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Mediation space key to resolution, even if it’s a getaway divorce

Dave Stafford
April 24, 2013
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Just because a dispute might be ugly, it doesn’t mean the surroundings have to be.

Mediators have long known that a serene, comfortable setting can be conducive to helping parties resolve their differences, but a Fort Wayne firm has taken the concept farther – thousands of miles farther.

Tracey L. Rosswurm and partner Christopher L. LaPan a few months ago founded Destination Divorces of Indiana LLC. The venture’s name says it all: Parting couples choose an exotic location where they travel with a mediator to call the marriage off.

il-mary-hoeller02-15col.jpg Indianapolis mediator Mary Hoeller stands beside a chimney swift tower installed recently behind her home. Attracting a wide variety of birds, she hopes the setting may someday lend itself to providing a welcoming space for mediation. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Rosswurm said the idea arose from a client in a divorce case who believed the familiar surroundings in Fort Wayne seemed to be blocking a resolution and suggested escaping to the Bahamas. “It got us to thinking,” Rosswurm said. “It’s kind of an uplifting and unconventional way of getting a divorce done.”

Recently, Destination Divorces settled its maiden mediation in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“We booked it for three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and got it done on the first day,” Rosswurm said. “The rest of the time was spent sightseeing.”

Couples who choose Destination Divorces are in control of the process from the start because they’re choosing where they want to go, booking the trip themselves and paying for their own travel. Rosswurm said the firm doesn’t charge clients for attorney travel or expenses, instead writing them off as business expenses.

The divorcing parties have a vested interest in resolution. After all, they’re on vacation after they resolve their issues. “They each understand what they’re getting into and what’s going to happen,” Rosswurm said, noting both have agreed in advance to arbitration if the mediation reaches impasse. “They’re both in the driver’s seat. They’re both determining the outcome.”

Rosswurm believes the concept can’t help but lead people to resolution. “When you’re talking about walking over to the Metro Building here downtown versus sitting on the beach or in a clubhouse with palm trees all around, it lightens the mood.

“It could only be helpful, I think, if they’re in a place where they want to be.”

Serene settings

Not everyone will opt for a desert oasis or calm blue ocean for mediation, but many practitioners go the extra mile to remove the trappings of law offices, opting instead to establish a comfortable and serene getaway.

Elodie Ann Meuser, Lori Anne Perryman and Carol Terzo had worked together on family and juvenile matters for more than a decade in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office before they formed The Mediation Option on Indianapolis’ far north side a little more than two years ago.

Starting from scratch, they knew what they wanted: space with windows and natural light, comfy furnishings and soft colors. “The three of us, we’ve looked at what felt like hundreds of office spaces before we found what we wanted,” Meuser said.

“We were planning this a good six months to a year before we opened the firm,” said Meuser, who heads the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. “We did a lot of research into the colors we wanted to use, and the comfort and the setting. We didn’t want to have any office furniture.” The partners tried out furniture before making selections.

“We kind of thought about the furniture we’d like to have in our living room. People are in here six, eight, 10 hours sometimes,” she said. Overstuffed pillows allow clients to take out their frustration with a harmless punch or to hold on tight to something. It’s all helpful, Meuser said. “It’s good for them to get that out.”

Zionsville mediator Patrick Brown is the immediate past chair of the Indiana State Bar Association’s ADR Section. He sometimes breaks out the essential oils to help parties come together. “It literally calms the brain,” he said of the aromas he uses.

“From my perspective, the setting you start with is the image you project,” Brown said. “It’s not legal work, it’s mediation. It’s not about the big things, it’s about the little things,” including smells, sounds, textures, colors, temperatures and so on. Brown even excludes fluorescent lighting because some people are sensitive to it.

“When people come through that door, they’re pretty highly charged emotionally,” he said. “They’re very fearful … they have no idea what to expect.

“A big part of what I do is help people get back on top of that emotional roller coaster they’re riding.”

Brown said his clients have an interest in pursuing an ongoing relationship post-mediation, whether they are families or people with business associations. That’s why he said there are no tables in his office, because they represent separation. That also may be why there’s a lawyer doll with Velcro arms and legs that people can rip apart if the mood strikes.

Brown, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said that in his experience, the adversarial legal process doesn’t benefit people who seek an ongoing relationship. “As an outcome of that focus, I began to look at how does the brain function in disputes?” he said. “The biggest thing is adrenaline. How do you act in a way to create a circumstance to counteract the adrenaline … and give people the freedom to be rational?”

Mobile mediation

Indianapolis mediator Mary Hoeller takes her dispute resolution services where parties agree to meet, and she said she believes that first step of getting parties in an agreeable location sets the stage for success.

“They want to get it done, too, and it’s a nice incentive for them to think about where they would feel comfortable,” she said.

The location may be a law office, a home or some other site. She once met with nine children in a family matter in one of their homes. With siblings visiting from a number of locations, ADR in a familiar setting helped put everyone at ease.

“Going to someone’s house is a pretty intimate thing, so already you build a level of trust,” said Hoeller, a registered nurse, attorney and mediator.

If she is in an office setting, Hoeller tries to situate people so they are facing each other. She, too, tries to make sure tables aren’t in the way.

Meanwhile, Hoeller is working on developing a getaway at her northwest-side home that she hopes will be attractive for people who want to resolve their differences.

In her backyard, she’s creating something of a bird sanctuary. House finches, woodpeckers, mourning doves and grosbeaks are already among the menagerie, and she’s hoping to lure some chimney swifts on return from their winter migration to Peru.

She hopes the setting will become a natural and inviting spot for mediation. “I think that would be really cool,” she said.•

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  1. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  2. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  3. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  4. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  5. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

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