseling? Are you no longer willing to invest time and hope in therapy sessions? Have you thought an issue was resolved one too many times only for it to unravel leaving you with no way to hold the other person accountable? If any of these are true, it is time to seek the alternative conflict resolution offered by a professional mediator.

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MEDIATION is not ARBITRATION

In a recent conversation I became aware that there remain many misconceptions about mediation. I hope to address few of those in this and the following posts. In this particular conversation with some community leaders, they were surprised that mediation is not the same as submitting your claims to a third-party who decides the outcome for you. They knew it was not the same as going before a judge or jury, but the still understood it as having an outside decision maker. That is not mediation, it is arbitration.

Arbitration has become increasingly popular among businesses. In nearly any contract these days one is likely to find an arbitration clause. The clause essentially binds the parties to attempt to argue any dispute to an approved arbitrator instead of going to court to decide the outcome of the conflict. The purpose is to reduce the costs of litigation by streamlining the process. These clauses almost universally benefit the business who wrote the contract since they choose, in advance, who the arbitrator will be.

In arbitration, the two (or more) parties in dispute prepare their arguments and evidence, present those arguments to the arbiter with supporting documents, and then agree to abide by that arbiter’s decision. Rules of evidence are lax to non-existent and sometimes lawyers are not even involved. However, think about it, these arbiters get their income from cases that come to them from big businesses naming them in the very contracts that the business wrote. How many times might that company lose in an arbitration and still use that arbitrator? So, arbitration is like court-lite and a third party decides the matter. There is a winner and a loser.

Anyway, mediation is not arbitration. The decision makers remain the parties who have the dispute. They either come to an agreement or they do not. Nothing is imposed on them. The mediator guides the process, not the outcome. A good mediator will help the parties to develop unique ideas that address the issues in conflict or help the parties to compromise in ways that benefit everyone. At the end of the day, though, the outcome belongs to the parties that had the dispute, not a third-party. That increases a sense of ownership and satisfaction in the outcome. There are either two winners at the end or, at worst, the conflict simply has not been resolved yet. Mediators are guides, not deciders.

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Litigation Disillusionment

Any family law practitioner who has handled at least a handful of divorces has encountered the situation where the actions of the person they represent confounds them. What often stymies the lawyer is that their client seems determined to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to secure some item that has a monetary value far less than the cost of litigation. It is the proverbial fight over the $10.00 toaster. To the husband or the wife, this results in mounting tension or frustration towards their attorney because they just do not get it. This is the point where many attorney – client relationships break down and another lawyer is sought. Starting over with a new lawyer is costly so it is worth investigating what is going on in this communication breakdown before parting ways.

In my experience, the issue of the toaster (or whatever item it is) revolves around a deep need for that spouse to be heard. The dissolution of a marriage (legalese for “divorce”) is the legal manifestation of an intensely personal and painful pulling apart of two people that were “joined together” in ways that defy explanation. But, the legal process does not lend itself in any way, shape, or form to addressing that pain. In fact, the actual purpose of a family court or role of a judge in a divorce is the expeditious resolution of conflict that the parties themselves have been unable to resolve.

This desire to be heard motivates the process imperceptibly but pervasively. Often, the husband or the wife holds on to the notion that if they just get in front of the judge and are able to speak their mind, then they will be satisfied with the outcome even if the judge rules against them. This may actually be true …. if getting in front of the judge actually allowed one to speak their mind.

However, the litigation process itself prevents the party from fully speaking expressing where they are coming from. Even though many divorce attorneys tend to be a little lax with the rules of evidence in divorce cases, there are still objections that inevitably halt testimony. There are objections to hearsay and objections to relevance and on and on. Each objection interrupts the story – their story – the deeply personal story that they trying to share with the judge. Things that matter to the person testifying cannot be said. They leave the stand with some degree of dissatisfaction because they were not heard – not fully. They step down plagued with this vague sense of, “If only I’d been allowed to say this or that, the judge would have understood.”

