Talking May Stop Crisis

Getting adversaries to talk together in a civil manner may prevent crisis situations in the future.
That is the goal of The Mediation Institute of Tulsa as associate directors Shelly Harvill-Kamm and Brenda Spencer deal with people and issues ranging from divorce to business difficulties.
They also train others as mediators at their office at 1408 S. Denver either to assist as their case load grows or use those skills in their own business.
The Mediation Institute was founded in 1992 in Oklahoma City. The Tulsa branch was opened a year ago.
Mediation services are being well received in Tulsa, according to Harvill-Kamm. The company has a good reputation as a full-service team in civil, commercial, family and domestic and some neighborhood disputes.
Environmental mediation also can be accommodated with the assistance of Jim Stovall, — from Oklahoma City — the company’s founder.
Mediation requests have come from Rogers and Washington Counties, in addition to Tulsa and they count the northeast part of the state as their territory.
They also make it very clear that The Mediation Institute of Tulsa is a fee-paid for profit business, though the sliding income scale is used — and there occasionally is some pro bono work.
As mediators, Spencer and Harvill-Kamm maintain flexible schedules, meeting clients as needed, regardless of the hour, day or date.
All sessions are confidential and mediators cannot be taken into court.
‘‘As mediators, we are non-judgmental,’’ Harvill-Kamm said.
Neither can give legal advice. They are not attorneys.
But they do use their mediation skills when people are willing to sit down at the table to talk.
‘‘Many times we have had people at the table who have not spoken to each other for six months,’’ Harvill-Kamm said. That is too long for any problem.
One of the beauties of mediation is that when a solution is reached, there is no waiting period for it to take effect, Spencer said.
But those sessions can be stormy.
People get together and will yell at each other in the process, Harvill-Kamm continued. That is why, for the common good of all parties, mediation sites are on neutral ground.
Sometimes sessions might go three or four hours and neither party comes to an agreement, Spencer said. That is when the situation must go to court where either a judge or jury decides the outcome.
Even when there is a mediation resolution, it doesn’t mean that both parties are completely happy, Spencer and Harvill-Kamm said.
They estimated that more than 90 percent of their cases are successful, above the 85 percent national average.
It also is possible that both parties agree on 98 percent of the issues, but cannot come agreement on one or two points, Spencer said. Those points are the ones taken to court.
‘‘We address virtually ever issue,’’ Spencer added. ‘‘People need to understand and trust us. The public in general misunderstands mediation, but our role is to compliment legal services. Some attorneys hate mediation. Others love it.’’
Harvill-Kamm added that mediation is not for everybody and if anyone comes in that is not present in good faith, the process will fail.
‘‘We have referred people to attorneys when it was apparent one party was insincere in mediation,’’ she said.
Mediation is a ‘‘reality check,’’ Spencer said.
‘‘We get referrals from attorneys and others in the community to maintain an active case load,’’ Spencer said. ‘‘Our first goal is to help people resolve problems without dragging them out through a lengthy legal process that can involve a court battle. Most people don’t want to spend a lot of money and feel that relationships still matter.’’
Harvill-Kamm echoed Spencer’s remarks adding that when a divorce is involved, people don’t want to find it takes two and one half years to complete the process. Even though they want to end a marriage, they still want to maintain some type of relationship, especially when children are involved.
Spencer and Harvill-Kamm find they often are educating people about possibilities of creating solutions that might not be possible in a courtroom.
People often are more willing to talk in a contained environment where few are present, Spencer continued. They will say things that might not be said through an attorney and create a plan they might not otherwise consider.
The result is a positive, good feeling between parties, Harvill-Kamm said.
When divorce apparently is the only answer for a couple, it often is possible to work out details involving property appraisals, child support and visitation rights before going to court. Expediting these details can make the entire process flow more smoothly.
Even when there appears to be amicable agreement, divorce still is an emotional issue, Spencer added. ‘‘We try to prepare both parties, giving advice to help them get through the situation.’’
Generally, the associate directors will spend about one half day with clients, helping them understand legal procedures and what to expect when they do go to the courtroom.
Referring to divorce cases when children are involved, both Spencer and Harvill-Kamm try to get parents to set aside their differences enough to work out an amiable situation for their offspring.
Children need both parents whether or not they are living together, they said.
Young people are not present during the mediation sessions, but some parents have placed their pictures on the table during the talks.
That visual helped them maintain a focus, she said.
Once a divorce case goes to court without some type of agreement, the kids often lose, Spencer said. The judge will rule, following the law, because he or she does not have time to determine the fine points that could make a difference in their lives.
Even though mediation solutions are involved, it also is possible to have them modified through court orders, she added. That is when people need to talk to their attorneys to file the required action.
Another side of mediation focuses on victims.
Too often victims are overlooked when criminal activity occurs.
For example, graffiti on a person’s property robs the owner of some dignity, Spencer said. While the act is a misdemeanor under the law, the victim is offended by the incident.
Mediation gives the victim an opportunity to let offenders know how they feel and how they have been affected.
This is especially effective when those responsible for the vandalism have been apprehended and charged because it helps make them accountable for their action.
Property disputes are a big area for mediation, according to Harvill-Kamm. This issue often gets heated, especially when neighbors are involved.
When property disputes are involved, they even view the property site to have a better understanding of the situation.
The common breakdown — and when violence occurs — is when people don’t get the opportunity to be heard on the issue. Some people go to court to tell their side of the story. Others reach out for help, but don’t get any satisfaction and that can result in tragedy.
Mediation will continue be an important part of people’s lives, Harvill-Kamm said. A big area involves elder care and another is medical care in the home.
‘‘People would be surprised at the emotion involved when three or four siblings are involved in making decisions about caring for parents,’’ Spencer added.
Many professions are involved in the mediation process, Spencer said. This includes attorneys, educators, psychologists, health care professionals and many others.
The Mediation Institute classes are approved through the Oklahoma Bar Association for Mediation Continuing Legal Education credit.
Courses also meet the training requirements of the District Court Mediation Act of 1998.



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