During my 38 years of working in the Worcester Probate and Family Court, I witnessed some extraordinary things. Spending a lot of time in the courtroom, I watched as people went through some pretty weighty events in their lives – negotiating a divorce settlement, contesting a will, modifying a custody agreement, adopting a child.
Some days, I got to see people at their best. But many times, I saw them at their worst. I looked on as couples who had once planned a whole lifetime together became barely able to sit in the same room with one another. I encountered siblings who had spent their childhoods growing up in the same house develop into strangers who couldn’t even look at, never mind speak to each other.
Oddly enough, many of those people or others like them, began the litigation process being civil to one another. Yes, I met plenty of brothers and sisters who started out genuinely okay with the fact that they needed to iron out a few details about a parent’s estate. And I certainly interacted with many soon-to-be former spouses who at the start of their divorce proceedings were actually willing to calmly discuss a fair division of their assets.
Sadly, though, over the course of the litigation process, which in some cases took up to one or two years, I watched a fair number of these polite, amiable people devolve into frustrated, sometimes irrational adversaries.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that, unfortunately, the system itself was in part to blame for these transformations. After frequent meetings with their attorneys and numerous court appearances at which the details of their cases were repeatedly dissected for approval, many litigants became anxiety-ridden, consumed by the process or even obsessed with “winning.”
Often, as I observed these situations, I thought about what might have happened if the parties had pursued some other course of action – one with the potential to reduce the number of attorney appointments and court hearings as well as the cost and stress that go along with them.
Dispute resolution is exactly that.
An informal process aimed at resolving probate, business or other legal issues, dispute resolution introduces a neutral legal professional – in our firm, either an attorney or a retired probate judge – who will assist the parties in coming to a private, mutual agreement that is far less time-consuming and expensive than litigation. In short, the mediator is there to help both sides define and understand each other’s position through open communication, all the while moving towards settlement.
As the program director at Why Litigate, I now get to help people do that instead of subjecting themselves and their relationships to stressful, costly legal battles. It is rewarding to guide individuals to a path that gives them more control over the outcome of some of the most important issues in their lives.