Not only do the rules of evidence bar the wife or the husband from speaking their mind, but the demands of many, many cases on the judge’s docket constrains the time available. Judges, even if they want to, simply cannot listen to everything. They hear enough for them to make a decision on a particular topic and then they must move the matter forward so the next set of litigants has a window of time to put forth their best arguments.

It is an axiom among divorce lawyers that, at some point or another in the court process, their client will be dissatisfied with them and the outcome. I believe this is largely because their client never felt heard. However, there is an answer to this dilemma; this tension between the need of a person to tell their story and the constraints of litigation. The alternate conflict resolution option of mediation can be, if done well, the arena where both parties walk away having been heard. I plan to switch gears and devote this blog to the topic of conflict and dispute resolution, otherwise known as mediation. Hope you join me!

Posted in Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, Divorce lawyer tactics, Legal Separation, Life & Law, Mediation & Conflict Resolution | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Justice Remains Elusive

I began this blog years ago with this idea that people go to court seeking justice, but find this pursuit to be daunting. Justice was elusive to a vast number of litigants. This was especially true in the family law arenas: divorce, custody, child support, timesharing, grandparent visiataion, and neglect & abuse proceedings. A decade has past and, based on my experience with more litigants than I can count, justice remains elusive.

That is why I am excited to take my law degree plus my courtroom and litigation experience and combine it with my prior career in the human services field to offer mediation services with an emphasis on family conflict resolution. I have seen the incredible value of mediation that is well done and I am convinced that mediation is the best hope for those in litigation or in conflict outside the courts to find what they actually seek.

Mediation has worked effectively in all conflict scenarios where two or more parties have reached an impasse: couples, teens and parents, students with students, students and teachers, business to business, co-workers, employers and employees, roommates, and the list goes on. I am so passionate about this service and the potential it offers to anyone who are in conflict that I offer an affordable fee scale to qualifying parties. Call or email me to learn more – and don’t wait until you are actually in a lawsuit; mediation is the best way to avoid the expense of litigation.

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We have a new iHome: www.troutmannapier.com

I hope you all will take a moment to visit our firm’s new website by clicking this link: Troutman & Napier, PLLC or typing in http://www.troutmannapier.com/

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Family Law and Bankruptcy Jurisdictional Intersection

There is a nice little Kentucky Supreme Court opinion called Howard v Howard, 336 S.W.3d 433 (Ky. 2011) every Kentucky family lawyer and consumer bankruptcy lawyer should read. The first part of the opinion addresses child support and contempt sanctions, which to be sure are fun things to know about, but the meat of the opinion spells out the concurrent jurisdiction of Kentucky Courts with the Federal Bankruptcy Courts and how that effects discharge of certain kinds of debt.

Under 28 U.S.C. Sect. 1334(b), a state court has the same and concurrent jurisdiction as a bankruptcy court to make a determination as to whether a particular debt is discharged by a bankruptcy. In the Howard case, the ex-husband had agreed to be responsible for certain debts the ex-wife had also co-signed. However, he went into a Chapter 7 and received a discharge of that debt. Even though the ex-wife had notice of the bankruptcy and did NOT file any objection in the Chapter 7, she was still able to go to the Kentucky Circuit Court where the divorce had occurred and get a ruling that ex-husband still owed the obligation to her.

You see, the divorce decree created an obligation between the ex-husband and ex-wife even though a third party was the direct creditor. This obligation was found to be an 11 U.S.C. Sect. 523(a)(15) obligation as a result of a divorce. Therefore, by operation of that law, that obligation to the ex-wife was not touched by the bankruptcy. When the original creditor came back to collect from the ex-wife, she was able to pursue contempt against the ex-husband and win. This saved ex-wife from having to pay for a lawyer in the bankruptcy in addition to paying for a lawyer in the Circuit Court case.

Posted in Attorney Fees and Other Costs, bankruptcy, Child support, Divorce / Dissolution of Marriage, Evidence | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Merry Christmas

May you find for yourself and extend to your family the grace and love this Christmas season represents.

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