ILNews

Follow-up support needed for mediation success

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
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. •

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. File under the Sociology of Hoosier Discipline ... “We will be answering the complaint in due course and defending against the commission’s allegations,” said Indianapolis attorney Don Lundberg, who’s representing Hudson in her disciplinary case. FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW ... Lundberg ran the statist attorney disciplinary machinery in Indy for decades, and is now the "go to guy" for those who can afford him .... the ultimate insider for the well-to-do and/or connected who find themselves in the crosshairs. It would appear that this former prosecutor knows how the game is played in Circle City ... and is sacrificing accordingly. See more on that here ... http://www.theindianalawyer.com/supreme-court-reprimands-attorney-for-falsifying-hours-worked/PARAMS/article/43757 Legal sociologists could have a field day here ... I wonder why such things are never studied? Is a sacrifice to the well connected former regulators a de facto bribe? Such questions, if probed, could bring about a more just world, a more equal playing field, less Stalinist governance. All of the things that our preambles tell us to value could be advanced if only sunshine reached into such dark worlds. As a great jurist once wrote: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." Other People's Money—and How Bankers Use It (1914). Ah, but I am certifiable, according to the Indiana authorities, according to the ISC it can be read, for believing such trite things and for advancing such unwanted thoughts. As a great albeit fictional and broken resistance leaders once wrote: "I am the dead." Winston Smith Let us all be dead to the idea of maintaining a patently unjust legal order.

  2. The Department of Education still has over $100 million of ITT Education Services money in the form of $100+ million Letters of Credit. That money was supposed to be used by The DOE to help students. The DOE did nothing to help students. The DOE essentially stole the money from ITT Tech and still has the money. The trustee should be going after the DOE to get the money back for people who are owed that money, including shareholders.

  3. Do you know who the sponsor of the last-minute amendment was?

  4. Law firms of over 50 don't deliver good value, thats what this survey really tells you. Anybody that has seen what they bill for compared to what they deliver knows that already, however.

  5. My husband left me and the kids for 2 years, i did everything humanly possible to get him back i prayed i even fasted nothing worked out. i was so diver-stated, i was left with nothing no money to pay for kids up keep. my life was tearing apart. i head that he was trying to get married to another lady in Italy, i look for urgent help then i found Dr.Mack in the internet by accident, i was skeptical because i don’t really believe he can bring husband back because its too long we have contacted each other, we only comment on each other status on Facebook and when ever he come online he has never talks anything about coming back to me, i really had to give Dr.Mack a chance to help me out, luckily for me he was God sent and has made everything like a dream to me, Dr.Mack told me that everything will be fine, i called him and he assured me that my Husband will return, i was having so many doubt but now i am happy,i can’t believe it my husband broke up with his Italian lady and he is now back to me and he can’t even stay a minute without me, all he said to me was that he want me back, i am really happy and i cried so much because it was unbelievable, i am really happy and my entire family are happy for me but they never know whats the secret behind this…i want you all divorce lady or single mother, unhappy relationship to please contact this man for help and everything will be fine i really guarantee you….if you want to contact him you can reach him through dr.mac@yahoo. com..,

ADVERTISEMENT