Civil disputes among neighbors don't need to be ongoing, according to civil workers. Free mediation is offered free by the county.
BY WAYNE GRANT | CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Good fences make good neighbors, according to poet Robert Frost. But unfortunately, even fences can’t always keep problems from arising among neighbors, especially in the longer days of summer.
That’s where the county comes in. If no money is involved, or for claims less than $15,000, Volusia County Court Mediation Services offers residents an alternative for working out their problems, instead of going to court. The mediation is offered no charge.
“We always try to get the word out about our services,” said Marie C. Joy, executive director of the agency. “We would love for the people of Volusia County to know we are here.”
She said after talking to an individual with a complaint, her agency will contact the other party and arrange a meeting with a mediator. They have a staff of about 50 volunteers who have received training and been certified by the Florida Supreme Court.
“These are all professional people who want to volunteer and give back to the community,” Joy said.
An advantage to mediation, she added, is that parties of the dispute control the outcome, instead of a judge. It’s an informal and private process, after which neighbors can still be neighbors, she said.
“We provide an atmosphere where people feel comfortable,” Joy said.
Although most of their cases come from judges who ask parties at a small claims hearing if they would like to go through mediation before pursuing litigation, individuals can also contact the county directly. Joy said her department can also mediate disputes between an individual and a business.
In non-small claims suits, parties are normally ordered by a judge to go through mediation, conducted by a private company such as Upchurch, Watson, White and Max, a mediation firm in Daytona Beach.
For mediation to work, though, according to Sandy Upchurch, mediation counsel, both parties must be reasonable.
“Mediators serve as calm listening ears and, really, our job is to try to get each person to begin to understand the other party’s perspective and reach a compromise,” she said.
When she mediates between people, she tells them to “stop talking and start listening.”
Upchurch, an Ormond Beach resident who worked for the city of Ormond Beach from 2001 to 2009, as assistant city attorney, has been a certified circuit court mediator since 1996.
She said often in a dispute there is usually another, different underlying issue. The complaint may be that a neighbor is walking his dog in their yard, but really, they may actually be mad about not being invited to the neighbor’s last party, or maybe the neighbor’s kids don’t get along, Upchurch added.
“A moderator’s job is to try to figure out what the motivating factor is,” she said.
Whenever possible, she added, people should simply try to be good neighbors and solve problems “over a cup of coffee.”
If the dispute involves a code violation, a neighbor can call the city. Joanne Naumann, neighborhood improvement manager, said the city will enforce any code violations.
For more on Volusia County’s County Court Mediation Services, visit www.ccms7th.org.