The Closer

A Mediation Newsletter September 2009

Mediating Non-Family Law Family Cases
by James Rainwater

The title is a bit of a tongue-twisting, seeming contradiction, but these cases do arise. The scenarios have one family member suing another, usually over property - real or personal. However, it's rarely just about grandpa's little ranch or the furniture an aunt wanted someone to have.

These cases frequently pose many obstacles that can derail a mediation at the drop of a hat. A light touch is required to both placate the agitated plaintiff and assure the skeptical defendant. Parties will often attempt to align the mediator to their cause, and this is a path fraught with all variety of hazards. Any hint of mediator favoritism can cost a great deal of the offended party's trust.

Venting by either party can be beneficial, as long as it does not become the entire focus of the conference. The ability of the mediator to control the ebb and flow of this process is crucial. Parties don't want to be strong-armed into something, while at the same time they often seek feedback or clarification of their positions - a reality check.

Mediating such property disputes can be as much a therapeutic process as a legal conference. Solid neutrality is the key to success in resolving such family turmoil and conflict. The successful mediator will allow the disputing family members to part civilly - something that is highly unlikely to happen in a courtroom - and hopefully, reestablish a healthier relationship. Although there are seldom clear-cut, jubilant winners, the likelihood of future conflict is greatly reduced, and the parties can get on with their lives.

Rainwater Law