Mediation

Are you searching for a peaceful, efficient, cost-effective way to build a healthy post-divorce future for your family? Mediation could be the path for you. While you might have heard of the “Magic of Mediation,” what really makes Mediation so powerful is not magic. The power of Mediation comes from its four core principles:

You are in Charge

When couples choose Mediation, they choose to remain in control of their divorce and their future. In Mediation, there is no judge, no jury, no outside decision-maker. What is possible in Mediation is limited only by the creativity and commitment of the parties, not by the letter of the law, the rules of court, or the whim of a Judge. Parties to a Mediation are not adversaries; they are partners, working together to create a resolution that meets all their interests. Mediation is powerful only if it is empowering, because nobody knows what is best for you and your family better than you.

Your Mediator is Neutral

A Mediator’s job is to facilitate a safe, structured process that empowers couples to communicate and resolve their conflicts constructively. While some Mediators are lawyers, Mediators do not serve as the parties’ attorney, and they do not advocate for either party. Mediators do not take sides, give legal advice, or push an agenda or their preferences. By remaining strictly neutral, Mediators keep the parties focused on what really matters: understanding and clarifying their interests, exploring options, and communicating effectively with each other. Mediators stay in the middle, so that the parties remain in the center.

The Process is Confidential

To create resolutions that meet all their interests, parties need to communicate openly, and without fear that their words could be used against them. That’s why, by law, discussions that occur during Mediation are confidential and inadmissible in any later court proceedings. With very few and limited exceptions, neither the parties nor the Mediator may discuss anything that occurred during the Mediation with anyone outside of the Mediation, and neither party may call the Mediator as a witness in any later court proceeding. What happens in Mediation, stays in Mediation!

The Process is Voluntary

Mediation only works when both parties commit to making it work. Because the parties are always in control, Mediation is inherently voluntary. That means the parties must enter Mediation freely and must be allowed to withdraw from Mediation at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. This ensures that the only parties to a Mediation are those who are choosing to engage in it. Every step along the path of Mediation is one you choose to make.   

Learn More

To learn more about Mediation, check our Frequently Asked Questions About Mediation, and our comparison of Mediation vs. Litigation. You can also reach out to one of our Mediators with questions and for help deciding whether Mediation is the path for you.

Collaborative Divorce

For more than 30 years, people all over the United States and around the world have turned to the Collaborative Process as a peaceful, efficient, and effective way to divorce. Despite its growing popularity, Collaborative Practice remains much less well known than other divorce processes, such as litigation and mediation. So, what is Collaborative Practice, and how can you tell if it’s the right for you?

What is Collaborative Practice?

There are two features of Collaborative Practice that distinguish it from other ways you could divorce. First, when you choose Collaborative Practice, you and your spouse not only choose your own Collaborative Attorneys but may also invite other Collaboratively-trained professionals to join your Collaborative Team. Many Collaborative Teams include a Financial Advisor and a Divorce Coach, who serve as neutral advisors to both spouses, providing valuable support to help you create better, more efficient divorce resolutions.  Some Teams also include other Collaboratively-trained professionals, such as a Child/Parenting Specialist, Mortgage Advisor, Special Needs Consultant, or others with special expertise in an area of need. Whether your Team includes only you and your spouse and your Collaborative Attorneys, or other specialized Team members, building the right Team for your divorce is one of the most important steps you will take during the Collaborative Process.

The second hallmark of Collaborative Process is the Participation Agreement. Choosing Collaborative Practice means committing to resolving your divorce without adversarial litigation. The Process begins with you and your spouse, and both Collaborative Attorneys, signing a formal, legally binding Participation Agreement that commits all of you to the Collaborative Process. The cornerstone of the Participation Agreement is the “Disqualification” provision, which will prohibit the Collaborative Attorneys from representing either you or your spouse in any adversarial litigation. Knowing that going to court would mean starting over with new attorneys serves as a powerful incentive to both you and your spouse to resolve your divorce Collaboratively.

Is Collaborative Practice right for you?

If you and your spouse are committed to resolving your divorce peacefully and would benefit from the support and expertise of a Collaborative Team, then choosing Collaborative Practice may be right for you. Our Collaboratively-trained attorneys, Josh Kershenbaum and Stacy Forchetti, can answer your questions and help connect you with other Collaborative professionals in the region. Contact us today!

