A couple going through the mediation process, instead of using litigation.

Somewhere Between Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe and Litigation

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

When we were kids, this rhyme was the official and universally acknowledged way to resolve nearly any dispute. Who gets the last piece of candy? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Who is “it” during the first round of hide and seek? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Who goes to pick which box of cereal we will buy? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. 

The results of an eeny, meeny, miny, moe were accepted by all. There were no appeals and no whining. 

As adults, we no longer rely on eeny, meeny, miny, moe to mete out justice. But that does not mean that every dispute needs to be resolved through costly litigation. Many families and employers/employees in the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR area are seeking something in the middle. More fair and formalized than eeny, meeny, miny, moe, but less costly and time-consuming than going to court. 

That’s where we come in. Human Alchemy is a strong proponent of the power of mediation to resolve even the most complex disputes. Mediation is a non-judicial proceeding in which a mediator tries to negotiate a resolution or settlement between the parties.

Why Mediation Is Better Than Litigation

A mediator does not have the power of a judge. He or she cannot decide what the “right” answer is and force both sides to accept it. Instead, the mediator works as a neutral fact-finder and guide. 

The mediator listens to both sides of the story and figures out exactly where the biggest disagreements lie. He or she then communicates each party’s concerns to the other. Trusting the mediator to accurately and fairly explain one’s position to the other side plays a big part in the success or failure of the process. So does being willing to listen when the mediator tells the other party’s story and lists their main concerns. Mediation cannot be successful if both sides do not trust that the mediator is neutral and is doing his or her best to understand the case at hand. 

The mediator will often suggest a settlement agreement he or she believes will appease both parties. The parties are not required to agree to the proposed settlement, but they often do. 

If the divorcing couple or employer/employee is unable to reach a resolution with the assistance of the mediator, litigation may be necessary. If the parties decide to litigate, they must start at square one. The courts are under no obligation to consider the discussions that occurred during the mediation. 

Considering Mediation? Contact Our Skilled Attorneys Today

Compared to litigation, mediation is faster, cheaper, and more satisfying. Mediation gives parties a chance to tell their side of the story, the way they want to tell it, and hear an unbiased version of the other side’s story. Many disputes can be resolved in a matter of days or weeks instead of the months or years that litigation may drag on. It is truly an excellent way to resolve disputes. 

If you are interested in learning more about mediation, and how it may be used to resolve a family or employment dispute you are involved in, please contact our office to set up a meeting.

Couple going through a military divorce.

Military Divorces Are Not Fairytales

Movies about life in the military are often laughable. The weapons and other equipment depicted are all wrong. The training montages are often senseless and brutal. And even battle scenes “based on a true story” are unrealistic. Serious subjects, such as military divorces, get turned into warped fairytales. 

If there’s a good plot, you can overlook some of these flaws, but the two attorneys on the Human Alchemy team, Leah Eccles Watson and Genie Lyons, have a hard time enjoying a film if it glosses over the human costs of war. Watson served in the Air Force and Lyons was an Air Force brat. They know the true struggles faced by those in the military are not often shown on the silver screen.

Why Military Divorces Are Not Straightforward

It’s not all flag-waving and hugs at the airport when a service member comes home. Often, the strain of living apart, experiencing very different things, drives a couple apart. Like many aspects of life when one or both partners is serving in the military, divorce is not as straightforward as it is for civilian couples.

Negotiating a fair child custody agreement that recognizes one parent may be deployed now or in the future, and dividing up military retirement benefits are often the most challenging tasks. But even the first step — figuring out where to file your case — can be difficult. Military families may be able to file for divorce in:

  • The state where the service member is stationed;
  • The state where the service member claims legal residency (Home of Record);
  • The state where the dependant or dual-military spouse resides; or 
  • The state where the dependent or dual-military spouse claims legal residency.

It is important to note that you do not have to get divorced in the state where you were married. In fact, it may be impossible for you to do that if you no longer have ties to that state. 

