Choosing Mediation Over A Court Date

Stacey Joroff is an attorney, but she volunteers her time as mediator, helping to settle cases without a costly and emotional trial

Voluntary mediator Stacey Joroff helps people settle their disputes without having to go to court.

The attorney-at-law dedicates a good portion of her time providing free assistance serving as a impartial third party through the court’s mediation program and with Kaua’i Economic Opportunity.

She bridges the gap between conflicting parties so that they can reach a mutual decision, enabling them to set aside their differences and personal agendas.

“I think all family court cases, if possible, should be resolved without litigation,” she says. “Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen because of emotions, personal agendas, attorneys and unwillingness to compromise.”

Mediation encourages mutual agreement and open communication.

“It allows for people to express emotions that the court has no time for,” explains Joroff.

A mediator discloses his or her knowledge of the court process, yet doesn’t give the parties advice, nor do mediators make decisions or rulings of any nature.

“They cannot impose an order on anyone,” she says.

Mediation also gives both parties an opportunity to work outside of the box.

“In mediation, the parties get to make their own choices, and they can be a creative as they want,” says Joroff.

But if they choose to go to court and stand before a judge, their options are limited.

“And the judge doesn’t really have the time to spend getting to know you and your life,” she adds. “They don’t fully know what’s going on, the nuances, so to speak. So you’re kind of putting your life in somebody else’s hands.”

Anyone who has an active case in the family court system can take advantage of this free service offered by the state.

Joroff is one of a handful of attorneys who volunteer as mediators through this program. Initiated by Judge Edmund D. Acoba about two years ago, the program started with a focus on divorce cases. However, the variety of cases has since expanded to other domestic matters, including custody.

Joroff was part of the inaugural group of attorneys who volunteered for the program and created a checklist to use for nearly all of the issues that might come up in a divorce case, such as debt or property ownership. She also helped train new volunteer attorneys by walking them through the process and teaching them how to communicate properly.

The Vermont Law School graduate says she devotes so much of her time to the cause because she cares deeply about the children impacted by divorce and separation. About 90 percent of the cases involve keiki, who often suffer the consequences of litigation both emotionally and financially.

“I’m always considering what’s best for that child,” says Joroff. “What’s best for the parties is that they work through in a nonadversarial situation or process any issues they have so they can get to a place where they can communicate better and raise their child together.”

Mediation ultimately can help the parents learn to communicate with each other.

“Because the mediators and attorneys are going to go away, we are not going to be a part of their daily lives,” explains Joroff. “Mediation is a much better forum for creating that.

“Families are about continuity. Just because a couple is getting divorced doesn’t mean the family doesn’t exist anymore, especially when there are children.”

Both parties have the potential to go on about their lives afterward without the same animosity a court case can garner.

“To me, that’s the most rewarding part – to be able to help people move through this process as gracefully and as peacefully and as non-dramatically as possible, without escalating to a whole other level,” says Joroff.

Thus far, the program has had a success rate in the high 90s, as a vast majority of cases are settled.

“People really feel empowered being able to make the choice and come to an agreement that they are OK with,” she says.

Sometimes Joroff spends as much as full day work day preparing for her assigned mediations.

“To me, that case is just as important as every one of my other cases that I get paid,” she says.

Anyone who wishes to settle disputes outside of the litigation system can utilize Kaua’i Economic Opportunity’s mediation service. The fees are nominal and based on a sliding scale. Visit keoinc.org for more information.

Free mediation services offered by the state may be requested during a court hearing. coco@midweek.com

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