Probate Corner: Mediation over Dispute

By Judge Max L. Rosenberg

When people think of the Probate Court, they often relate it back to Last Will and Testaments and the probating of the estates of deceased people. But did you know that the Probate Court also offers a Mediation Program in contested cases? The idea behind this is to take away some of the sting of what may be perceived as the adversarial nature of fighting in a court of law.

A mediator is a neutral third party that is trained in the art of conflict resolution. Their role in this process is to help people resolve issues in contested cases. In my experience, so many issues
boil down to raw emotions and personal relationships. Mediation often offers another option or route toward achieving a set and defined specific goal. I use the terms defined and specific because oftentimes, parties in a contested matter are not even certain what it is they are fighting over, for and/or about. Families all come with baggage and it is exceedingly difficult to leave that “outside”. A sophisticated mediator will try and help parties see each other’s point of view and even understand the origin of their feelings. In order to resolve an issue, we must first understand the issue and where it is coming from.

As someone who has been trained and certified and actively mediated for families for many years, I know that there are some techniques that work in mediation that would not necessarily work in court. There is a semi-rigid structure in court, but in mediation one is offered the fluidity and the ability to explore other options that might seem “off the wall” in other settings. It also gives people the added bonus of the opportunity to resolve a dispute without the expense, delay and acrimony of litigation.

There are even options regarding mediation. Parties can choose to enter into private mediation in some circumstances. Otherwise, parties in contested matters can also participate in mediation through the Probate Court Mediation Program (which you can read more about at Probate Court Mediation Program (ctprobate.gov)) To initiate mediation, the parties need to agree to this process and submit a Motion for Mediation and their agreement to enter into the program. Parties can withdraw from it at any time.

Finally, and slightly off-topic, but perhaps more timely, here are some interesting difficulties people have encountered as a result of hearings and mediations being held virtually through programs like ZOOM and WebEx during the pandemic. (Note: These are not from our court and likely not Connecticut specific either.)

  • One client attended a mediation hearing drinking a beer
  • A father attended a parental rights termination hearing shirtless in bed
  • One woman attended a hearing poolside in a bikini
  • An attorney smoked a cigar during a remote probate hearing
  • A client who had been in a car accident attended their Zoom hearing while driving

Please keep these anecdotes in mind if you have hearing coming up. Until that day, I am always happy to serve as your Probate Judge in Stratford.

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