A mediator’s role is to help parties in conflict find a solution that truly works for their unique situation. A mediator from a local Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) received a call from Cheryl, who described herself as both mother and aunt to two-year-old Charlie. Cheryl had taken Charlie in when her sister’s young daughter, Beth, could not care for him. Beth was too young, she was involved with drugs and the pregnancy was unplanned. However, when Charlie began experiencing health issues and required surgery, Cheryl needed to establish formal custodianship to authorize the right care—and that’s when the conflict between Beth and Cheryl began.

A family member steps in during a time of need

This was going to be “one of those cases,” the mediator could tell from the start.

“I’m his mommy, you see, the only one he has ever known.” Cheryl said. “He is only two. I’m also his aunt; my sister’s daughter, Beth, gave birth to him.”

Aunt Cheryl agreed to take little Charlie in as her third child. Unfortunately, Charlie had health problems and was in need of surgery at age two. Cheryl required formal custodianship to authorize the right care. Cheryl sent the paperwork to Beth for consent. Beth read the documents and fear rose in her heart. She thought the paperwork meant that her aunt was about to take her son away—forever.

A family feud begins

Beth called Cheryl and threatened to come and take her son home. They didn’t talk, they argued. They argued again, and again. Other relatives got involved in the discussions, but the threats escalated. A feud had begun. Meanwhile, Charlie’s health worsened. Cheryl felt she had no choice but to let Charlie—screaming and scared—go with Beth when Beth showed up at Cheryl’s door demanding to take her son. Desperate for a resolution and overcome with worry for Charlie’s health, Cheryl called her community DRC.

Mediation leads to a successful resolution

The mediator from the DRC contacted Beth to explain Cheryl’s motivations and the need for everyone to work together. Beth was distraught, scared and overwhelmed by Charlie’s emotions and health needs. It was clear to her that Charlie missed Mommy Cheryl and that broke Beth’s heart. The two women agreed mediation was their best option. A mediated agreement resulted in Beth recognizing that she still was not ready to be a full-time mother. Cheryl was able to complete the formal paperwork to establish the relationship they all had as caregivers. Beth committed to work with Cheryl to learn about her son and the responsibilities of parenthood. She wanted to be more involved in Charlie’s life, but she now recognized that it needed to happen at an appropriate pace for everyone, including Charlie.

A DRC is required to follow up with clients to determine the effectiveness of the mediation. In this case, no call was necessary, because they called us. Two weeks after the mediation and then again six months later, Cheryl called to thank the mediator for pulling their family together, for the new relationship she has with Beth, and for helping Charlie to have both a “mommy” and his “mother.”

If you need help resolving a family conflict, contact your local DRC for a free consultation.