Divorce Mediation Blog

Mutually Acceptable Solutions can be Reached through Family Mediation

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Family decision-making can be very difficult, and sometimes situations get out of hand. When perspective becomes scarce and it is hard to see the forest for the trees, whether it be an elder care matter, a dispute over a will, a divorce, attempting to prevent a divorce or difficult parenting situation, it can be the right decision to bring in mediators or arbitrators.

Family mediation means that a neutral, trained professional will work with the parties involved in the family conflict to discuss all of the issues and to explore the possible options for settlement, and to identify solutions that best meet the needs of all persons involved. Facilitated negotiation is the path to resolution.

Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which we help both or all parties to identify and discuss issues of mutual concern. Together we will explore various solutions and develop a settlement that is acceptable to all or both of the parties.

Sometimes parties need mediation followed by arbitration, because resolution by agreement proves elusive. We call that Med/Arb. This is a confidential process in which we help both or all parties to identify and discuss issues that of concern. It is our job to help all parties explore various solutions and decide on a settlement with which all concerned can live. If the mediation does not succeed, we “switch hats” and make a decision for the parties, out-of-court an in a timely and cost-effective way.


What is Arb-Med?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We have discussed arbitration, mediation and the variant, “med/arb”, in previous blog posts. Med/arb is a process in which an impartial party attempts to facilitate negotiations that will hopefully lead to a resolution of disputes between or among them. If the negotiation fails, then the mediator switches “hats” and makes a decision for the parties as an arbitrator, to which the parties are generally bound. Recall that one of the perceived problems with med/arb, is that people worry that information that comes to a mediator in a confidential process that encourages candor and positional risk-taking, may result in an arbitrated result based on information that may not otherwise have come before the arbitrator, had not he/she been privy to the mediation first.

Arb/med solves this problem. First, the disputing parties offer evidence (information) to the neutral acting as arbitrator at whatever level of formality that the parties themselves have agreed to use. The arbitrator makes a decision, but does not disclose it to the parties at this point, and hopefully never will, because the arbitrator puts that arbitration “award” into his/her “pocket” and then changes hats, this time to that of a mediator. He/she then works with the parties in an effort to facilitate agreement between them. The mediator has not been at all influenced by relaxed disclosures before the decision is written, and the award will not change by what occurs in the later mediation.

If the parties then settle their matter, the arbitration decision has no legal significance, and the parties will never know the result, unless they agree for reasons other than legal impact, they agree to have the arbitrator-turned-mediator disclose it. At Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC, we see this hybrid process having great merit in those cases where the parties either want or need to know that their dispute will end expeditiously, privately and cost-efficiently, even if they cannot settle it themselves; but they are unwilling to do that until that have a good faith and sincere effort to maintain control over their own controversy by making the full effort of negotiated settlement, first.


Why we need a family law arbitration law statute in Massachusetts

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Family law arbitration is a concept whose time is way, way overdue. Arbitration is the private, consensual submission of a dispute to a person whom the parties select and regulate by contract; and that person’s job is almost always to make a final and binding decision for the parties, instead of a judge after a public court trial. The parties pick their decision-maker, accounting for skill, integrity, convenience, cost and subject matter expertise. They choose their place. They set the timing. They define their own rules of procedure – or they may choose to apply traditional courtroom-type rules. They receive their decisions within the time that they direct in their agreement to arbitrate. And, it is all private. So, why isn’t every one doing it?

For one, most people simply do not know that this alternative exists. Its history is mostly in the commercial area of law, and only occasionally have family law attorneys tried arbitration. When they do, they love it. Second, it is not obvious that it makes sense to pay for a decision maker, when taxpayer dollars pay for judges to do that job. At one level this makes sense, but anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in the courts knows that the increased costs of representation by lawyers due to the inevitable inefficiencies of the public system can outweigh the costs of an arbitrator many times, and sometimes many times over.

Third, many lawyers are uncomfortable with the prospect of the process (most have not tried it) because most available arbitrators whom they know well and trust are competing litigators, and selecting a direct business competitor to arbitrate a case when you might be in court against the arbitrator that morning or the next day in another case can be uncomfortable for lawyers and clients alike. Finally, lawyers are leery of the fact that under existing law, all binding arbitration is truly final, and therefore, not subject to appeal, as is a judge-made decision. So, it feels risky to lawyers, as it is the last stop for the client without further litigation recourse.

To address some of the impediments to family law arbitration, several other states have enacting Family Law focused arbitration laws. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), of which Bill and Chouteau Levine are both longtime fellows, has created a model act (that is, a format that individual states may modify to meet their local needs and practices) for matrimonial arbitration. In turn, the Massachusetts Chapter of AAML has adapted that model act to Massachusetts’ needs, and is in the process of seeking support for its eventual submission to the Massachusetts legislature. Bill Levine of LDRC is leading that effort on behalf of AAML-MA. You can see the Proposed Family Law Arbitration Act here.

What questions or thoughts do you have about Family Law Arbitration?


What is Arb/Med?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mediation is the facilitated negotiation of agreements between parties to a dispute. In divorce, for example, a mediator sits with the spouses, or the spouses and their lawyers, and works through the issues that are necessary to “settle” the case, and lead to a written and signed agreement. In a will contest or a damages case, the mediator may help the parties come to agreement on a “number” to be paid by one party to another. The parties themselves are the final decision-makers. The lawyers advise. The mediator supplies the environment in which the parties have an enhanced opportunity to speak, listen directly to each other; and the mediator intervenes as appropriate to inquire, to support, to inform, to provide focus and to generate ideas.

Arbitration, by contrast, is a process that is used when the parties cannot reach agreement themselves. They ask the arbitrator to make the decision for them after a “hearing” at which the parties and/or their lawyers give the arbitrator information that is generally called “evidence”. This includes the oral or written statements of witnesses by formal or informal means, and relevant documents. The arbitrator then writes and issues what is known as an “award”. The award is then usually brought to court for confirmation and a concluding court order, generally called a “judgment” or a “decree”.

Both mediation and arbitration are out-of-court processes that Levine Dispute Resolution Center LLC (LDRC) provides.

So, what is “med/arb”? It is a solution that people choose when they really want to try to achieve a negotiated settlement, but are determined to obtain finality in a timely and efficient way, even if their facilitated negotiated does not result in an agreement. People agree at the beginning that the same person will work as a mediator first to attempt to resolve matters by agreement, but if it fails, the mediator will “change hats”, and make a decision. Sometimes, the mediator turned arbitrator simply makes a decision with the information gained in preparation for and during the mediation phase; and at other times, after a follow up hearing.

Two common examples that are similar to this are called “parent coordination” and “discovery master” proceedings. In the former, the PC’s job is to try to stimulate agreement, but will make an ultimate decision, subject to court review, if the disputing parents cannot agree. In the latter, the master tries to get lawyers to settle on how information will be exchanged in litigation, but makes a “recommendation” for a solution if they do not ultimately agree. Then a judge enters an “order” if he or she agrees with the master’s recommendation. Med/arb is broader and is intended to be final (see our earlier blog post about arbitration of child custody and child support matters regarding some limitations.) It can apply to any kind of dispute, large or small. A judge cannot order it without the parties’ consent. It can be quite efficient, though some people worry about the arbitrator’s judgment being swayed by what he or she heard from the parties during the mediation phase, from information that was given less formally and maybe less reliably in the mediation stage than might be required in arbitration. The parties need to consider this and plan their rules and process to provide the protections that they feel they need. Remember, the parties make the rules in these private, consensual forms of dispute resolution.

An interesting variant of med/arb is called “arb/med”. We will talk about this in a subsequent blog post.


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