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Should you try mediation for a guardianship dispute?

When a beloved relative's health and mental functioning are seemingly in decline, it's only natural for relatives to want to step in and protect him or her from abuses.

What happens, however, when there are different opinions about what's best for the senior? What if the senior objects to their attempts? After all, being given a guardian is the end of the senior's autonomous existence and personal freedom.

It isn't uncommon for guardianship disputes to end up in court. Before that happens, you may want to consider approaching all the parties about trying mediation first. Here are some reasons why mediation is an attractive option:

1. Mediation can avoid tearing the family apart.

Litigation is, by nature, an adversarial process. Going into court can fracture even healthy family relationships. It may permanently destroy any relationships that are already damaged or weak.

Mediation, by contrast, seeks to find solutions that everyone can live with. Mediation relies on the cooperation of everyone involved and generally seeks to avoid "winners" and "losers." Even the senior can be involved in the process, to whatever extent possible.

2. Mediation may offer solutions you haven't yet considered.

The courts aren't inflexible where guardianship issues are concerned -- but they aren't designed for creative solutions. Judges generally stick with a few standard resolutions for any given situation.

Mediation allows the parties involved to work out unique agreements. Mediators often uncover hidden reasons for a dispute -- which then leads to better solutions. A well-crafted, individualized agreement may be the best thing for the senior -- the person at the heart of the dispute.

3. Mediation can be less expensive and more private.

Litigation is always expensive -- and the longer it goes on, the more expensive it becomes. In addition, everything you take into court becomes fodder for public consumption. No one involved may relish the idea of airing the family's business to the world (or the neighbors).

An attorney can help you assess your specific situation and determine the best way to handle your guardianship dispute. If mediation does seem to be appropriate for your case, make sure that you fully discuss the pros and cons of going trying to mediate the issue.

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