ADR, Mediation

Mediation offers a holistic, humane way to settle disputes: Romero

By Kate Wallace, Contributor

The costs of litigation can run high, and often extend beyond financial expenses to intense emotional and psychological strain, particularly in cases involving family members, says Toronto mediator Victoria Romero.

“It’s important people realize that litigation is a serious undertaking because the price you pay extends beyond money,” Romero, principal of the Toronto mediation firm VR Law, tells “Relationships suffer. And there is a point of no return from which you can’t go back.”

Romero sees mediation as a powerful, holistic and humane way to deal with conflict. A mediator who works in civil cases, as well as estate and family law, she says communication breakdown is one of the greatest challenges to resolution, particularly in emotionally charged situations.

“All that is needed is a communication channel so that people can see where the other side is coming from or where their interest lies,” she says. “More often than not, it’s a problem of misunderstanding. What you say may not be interpreted in the way you meant it.”

The experience of sharing a table, in a safe, candid and confidential environment, gives each side a chance to be heard, but also to better understand the other party.

“It works for both sides,” she says.

Where litigation is almost inherently adversarial, Romero says mediation offers a way to preserve relationships.

“It’s so important because we’re not just talking about money or the division of property,” she says. “We’re dealing with the lives of families and children.”

Of course, there are many other kinds of relationships beyond parent-child that may be affected.

She points to a recent case involving two adult sisters who were in dispute over their ailing mother’s bank account. The younger sister, who had small children and was not able to care for the mother, had grown suspicious of her older sister, who was the primary caregiver. The older sibling, in turn, was offended that her integrity in relation to their mother’s finances would be questioned, especially as she had assumed the burden of care.

Through mediation, Romero was able to bring the sisters together to share their perspectives, and then guide them to a peaceful resolution.

“The goal is to strengthen the family,” she says.

Mediation can also better preserve one’s dignity, Romero says. She points to the example of personal injury cases, where one’s medical records, including mental health history, and personal and family life can become an open book if litigation is pursued.

“That is very hard for some people,” she says.

And the protracted nature of litigation, which may take years to reach the court, can render a serious toll. Mediation offers a much timelier opportunity for resolution.

“If a case is ready today, the earliest trial date you can expect will be in 2019,” Romero says. “That’s another incentive to sit down at the table sooner. There is value in closure and being able to move on with your life.”

That doesn’t mean she believes no case should be litigated.

“I’m not saying you shouldn't sue because they're going into your private life. There are situations where you have to go to court regardless, because no amount of communication helps,” Romero says. “But give it some serious thought.”

Romero also touts the range of potential resolutions mediation offers.

“It protects their legal rights, while at the same time going outside the legal box and increasing the pie of options,” she says. “Remember we’re not just negotiating money; there are different interests and needs involved. That’s another price that you pay with litigation: you’re going to a system that may not address all your needs. What does the litigation process give you? Compensation. Money.”

Then there’s the loss of control plaintiffs may feel if they do finally get their day in court.

“No longer will you have power over the decision,” she says.

Contrast that with the empowerment many clients feel at the conclusion of a successful mediation.

“Some people call it transformative mediation,” Romero says, “because, at the end of the day, they are going to be different people than when they started.”

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