If you and your spouse have minor children, you may be forced to file in the county where your children have resided for the most recent 6-month period. However, there are exceptions to this rule. 

Where you choose to file your divorce matters. A lot. Divorce laws vary from state to state, and even though you are in the military so some exceptions apply, those laws will shape your case. Perhaps the biggest factor to consider is how quickly your case will be processed and whether there is a waiting period before you can file. 

Choosing a location to file your case is something an experienced family law attorney who is familiar with military life and military divorce can advise you on. Our firm regularly helps couples in the pre-divorce stage figure out if filing in the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR is a good idea, or if they should file elsewhere. 

Whether you are in the pre-divorce stage, or are actively looking for local counsel, the Human Alchemy team is here to help. Please contact us today to schedule an initial consultation. 

A neutral mediator, resolving an issue with a divorcing couple.

Are Mediators Really Neutral? Ask Switzerland

Mediators are the Switzerland of the legal world. Like the small alpine nation, we pledge to remain neutral in the face of conflict. Instead of fighting for one side or another, we like the country, attempt to broker peace deals. However, instead of navigating international conflicts, we at Human Alchemy focus our efforts on resolving family and employment disputes in the greater Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA area. 

Origin Stories 

In today’s world, neutrality sounds impossible. We are politically polarized, income inequality is growing, and global conflict is spreading. But against all odds, Switzerland remains neutral.

According to History.com, “The earliest moves toward Swiss neutrality date to 1515, when the Swiss Confederacy suffered a devastating loss to the French at the Battle of Marignano. Following the defeat, the Confederacy abandoned its expansionist policies and looked to avoid future conflict in the interest of self-preservation. It was the Napoleonic Wars, however, that truly sealed Switzerland’s place as a neutral nation… [A]fter Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the major European powers concluded that a neutral Switzerland would serve as a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria and contribute to stability in the region. During 1815’s Congress of Vienna, they signed a declaration affirming Switzerland’s ‘perpetual neutrality’ within the international community.”

Switzerland hasn’t fought against another country since the treaty was signed, but it does not sit on the international sidelines. The nation has a robust foreign policy presence. It has become known for brokering peace deals between warring nations and terrorist groups and has also helped defuse hostage situations. 

Mediation’s growth in popularity follows the Swiss path. Non-judicial dispute resolution has been around since the beginning of time. It’s mentioned in ancient texts and employed by every mother who wants to stop her kids from bickering, but its official endorsement has been gradual. 

Judges and legislators have slowly come to realize that allowing parties to resolve their disputes outside of court, and then have their agreement endorsed by a judge, saves time and money. The people who remain skeptical of meditation are often attorneys who make their living litigating disputes. They are blinded by a lack of experience with mediation or flat out greed. 

How Neutral is “Neutral?”

During WWII, Switzerland made everyone mad. The Allies were upset the country continued to trade with Nazi Germany, while the Axis powers insisted it was no “accident” that Allied aircraft often violated Swiss airspace with relative impunity. 

Mediators face similar accusations of bias as they work to do their jobs. In order to resolve a family law or employment dispute, a mediator must engage both sides. He or she must hear both sides of the story, and try to find common ground. Both parties often believe the mediator is favoring the other side, but come around when a deal is struck. 

How Does Mediation Work? 

A mediator is not a judge. He or she cannot decide what the right course of action is and order the parties to agree to a settlement. Instead, the mediator works to communicate each party’s concerns to the other and helps them reach an agreement. 

When a deal is struck, it can be approved by the courts. If no resolution is reached, the parties can continue their fight in court or at arbitration. 

Contact Human Alchemy Today To Schedule An Initial Consultation

While people were at first skeptical that Switzerland could stay a neutral country, it has done so for centuries, and in the process established itself as an important player in the world of foreign policy. 

