There has to be a better way.
That quest has fueled Martha Kaser for most of her professional life, as a family lawyer who has seen high conflict and as a social worker who has seen hurting people.
That better way is mediation.
With mediation, “you can settle almost any kind of dispute,” says Kaser, a clinical social worker and mediator with Samaritan Counseling Center.
A mediator is like a traffic cop. A mediator structures the conversation so that it doesn’t go off track, she says.
The beauty of mediation is that it lets people reach their own solutions, she adds.
And most disputes, whether in family law or employment law, can be resolved in four to 12 hours, meaning the process is cost-friendly. At Samaritan, the cost is $250 per hour.
But more importantly, Kaser says, the result is more satisfying.
Taking it to court vs. taking it to a mediator
That’s because, when compared to litigation, mediation offers more control and lower cost. Kaser used two pyramids to illustrate what she means. When people hire lawyers and take a case to the court to be decided by a judge, they pay a lot of money but relinquish control. “The cost is enormous,” she says.
With mediation, the pyramid is inverted.
“There isn’t a whole lot of research on this, but people are generally more satisfied with solutions they come up with themselves rather than are imposed on them,” she says.
Good candidates for mediation
“Just about anyone, including people who are pretty angry at each other, can mediate successfully if they have a good mediator,” Kaser says.
It can even work it there is alcoholism or one party has diminished capacity (but not diminished enough to require a legal guardian), she says. Even some domestic violence cases can be mediated, she says, though those have to be examined carefully because of the “very significant power imbalance.”
“The people who aren’t candidates for mediation are the people who really, really want to fight,” she says. To them, she says,” go liquidate your 401k, cash in your pension and go fight. Fine.”
How it works
In a divorce or separation, there might be 50 issues – property, debt, children, child support, spousal support, parenting time. The mediator first works to organize the issues and set priorities.
“Everybody gets a chance to say something,” she says. “Nobody gets shut out of the process.”
Then the parties pick their top issues and talk through them. That includes brainstorming. “How many different ways are there to solve this problem?” Kaser will ask.
Then the mediator helps the parties pick one solution they will try, “maybe just on a trial basis, maybe just for three months,” she says.
The process takes about four to 12 hours, with most coming in at about four. “Somewhere in there is the sweet spot,” she says. And the beauty of it is, “it can be contained. Not like litigation, which can just run and run and run.”
Call Samaritan Counseling Center today at 505-842-5300 to set up mediation.
Ask about mediation with Martha Kaser on matters of divorce, domestic relations or employment law.
Also ask about our co-parenting counseling services.
Why turn to a mediator?
The mediator is a neutral person. Whether it’s a divorce/separation or a workplace issue, it’s difficult to resolve an issue when you have an ongoing relationship with that person. Either the person is your ex-spouse or co-parent, or perhaps it’s your boss or employee.
“We’re neutral,” Kaser says. ‘I can’t emphasize that enough. We don’t have a dog in the fight.”
They have one role and one role only: To resolve a controversy, and then they are gone. “They’re not a person who is going to sign off on your evaluation, for example,” she says.
What happens in mediation … stays in mediation.
In New Mexico, there’s no risk with mediation, because what happens in mediation is not admissible in court. “The fact that you didn’t reach an agreement is not admissible,” says Kaser. “It’s a private process. So if it doesn’t work, you haven’t waived any of your options.”
That doesn’t mean a judge is going to give you a hard time in court. No mediator can show up in court and say, “I don’t think she ever wanted to settle. We don’t do that.”
That means “you have nothing to lose.”
Seeing it from both sides
After 36 years in family law and with almost 10 years as a clinical social worker with an expertise in high-conflict, post-divorce/separation families, Kaser has seen conflict and resolution from both sides. When she tells you what doesn’t work, she knows what she’s talking about.
“I’m pretty well tuned up on the psychological aspects and the stressors and the dynamics between divorcing families and the harm that high-conflict divorce or separation causes children,” she says, “so that’s my dog in the fight.”
“I put those two things together, and I think that makes me a good mediator.”
It’s more than time and money at stake. It’s people and their relationships.
“The thing about family law, when you’re talking about children, you’re talking about people who are going to have a continuing relationship,” Kaser says.
