By Adrian Sharma

 

Family and relationship conflicts can occur around different issues. While we traditionally tend to think of family disputes centring around the distribution of property and custody of children, the reality is that a number of these conflicts also involve and invariably impact the lives of elderly members of the family.

As an elderly person ages, there is an increasing need for them to be provided with adequate support from family members. Physical and mental frailties that accompany ageing can present challenges when it comes to respecting an elderly person’s autonomy while addressing their needs and enabling their protection and safety.

Important decisions such as the care and living arrangements of the elderly person, access to appropriate medical care, as well as what to do with any assets they may own, often need to be made by the elderly person’s family and support persons. Issues around the health and safety of an elderly person can involve legal and financial considerations which may lead to disagreements among family members. Unfortunately, disagreements on what is best for the elderly person during what is already a highly stressful and emotional time can lead to disputes. Family tension in relation to issues concerning an elderly person are often most damaging to the elderly person themself and may lead to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness.

While some families are able to deal with such issues by getting timely legal and financial advice and making reasoned and harmonious decisions together, this is not necessarily the case for many other families. There are many families, often with long histories of disagreements, for whom working together to care for elderly persons can be difficult or seem nearly impossible. These families often find the need to resort to litigious solutions to resolve their issues, which can drag on for a considerable length of time and incur substantial expenses as a result.

Having an outsider listening to each family member’s concerns can avoid the need to resort to litigation and resolve the power imbalance among family members. An elder mediator can facilitate a more balanced discussion, so all family members get the opportunity to express themselves and have their views considered.

What is elder mediation?

Elder mediation is a specialised service that aims to empower and respect elders involved in disputes and uphold their self-determination as far as practicable. Facilitated by a professional mediator, elder mediation is aimed at assisting older adults, their family members and other support persons to arrive at outcomes to disagreements that are respectful of their rights and ensure the best interest of the elderly person.

Elder mediation provides a holistic decision-making process. In addition to helping parties save time and cost, elder mediation also allows great flexibility in terms of processes and results, and allows parties to maintain their autonomy by coming to their own resolution.

The Family Dispute Resolution Centre (FDR Centre) has a specialised mediation service for elder mediation: mediation of family disputes about or involving a senior family member. Such disputes can be highly complex, often involving multiple generations and raising a mix of legal, financial, and/or medical issues, together with familial, social, and/or spiritual/religious concerns. Feelings of grief, anger, betrayal, abandonment, jealousy, competition among family members, or unfulfilled expectations can further complicate disputes involving elders.

Family members are often not well placed to make decisions as they may be unable or unwilling to accept the elderly person’s increasing vulnerability. The focus of elder mediators and the FDR Centre’s elder mediation service is centred on protecting familial relationships and encouraging positive family engagement to come up with a plan that best suits the needs of all members involved.

Elder mediators at the FDR Centre are specially trained to ensure that elderly persons are given a voice in matters affecting them in a way that is appropriate for their capacity. Elder mediators at the FDR Centre are able to provide a fresh and independent perspective and can help to bring to light age-related considerations that close family members may be unable to appreciate.

The services provided by the FDR Centre are private and confidential. The FDR Centre has fixed fee options available for low-complexity elder mediations and has a well-defined fee structure for high-complexity elder mediation matters. More information about the elder mediation service and the various other services offered by the FDR Centre can be found on www.fdrc.co.nz

 

*Adrian Sharma is the head of the ADR Centre’s Knowledge Management Team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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