janet powers

Janet Powers

Although Mediation Services of Adams County does not have an office, we are essentially a mobile Community Mediation Center. Mediations are scheduled in various neutral locations all over the county depending on the needs of the disputants. In the case of elder mediations, we have sometimes held mediations in private homes. Often, mediators work with opposing parties in church or organization meeting rooms. The time of these sessions is also set when most convenient for those involved.

But why, you may ask, do we need mediation when there is a perfectly functioning legal system including district justices and lawyers available to help solve problems? The answer is simply that mediation is very different from a standard legal proceeding. Not only is the mediation process much more user friendly, but it is also inexpensive and guaranteed to lead to solutions that please both parties. Mediators skilled in helping disputants work out their own solutions provide the encouragement and direction needed to arrive at amicable agreements.

Mediation is especially recommended for disputes between neighbors who continue to live close by or for family situations in which interaction between relatives must go on for many years. When problems are settled in court, normally one side wins big and the other side goes away unhappy. Mediation, however, leads to win-win solutions that enable continued contact on a friendly basis. Moreover, Adams County courts sometimes recommend mediation as a supplemental step in working out property settlements or re-negotiating custody agreements.

Referral to mediation often happens because the process is within financial reach of those who cannot afford expensive legal fees. Indeed, mediation fees range from $0 to $35 per session depending on the income of the disputants. Couples intent on divorce can work out a property settlement with a mediator and then file the agreement themselves or take it briefly to a lawyer for final approval. Frequently, divorced or separated parents work out a custody agreement with Legal Services or a judge but may later need to re-negotiate that agreement without spending a lot of money. Mediators are trained to help those parents consider every option for shared time with their children.

In states like Maryland and North Carolina, court-mandated mediations are the norm for many types of disputes. Pennsylvania, however, does not have a unified court system, and thus the use of mediation varies from county to county. A bill proposed by the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators has been under consideration by legislators for some years, but until it comes to the floor, a patchwork pattern of applied mediation prevails across the state.

In Lancaster County, extensive use is made of Victim Offender Mediation in which teenage perpetrators meet directly with their victims and work out appropriate restitution. In cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Small Claims Mediation commonly covers issues such as debt repayment, consumer-repairperson, consumer-merchant, consumer-serviceperson, and consumer-travel agency disputes. One Community Mediation Center is piloting the use of online dispute resolution. Parties meet via an online platform with the assistance of a mediator who communicates individually and/or jointly with the parties.

Although Online Mediation has not reached Adams County, we do have bi-lingual mediators trained to help solve many sorts of disputes. For more information, call our Help Line at 717-334-7312 or check out the MSAC website at www.mediateadams.org

Janet M. Powers is presiding officer of Mediation Services of Adams County and professor emerita at Gettysburg College.

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