Will Family Mediation Services Help You Resolve a Conflict?

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyJuly 3, 2020
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It’s the sort of thing that can ruin a family — heated arguments that turn into life-long grudges.

You’ve probably heard stories of siblings arguing about what’s best for their parent — who should provide care, help out financially, find senior living options, and other scenarios. Regardless of the dispute over elderly parents, sometimes it takes conflict mediation services to resolve the problem.

Acting as neutral guides, professional mediators lead meaningful discussions, mitigate high tensions and emotions, and prompt effective communication and decision-making. There are many types of professional mediators, but elder mediators specialize in conflicts about caring for aging loved ones.

Learn more about the benefits, cost, and how mediation can provide family conflict resolution.

What is elder mediation?

Elder mediation is a private, confidential, and voluntary forum for family decision-making. It’s commonly used to resolve elder disputes outside of the courtroom, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).

“When people are struggling to do what’s best for Dad or Mom, they may have the shared goal of doing what’s best, but they may very much disagree on what that is,” says Crystal Thorpe, mediator and co-founder of Elder Decisions, an elder mediation firm in Norwood, Massachusetts.

Mediations typically take place in 2-3 hour sessions. Some families need more than one session, while others can reach a resolution in one sitting. 

What do elder mediators do?

Elder mediators help senior loved ones and relatives come to a mutual understanding about each person’s concerns. Their goal is to give everyone a voice in a safe and constructive environment. 

Like divorce mediators who specialize in divorce issues, elder mediators specialize in aging and elder care issues. Many are lawyers or social workers. 

Mediators lead discussions in person or via video. “We do find that it’s helpful if families can meet face-to-face,” says Thorpe, who sometimes travels to other states to mediate. However, she’s also conducted mediations through video conference calls when multiple parties are scattered geographically.

What issues can family mediation help resolve?

Family mediation can be used for:

  • Estate planning and family real estate
  • Family communication
  • Medical care for a parent
  • Naming a Power of Attorney
  • Upkeep of the parent’s home
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Living arrangements

Thorpe advocates including elderly parents in the process. “If it’s about their life, we want to make sure we include their voice,” she says.

How do I find a professional mediator?

Finding a conflict mediator that every family member is happy with can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Thorpe recommends searching for your state or region’s association of mediators. You can also search fo mediators using these national directories:

What questions should I ask a potential mediator?

Many mediators will offer a free in-person or phone consultation to learn about their services. 

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Questions to ask a potential mediator include:

  1. How many mediations have you performed?
  2. Do you specialize in or have training directly related to elder mediation?
  3. How often do you facilitate mediations?
  4. What is you mediation process like?
  5. Are you a certified family mediator?

How much does family conflict resolution cost?

Private mediation ranges from $100 to $400 an hour or more. Thorpe’s company charges $325-$350 an hour.

Is there family mediation for low-income families?

Community non-profit programs set up by states may offer free or reduced services by volunteer mediators. Some of these volunteers may be lawyers or social workers trained in mediation. However, keep in mind, these mediators may not be formally trained or experienced in managing elder issues.

What are the potential outcomes of family mediation services?

Mediation results vary depending on the family and their goals. However, it’s possible that you and relatives could have:

  • A mended relationship
    Mediation can be as simple as opening up the lines of communication — but it can go deeper, too. Relationships can be deepened and salvaged through mediation if done correctly, according to Thorpe.
  • A new perspective
    “People come to mediation with their truths. They believe so wholeheartedly that they’re right,” says Thorpe. “But it’s through the process of mediation that they can begin to hear other perspectives.”
  • Apath forward
    A successful mediation includes family members listening to one another rather than just trying to be heard. “People start to see things through another’s eyes and gain a recognition and understanding,” says Thorpe. “Often it completely opens up relationships and heals past hurts so people can move forward.”

Outlining an agreement

Thorpe says some families request a “formal memorandum of understanding,” which outlines what everyone has agreed to in the mediation. Other families prefer a less formal agreement or a meeting summary.

A written contract can also be produced as part of the process. These are often are formalized by an attorney.

Merritt Whitley
Merritt Whitley