The stress and uncertainty of COVID-19 has amplified ongoing conflict and created new conflicts. People involved in distress need to know that mediation is an option for problem solving, resolution and access to justice.
In June, Resolution Washington — the state association of nonprofit dispute resolution centers (DRCs) — released an impact report that found that between February and April, “Parenting plan cases completed rose by 16.6 percent and neighbor/community related cases completed rose 8 percent.”
These statistics reflect the challenges of co-parenting under the Stay Home Order. Across the state, COVID-19 has created new stressors for families — parents working from home, school closures, non-custodial parents unable to see their kids. These new realities have affected parenting plan disputes.
Also, landlord tenant, foreclosure and business cases decreased under the order due to Washington’s Eviction Moratorium — which currently prohibits tenants from being evicted during the crisis (except under certain circumstances) — as well as the closure of all non-essential businesses. However, as the state reopens, these cases are expected to peak.
In fact, according to Resolution Washington’s report, “the demand for new landlord-tenant dispute resolution services at the DRCs was already rising as of early May. Additionally, the client calls have become more desperate and the needs more complex as the public health and economic crisis continues to unfold.”
As a community, we have to be prepared to meet the heightened conflict in our community.
Conflict is natural, yet the way we engage can be costly. Too often, people seek solutions through violence, litigation and civil unrest. An important avenue to address conflict is mediation.
People have misperceptions that mediation is nothing more than a handshake agreement. In reality, mediation is faster, cheaper and often more effective than litigation. Ninety percent of clients reported that mediation improved their situation, and 70 percent of family mediations settled during the process.
Mediation often results in better outcomes than litigation because it is not a sentence imposed upon people, where one party is the winner and the other is the loser. By contrast, people who go through the mediation process reach the solution together, whether that’s a payment plan, parenting plan or other agreement.
DRCs across the state of Washington, like Wenatchee Valley Dispute Resolution Center, continue to answer the call to help resolve challenging conflicts in families, neighborhoods, businesses, organizations and agencies. Tenant-landlord disputes, homelessness prevention, at-risk youth issues, and family or neighbor conflicts are just a few of the areas that mediators trained in conflict resolution can impact. Mediation can help navigate personal or professional issues affecting an individual’s livelihood.
During these difficult times, we need to equip people in our communities with the skills to work through conflict, build understanding, improve relationships and problem-solve together. The best solutions — for individuals and communities — emerge when people listen to diverse viewpoints and make informed decisions for the common good.
Jennifer Talbot is executive director at Wenatchee Valley Dispute Resolution Center. The WVDRC can be reached by phone at (509) 888-0957. For more information, visit wvdrc.org.