Special Education Mediation

Resolving your Special Education Dispute with Private Mediation

Conflicts between parents of children with special needs and their public school district can be contentious, emotional, and expensive. The stakes are always high in disputes involving children, especially when the child has complex needs that may be difficult to identify or expensive to meet. School districts and parents often disagree about whether a child is eligible for special education services, what those services should be, where the child should attend school, and who is responsible for paying for the child’s evaluations, services, and placement.

While most parties resolve their disputes without going to court or an administrative Due Process hearing, those that wind up in adversarial litigation often face staggering legal fees and judgments that sometimes exceed the cost of providing the services to the child. Litigation is also time-consuming and inherently risky for both parties, which can be very problematic for those trying to meet the needs of a vulnerable child.

Whether you are hoping to avoid litigation or trying to settle a dispute that is already in court or a hearing, private Mediation could be a powerful option to help you resolve your conflict efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.

If you’re interested in learning what Mediation is, why and how it works, and how it compares to litigation, check out these resources: [links to Mediation Blog, Mediation FAQ, Mediation vs. Litigation].

While private Mediation can be helpful for resolving most special education disputes, it may be especially effective when: 

Delay in resolution poses serious risk of irreparable harm to the child.

At the heart of every special education dispute is a child. Parents and school districts share an interest in meeting the needs of that child and ensuring that the child does not pay the price for their dispute. The timeframe for litigation is typically measured in months or years, while mediation is usually completed in a matter of days or weeks. When the child is counting on the parents and the district to resolve their dispute as quickly as possible, Mediation may be the fastest, most efficient, and most effective way forward.

The parties expect to be working together for years to come.

Children with special needs often remain eligible for special education services from their school districts even after they are no longer children. In Pennsylvania, students may be eligible until the end of the school year in which they turn 21. Thus, many parents and districts that are in conflict must continue working together long after a judge or hearing officer decides their case. Adversarial litigation rarely strengthens the relationships between the parties and often damages them permanently. By contrast, Mediation offers the parties a way to build trust and basic communication skills that will help them avoid and resolve conflicts effectively in the future. Mediation builds bridges that the parties cannot afford to burn.

The dispute involves very complex facts.

Special education matters can involve extremely complex facts concerning a child’s needs, progress, educational testing, and programming, often over many years and involving dozens of teachers, specialists, meetings, evaluations, and voluminous records. Courts are ill-equipped to understand these facts and to appreciate the contexts in which they occur. While special education Hearing Officers are better equipped than most judges to make sense of the specialized issues in these matters, Hearing Officers often have limited authority to impose remedies or solutions to the problems the parties face in these cases. Private Mediation with an experienced special education Mediator offers the parties the opportunity to craft creative, flexible agreements that are tailored to the unique facts of their case, with the help of a skilled, neutral Mediator who has expertise in both special education conflict resolution.

The case involves novel or unsettled legal issues

Whenever someone else is deciding the outcome of your conflict – including a judge or hearing officer – the outcome is inherently uncertain. Risks abound even when your matter is like others that came before and when the legal issues are common and well-settled. So, when your dispute involves novel or unsettled legal issues, litigation can feel more like high stakes gambling than a reliable dispute resolution process. In these cases, the benefits of Mediation are even more pronounced. Parties to a Mediation retain complete control over the outcome of their matter and neither party risks incurring the costs of an adverse decision that could establish even costlier precedent for future cases. The riskier and less certain the outcome of your litigation, the more prudent it is to attempt Mediation.

The matter involves a dispute over legal fees.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) contains a “fee-shifting” provision under which parents may petition a federal court for an Order requiring their school district to pay their reasonable attorney’s fees when the parents prevail against the district in an administrative due process hearing. Less commonly, a district may seek reimbursement of its legal fees against the parents. In many cases, legal fees approach or even exceed the cost of the disputed services or placement for the child. Sometimes, the only issue that the parties are “stuck” on is the payment of attorney’s fees. Fee disputes can take months, or even years, to resolve in court, and are fraught with risk for both sides. With the help of an experienced special education Mediator, the parties can often resolve these disputes faster and avoid incurring additional “fees on fees” – the legal fees associated with litigating the fee dispute itself.

We can help.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you resolve your special education dispute efficiently, effectively, and peacefully.

For more about mediation, click here.