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Local mediator helps opposing parties resolve conflicts

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Couples considering divorce, neighbors feuding over properties, employers and employees in job disputes.

Conflict's an everyday part of living, says Geri L. Carlson, whose Ellsworth-based Access to Justice business is dedicated to helping these and other opposing parties overcome obstacles in their relationships.

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Not a lawyer, Carlson said Wednesday she's a facilitator interested in changing people's ideas about conflict. Her mediation services involve having those in opposition sit down with her, both collectively and individually, to find solutions unique to them and which can hopefully allow them to continue their relationships.

"The most important thing is to stay out of court," she said, indicating taking an issue from parties in conflict and bringing it to a court usually results in a forced outcome. "Oftentimes in litigation, no one wins, nothing is really resolved and the fighting continues."

After meeting with everyone, Carlson said she caucuses with the individual sides if an impasse is reached, playing devil's advocate. That's when secrets that may be key to a resolution often surface. She cited as an example a father who brought his son into his business with the idea of passing along the enterprise to him, not totally aware of the dislike his offspring had for working there. It turned out to be a misunderstanding.

"One of the things I find most interesting about conflict is how much energy people put into avoiding it," she said, explaining ignoring conflict by glossing over sensitive areas to preserve harmony invariably spawns greater conflict in the future.

If a party already has an attorney, a mediator won't question the advice that attorney gives, but will assist the attorney in helping the client accomplish the client's desires, she said. A mediator acts as a neutral third party, skilled in listening to not only what is being said, but also helping the parties identify underlying issues.

Mediation is a voluntary, non-adversarial process in which any party, including the mediator, can terminate a session at will, at any point, Carlson said. A mediated settlement of a dispute is a cooperative resolution instead of a hostile, take-no-prisoners war resulting in a decreed decision.

Mediation can be especially beneficial to parents going through a divorce, she said. They don't have to like each other, but do need to continue their relationship with each other if they want to continue parenting.

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