Aug 18

Resolve Family Conflict Without Going To Court

By Melissa Sulkowski / Contributing Author

Posted on August 18, 2019

Sometimes, you can save yourself the stress of going to court over family issues.

Resolving family conflict can be difficult. How long the conflict has gone unaddressed or what the perspectives are of those involved in the conflict can make repairing fractured relationships a complicated process. While working through a conflict can be challenging, holding onto it can be emotionally and physically damaging. As someone who spends my days in the complexity of untangling misunderstanding, miscommunication and misinterpretation, it certainly comes with its rewards. When I am able to see healing occur and relationships preserved, it gives me hope and motivation to continue empowering families and educating our world.

Can you stay out of court?

It’s a common misconception that going to court offers parties control in their outcome. I have had parties suggest that if the judge hears their side of the story that a decision will be made in their favor. This is simply not the case. There is no guarantee what the judge will decide and the parties have no control in that. Furthermore, individuals are fighting from a space of fear and self-preservation in a court process. This limits their ability to effectively communicate and, in turn, creates delays in reaching a resolution.

Healing options: ADR, mediation and collaborative practice

Alternative Dispute Resolution, otherwise known as ADR, resolves disputes outside of a courthouse. This can be anything from a kitchen table discussion to a formal process such as mediation or collaborative practice and both are offered in our community. These are voluntary and offer both parties privacy and decision-making power outside a courtroom.

In mediation, parties typically meet with one mediator who assists them with exploring options and reaching agreements personalized to their particular situation. When the process is complete, the parties will have a formal agreement from the mediator. They can also choose to have attorneys review their agreements and proceed to make them legally binding.

Co-mediation is another available option in which two mediators with different areas of specialization support the needs of the parties. An example of this might be a mediator who is a family specialist or financial specialist as well as a mediator who is an attorney. Some processes utilize a team of specialists.

Having supported families through both processes for many years, and having worked with families in a traditional court process, there is a drastic difference in what parties are offered. By nature, ADR processes are more proactive in redesigning a family system. They are also mindful of the psychological and physical wellbeing of all participants. In fact, the emotional readiness of a client is considered in ADR processes and the process can be paced accordingly.

The ADR processes allow for tailored plans to be developed around the unique needs of a family. For example, rather than being given a custody schedule which may not even work for your family, you work with family specialists who can help customize a parenting plan for your family’s specific needs. Financial needs can also be identified and options can be generated. There is a lot of room for creativity and working towards a balanced outcome for both parties. These processes are also flexible in regards to scheduling, unlike a court-based process.

The latest statistics gathered by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals indicated an 87 percent success rate in collaborative cases successfully completed, meaning reaching a durable settlement agreement. These processes are generally more time-efficient and cost-effective than a court process as well. They lend themselves to problem-solving rather than blame and grievances. Full disclosure and open communication assure progress in a timely manner.

Mediation and collaborative practice can also be used for siblings to plan a future for elderly parents and other family issues.

Collaborative Practice and Mediation defined

Collaborative Practice was started in 1990 by Stuart Webb. He was a practicing litigation attorney in Minnesota who became determined to resolve conflict in a less adversarial way. He saw that litigation was not always helpful to families and often quite damaging to relationships.

Collaborative Practice is now an international practice that has spread to jurisdictions around the world including Hong Kong, Ireland, Germany, Israel, Australia and many others. The simple brilliance of the collaborative process is that it brings professionals together, who are experts in their industry, to help guide a family through all aspects of a divorce: emotional, legal and financial. An interdisciplinary team is assembled based on the needs of the family and negotiations take place roundtable with an agreement to not go to court.

Mediation first appeared in ancient times as a practice developed in Ancient Greece. In some cultures, mediators were regarded as sacred figures as the role overlapped with that of a tribal chief or wise men. It was viewed as a peaceful way to resolve conflict and commonly used by Confucians and Buddhists.

To find more information on collaborative practice and mediation, visit and