Alternative Dispute Resolution for Seniors and Their Families – Blog Series Part 3

This is the third and final installation of the 3-part series: Alternative Dispute Resolution for Seniors and Their Families. Taking into account the previous questions addressed in this series, we will be discussing how to work through disputes with family members and the process for mediation. There are many reasons disputes might arise among families that act as caregivers. It is important to assess your situation carefully when considering which steps are next in your process. In some cases, consulting with a family law or elder law attorney may be necessary.

Part 3: How should you work through disputes with family members?

There are different methods of dispute resolution, and different ones work better in different situations.

A formal family meeting may be all that you need. The family convenes, follows an agenda, and discusses the situation and the decisions that need to be made. If a care coordinator has been involved it might make sense to include them in the family meeting.

If the family meeting is not productive, or if family members are already in serious disagreement, it may be time to consider mediation. The process needs to be voluntary, everyone needs to agree, and all parties need to be involved. It is important to use a mediator that is trained in mediation, either someone neutral that is a “stranger” to the conflict, or someone who is uniformly respected by the participants, such as a pastor or health care provider familiar with the family.

Process for Mediation

A mediator helps the parties understand and agree to the rules for their mediation at the start of the mediation.  The parties set an agenda together, defining the problems that they want to solve.

Everyone should have the opportunity to express their feelings about the situation.  This is unfamiliar to many people, because we place a premium on solving problems, or getting to the bottom line as quickly as possible.  Experience shows that problems are often not ‘solved’ effectively until parties have an opportunity to express feelings, hopes and fears about a sad situation, such as care for a seriously declining parent.

Mediators can help people understand their position (“Mom has to stay in the house”) as opposed to the interest that may underlie their position (“I am afraid to see Mom lose her independence because it means that she may die, which frightens me.”)  After the interests are understood, it is time to brainstorm as many solutions as possible.  This is a fun part of mediation.  In a safe environment, everyone feels free to put any option on the table.  Sometimes, from a “crazy” idea comes the workable solution.

Finally, the ideas are considered, choices are made, and a plan is developed.  It is important to remember that the devil is in the details, meaning, the parties consider the steps necessary to carry out the plan, the timeframe, and the responsible parties for each step.  It is important to set a date to review how the process is going and analyze what is working and what is not working.

Not all problems can be solved by mediation, but many can be.  A mediated settlement between parties, arrived at through hard work and agreement, is likely to be a more lasting solution, and something to be proud of in a difficult time.