“Here’s the question: Is it going to be a terrible relationship, or is it going to be an OK relationship?” she says. “I think you have a better shot at an OK relationship if you don’t litigate against each other, if you can reach an agreement yourselves. So that’s why I’m doing that.”
A person you can trust
When people have disputes, it can be hard to trust the process, and it can be confusing. Kaser says people trust her when they meet her because “I don’t lie, and I think people can tell that.”
Even when it’s bad news. “I’m a straight shooter. I think that is a strength.”
She says she wants people to understand the process, and she believes in empowering them to find their own solutions. “I don’t think this is a mysterious process. I don’t think people who are mediating need to know the five theories of dispute resolution, blah, blah. I make this easy to understand.”
She often brings her experience as a social worker into issues that touch on child development and other issues around emotional health, and that makes people trust her.
She’s also lived through it. “I was divorced from my husband when my son was 2 ½. As nice as we were to each other, it was still one of the hardest things I ever did. So I understand.”
What is mediation?
It’s a way of settling disputes that lets people reach their own solutions.
What is a mediator?
A neutral person who structures a discussion. The mediator leads parties through identifying and prioritizing issues, then brainstorms with them on all the possible solutions.
A mediator is not a lawyer representing you in court, though the person may be trained as a lawyer.
What mediation services does Samaritan Counseling Center offer?
- Primarily family law and domestic relations, such as divorce, child support, custody and parenting plans
- Employment law and workplace disputes
But Samaritan can mediate disputes in many areas.
How is mediation different from litigation – taking the dispute to court?
It’s cheaper and quicker. The average mediation takes four to 12 hours.
It also gives people more control over the outcome, and the outcomes are more satisfying.
In court, the parties relinquish the outcome to a judge.
How do I know if we are good candidates for mediation?
Just about anyone, including people who are pretty angry at each other, can be successful with mediation.
In what kinds of situations are people NOT good candidates for mediation?
People who just want to fight.
While I have successfully resolved many cases in which there was some domestic violence, those cases have to be examined carefully because of the significant power imbalance.
How does it work?
A mediator identifies what issues are on the table and prioritizes them. In a divorce, there might be 50 issues on the table. The parties will pick one and brainstorm on all the different ways to solve the problem. Then the mediator and the parties will choose a solution to try, sometimes on a trial basis for a short, defined period of time.
What’s the value of mediation?
Everyone is heard. No one is shut out of the process.
Do I need a lawyer for mediation?
You can mediate if you have lawyers or if you don’t.
In the end, when the mediator helps you map out a solution, Martha Kaser advises to at least have a lawyer read over it.
How long does it take?
The average mediation takes four to 12 hours.
How much does it cost?
$200 per hour
What do I have to lose?
You have nothing to lose.
If anything, the time you invest in the process, but because most disputes are resolved in a short time frame, the risk is low.
Does this mean I can’t go to court?
Mediation results are not admissible in court, which means that if you do not reach a resolution, you haven’t waived any of your options to litigate.
What if we end up in court after all?
In some divorce cases, there can be 50 issues. Even if all issues cannot be resolved in mediation, mediation can help you whittle that down to 20 issues, which, again, holds down the ultimate cost.
What if we have more problems after the agreement?
Part of the process is I pose the question, “If problems recur, how do you want to settle them in the future.”
I make people think about that. I educate people so they can work on their disputes themselves.
But you can always come back and work it out through mediation if something new comes up. Most people find the process valuable and would choose it again.
Why are uniquely qualified for mediation, do you think?
I’ve been a lawyer for 36 years in domestic relations law. I’ve been a clinical social worker since 2006.
Much of my practice is high-conflict, post-divorce families. I’m pretty well tuned up on the dynamics.
I also draw on the research about family dynamics and child development. That helps me steer people right.
What other skills to you bring to the table that really help people?
I don’t lie, and I think people can tell that. I’m a straight shooter.
tions or employment law.
Also ask about our co-parenting counseling services.
Martha Kaser brings her experience both as lawyer and social worker to mediating.
> Law degree from University of Michigan
> Master’s in social work from University of Michigan
> Bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Michigan
> Thirty-six years in law, mostly family law, with a specialty in high-conflict divorces
> Areas of experience: divorce, child custody, parenting plans, martial settlement agreements (property and deb), co-parenting counseling, employment law