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Follow-up support needed for mediation success

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

In 25 years as a family law attorney, Deetta Steinmetz has seen mediation be very successful between opposing parties. Agreements reached through two parties working together often endure better than orders handed down by a judge.

However, Steinmetz, a trained mediator, was frustrated that follow-up services were often not provided. No matter how much she, like any other mediator, helped the parties understand the interests and views of the other side, once the agreement had been reached and the mediation ended, no aftercare was offered.

Especially in the arena of family law, a change in the dynamics of the relationship can upend the mediated agreement and become a major point of contention. Steinmetz believes follow-up support could help families make adjustments and find peaceful resolutions rather than starting a new round of disputes.

il-deetta-steinmetz01-15col.jpg Family law attorney Deetta Steinmetz has designed a three-phase mediation program for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic that includes education and follow-up support.(IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Pulling from that experience, when Steinmetz set about designing a new family law mediation program at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, she included post-mediation support services. And she focused the entire program on peaceful conflict that creates an atmosphere of cooperation.

Steinmetz left private practice for the chance to build the mediation program at the clinic. She started with a clean slate then incorporated the elements she learned and saw in her practice that foster a good mediation.

She has never started a program from scratch and is apprehensive. But as the director of the Project PEACE (Peaceful Engagement And Conflict Education), she is also excited about the opportunity to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“The primary thing, if they get nothing else, is to have the understanding and the idea there is a different way to live – a different way to look at conflict and life that is beneficial to the individual, the family and the children” Steinmetz said.

Coffee and brainstorming

The journey that led Steinmetz to the clinic began two years ago at a collaborative law seminar. She was immediately taken with the dispute resolution method, a sister concept to mediation, and was determined to add it to her practice.

However, finding other trained collaborative attorneys proved more difficult than expected. Steinmetz went to the clinic to volunteer, thinking she could get the collaborative experience she wanted at the nonprofit.

When she invited Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic Executive Director Josh Abel for a cup of coffee to make her proposal, she unknowingly interrupted a conversation the staff had long been having. The family law area in the clinic has never had the adequate resources needed to effectively serve the clients, according to Abel, and the staff has often mused that if they had the resources, they would offer services aimed at helping low-income families settle their disagreements outside of court.

The meeting for coffee spun into Steinmetz and Abel brainstorming possibilities. This, in turn, led to Steinmetz joining the clinic and launching Project PEACE.

Both Abel and Steinmetz advocate mediation because of the possible consequences of resolving family issues in a courtroom. They called it a hurt-filled process that just creates more animosity between the parties who, once the case is settled, are expected to work together on certain issues.

Steinmetz has found that family law cases are becoming more adversarial. She concedes her perception may be a result of being worn down from years in practice, but she feels parties are becoming angrier. There is now an expectation, even an acceptance, that the family law litigation will be ugly and painful.

“I feel our family law system, our traditional system, makes things worse rather than better,” Steinmetz said.

The family law cases coming into the clinic would benefit from mediation, Abel said. For example, when a change in work schedule disrupts a parent’s visitation with the children, the two parties really just need to sit down together and figure out a new schedule.

With Project PEACE, the goal is to provide the mediation as well as give the parties the skills they can use to circumvent future fights over family issues like custody arrangements, parenting time and child support payments.

Reducing the wait

Mediation is mediation, explained Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts. It works with individuals and families regardless of income, education and upbringing.

Allen County courts have seen the success mediation can bring among a diverse group, which bodes well for Project PEACE.

The county was the first in Indiana to introduce a mediation program in 1997 as part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program in Domestic Relations created by the Indiana General Assembly. This program allows counties to collect a $20 fee from filings for legal separation, paternity or dissolution. The fee then goes into a separate fund to be used for mediation, arbitration and parental counseling in the county.

In addition to mediation services, the county has expanded the program to include mediation days and arbitration afternoons which open the courthouse to individuals needing a one- or two-hour session to workout a situation.

Within a few months of the mediation program being implemented, the court’s calendar became lighter. The wait time to get into court was reduced from a year to five or six months. Moreover, Felts said the agreements reached in the sessions have withstood the test of time, keeping people out of the courts.

“I think people were just ready for it,” the judge said, explaining the program’s success. “People recognize the benefit of mediation.”

Three phases

As Steinmetz designed Project PEACE, the program will have three phases that center around the concepts of forgiveness and communication.

Phase One will be a workshop for the parties getting ready to enter mediation. The participants will be tasked with finding a way to extend an olive branch by examining their own feelings and motivations, and by trying to understand the interests and emotions of the opposing party.

Attorney and current seminary student Amy McCabe is volunteering to draft the curriculum and will facilitate the sessions.

Phase Two will be the actual mediation that follows ADR rules, with a focus on the relationship. The parties will draw upon the forgiveness and communication skills they learned in Phase One as they work toward an agreement.

In the mediation process, the clinic will remain the neutral entity. It will neither advocate nor provide legal assistance to either party.

Phase Three will be the follow-up support. The aftercare is envisioned as taking the form of discussion groups and peace mentors that, again, reinforce the skills taught in Phase One. Monthly discussion groups or support meetings would be available to the parties whenever they want to attend. The peace mentors will be trained volunteers who provide a shoulder to lean on and someone to talk to, just like a comforting friend.

Steinmetz plans to start offering the Phase One workshops by June. Eventually she would like to see the program grow to include collaborative law and become available to anyone needing help, regardless of income.

While she conceded not everyone will want to participate, she is confident the program at the clinic will benefit many.

“I think there’s going to be a decent amount of people who will go through the process and be grateful,” Steinmetz said. •

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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