Knowledge Base

Family Conflicts Resolved Using Skilled Mediators

June 1, 2011

Written by Halee D. Burg, Mediator

It’s a familiar refrain these days.  A colleague struggles to cope with the daily responsibilities of helping care for her increasingly frail eighty-two year old mother, at the same time focusing on the very real needs of her twin sons approaching what feels like a daunting college search process.  A tearful neighbor shares that the discord among her siblings over whether or not to place their father in a “home” is tearing her apart.  Your tennis partner cancels three matches in a row.  She is too distraught to play.  She and her husband simply can not agree whether or not to help with their daughter’s enormous graduate school expenses – should they or shouldn’t they?  If so, how much?  If they can help, why wouldn’t they?  Should they offer their daughter an interest-free loan? 

 At CMDR, we help families deal with a myriad of complex issues. As a society, we’re confronted with a rapidly aging population; endless demands on our time, a challenging economic environment, and the pressure of round the clock communications.  It’s no surprise that family conflict is no longer the exception, but the rule.  Often, these issues threaten to irreparably fracture the most important ties in our lives.  Through mediation, we work with your family to identify the issues of concern to you, talk about them in a setting that feels safe, and explore resolutions that will work for everyone.  Our goal is to guide you through a process which addresses your concerns while preserving the family bonds you hold dear.  We help you navigate safely the inevitable land mines today’s families face, avoiding destruction of the family’s core.

What is mediation, and why would I try it?

Mediation is not therapy.  Mediation is a facilitated problem-solving process.  Our skilled mediators provide a neutral, private, confidential, safe environment to explore and resolve the issues that divide your family.  Mediation works because it offers each family member a voice, allows each participant to hear and respond to other perspectives, and focuses on shared interests rather than individual entrenched positions.  We value every participant.  Mediation focuses on the future, not the past.  Successful mediations often lead to improved family communications and may shift longstanding family dynamics.  A new model may emerge to work through future conflicts.  Through mediation, families can be proactive and avoid the destructive clashes that so often occur when conflict leads to crisis, family members are stressed to the breaking point, and family relationships are strained beyond repair.

What kinds of issues do families bring to you?

Let’s take the Knight family.  Eighty-three year old John spends hours each day on paperwork, struggling to pay bills, respond to endless charitable solicitations, decipher medical insurance claims, and keep up with mail that never seems to end.  His two sons, Cal and Rob, are increasingly concerned about John’s missing scheduled appointments, showing up on the wrong day and time, and responding to several financial scams targeted to elders.  John insists that he would never respond to a scam and that the missed appointments are the errors of the doctor’s assistants, the hospital staff – anyone but John.   Cal also discovers that John is making mistakes administering the daily medications for himself and Cal’s mother, Jean.  John has made it clear to Cal and Rob that assisted living is out of the question and that John is perfectly capable of handling these ongoing responsibilities.  Cal and Rob know something must be done.

The Cromwells – Jack Sam, Katherine, and Betsy – lost their father six months ago.  Dad never got around to making a will. Jack lost his construction job two years ago and has been working only sporadically since then.  Katherine just went through a difficult divorce and is hoping her ex spouse will honor his child support obligations.  Sam has a successful painting business; Betsy teaches at the local middle school.  The court named Betsy the executor of Dad’s estate.  Betsy divided up the financial assets equally among herself and her siblings, but kept Dad’s antique car, valued at $25,000, for her eighteen year old son, Mark, a budding mechanic and antique car enthusiast.  Jack, Sam and Katherine insist that Dad never would have favored one grandchild over another and would have wanted the car to be sold, with the proceeds split equally among his children.  Betsy says Dad clearly instructed her that he wanted Mark to have the car; his “pride and joy.”  Jack, Sam and Katherine have threatened to bring a lawsuit against Betsy.

These issues sound challenging.  How did mediation help these families? 

We worked with the Knights to help Dad, Cal and Rob each identify their goals and concerns.  Dad wanted to continue to be independent; he wasn’t ready to completely turn over his financial affairs to someone else.  He enjoyed working at his desk; that is what he’d done his entire life. Dad wanted to continue to maintain his calendar – something else he had always done. Cal and Ron came to understand Dad’s need for independence, as well as his need for ongoing intellectual stimulation.  At the same time, mediation helped Dad understand his sons’ concerns - that the assets Dad worked so hard to attain need to be protected from people who might seek to take advantage of him, that Dad should not pay bills that were erroneous or inaccurate, that Dad’s charitable giving needed to be planned and targeted, and that Dad’s schedule should reflect the actual days and times of his commitments.

The Knights agreed to identify systems at Dad’s bank to help Dad review the large volume of mail he received each week.  For a small monthly fee, the bank assigned an elder specialist to help Dad pay his regular bills.  Dad agreed that with the bank’s support, he would, over time, develop a charitable giving plan to avoid the charitable “nickel and diming.” Dad agreed to a backup calendar system that Mom’s aide would review with Dad each day.  Dad agreed to let Cal dispense the medications each week. Dad even agreed to be more mindful about driving at night and in inclement weather.  All three agreed that they would sit down together in a couple of months and talk about how these changes were going and whether or not additional support systems were needed.

Mediation discussions with the Cromwells helped Betsy understand that in her haste to settle affairs quickly after Dad’s passing, including selling his home and disposing of his personal property, Jack, Sam and Katherine, and their children, felt they had no time to grieve their loss, that there was no closure.  They felt powerless to express requests for things they wanted from Dad’s house, things that were important to them or represented special times they shared with Dad.  The siblings agreed they could each identify up to two items meaningful to them that another sibling had taken from Dad’s home. Together they discussed why the items were meaningful to them. Through consensus, they decided which items they would exchange with their siblings.  As for the car, they agreed that each of the five grandchildren, beginning with Mark, would have the car for two years, as long as they or their parents assumed responsibility for retaining the insurance policy at its present policy limits and making all repairs necessary to maintain the vehicle in its current pristine condition. All discussion of litigation was quietly dropped.

Through mediation, each of these families came together and succeeded in working through the issues that threatened to divide them.  For the Knights and the Cromwells, family mediation paved the way for all voices to be heard, all interests to be uncovered, and a variety of options to be explored.  At CMDR, we can provide a voice for your family, too. 





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