Believing that lawyers can serve as neutral mediators takes a similar leap of faith. The popularity of mediation continues to grow as couples getting divorced and employers/employees see how much better it is to have a say in their future instead of handing their case over to a judge. If you are willing to engage in collaborative negotiations to resolve an employment or family law dispute, Human Alchemy wants to be your Switzerland. Please contact our office today to learn how we can help you resolve your matter successfully.

Human Alchemy discusses what the corps of discovery can teach employers today.

What the Corps Of Discovery Can Teach Us About Employment Law

It is difficult to live in the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR area without learning a little bit about the explorers, Lewis and Clark. They lead the first expedition from the East Coast to the Pacific Ocean and back, and they spent a whole winter camped just down the river from here at Fort Clatsop. Their feat was remarkable in and of itself, but their employee management and dispute resolution techniques are just as fascinating. 

Take A Page Out Of Their Book For Your Employee Handbook 

Today, the names Lewis and Clark roll off the tongue like they have always belonged together. But when the Corps of Discovery was formed, the government named Meriwether Lewis as its sole leader. Lewis, however, knew he couldn’t make the trip alone. He asked William Clark, who he knew through his time in the military, to share the adventure and the burden of leadership with him. 

Lewis kept it a secret from the rest of the crew hired to make up the Corps of Discovery that he was technically the sole leader. All decisions were made by Lewis and Clark together, and the rest of the group was none-the-wiser. 

This sort of arrangement is unusual, and probably inadvisable, but it illustrates an important point — employees appreciate clear chains of command and the certainty and accountability they foster. When our firm is advising a client writing a new employee handbook, this is one of the things we stress. 

Resolving Disputes Fairly & Expeditiously 

Members of the Corps of Discovery who violated the military rules Lewis and Clark laid down to govern the group were swiftly brought to justice. 

They were tested early in the expedition by a couple of privates who got drunk on duty. Clark drew up court-martial papers, and a trial was held. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to lashes “well laid on.” (Luckily such punishments are no longer part of theU.S. military or civilian justice systems.) Shortly thereafter, another private fell asleep at his guardpost. This was a much more serious offense, punishable by death. He was found guilty and sentenced to one hundred lashes, each day, for four days. 

Months later, when some of the boats that accompanied the Corps upriver for trading purposes turned around, a few of the trouble-makers were dismissed from service and shipped downriver as well. From that point on, there were very few disciplinary problems, which is remarkable considering the length of the journey and its perils. 

Lewis and Clark set clear expectations and quickly and consistently reacted when their expectations were not met. This is exactly the sort of advice we give our clients. Setting clear expectations and responding appropriately when they are not met minimizes risk and fosters a productive work culture in today’s workplace. 

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help 

One of the ways Lewis and Clark earned the respect of their team was by consulting them in important matters. For example, when they came upon a fork in the river, and it was unclear which was the main branch and which a dead-end tributary, Lewis and Clark asked the entire team for their opinion as they consulted the rudimentary maps available to them, and measured the flow of water. 

Lewis and Clark were convinced that the South fork was the correct path, but the entire rest of the team disagreed. The captains made a judgment call and proceeded up the South fork. The rest of the team “cheerfully” followed, even though they thought it was the wrong river. The fact that they had been heard, and trusted their leaders with their lives, probably went a long way toward increasing that cheerfulness. 

We encourage our clients to follow the lead of Lewis and Clark and consult their employees when appropriate. We also encourage them to consult with us. 

Lewis and Clark were explorers. They took what advice and knowledge they could from others, but were often blazing a new path. While many of our clients are blazing new paths with their business, employment law is a well-worn trail. Human Alchemy is happy to be a guide and interpreter when our clients have questions about things like:

  • Employment agreements, including confidentiality agreements and non-compete clauses;
  • Employee handbooks that disseminate company rules, policies and regulations;
  • Employment discrimination, including disability discrimination;
  • Family medical leave;
  • Wage and hour laws; and 
  • Sexual harassment.

Please contact us today if we can be of assistance.