Property Dispute

A father died, leaving personal property and two parcels of land to his three children. The daughter, who was financially secure, waived her right to an inheritance as a sign of goodwill toward her two brothers. Yet the brothers could not agree on how to divide the property equally. One parcel was located in a business district and worth more money than the other parcel, which was in a residential area. The brothers eventually broke out in a fight, causing them to come to the mediation center.

During mediation, the brothers refused to speak with each other. At the mediator’s request, their sister’s husband – whom the brothers greatly respected – attended as a neutral third-party. The room was tightly packed with family members. The mediator and the brother in-law spent several sessions allowing the brothers to air their grievances until their bitterness waned and they began to cooperate to resolve the matter. The environment shifted from what felt like a business negotiation to more of a family discussion.

The mediator focused the brothers’ attention away from the land’s monetary value to their individual wishes for using it. He discovered that one brother was not interested in running a business, but wanted more space to house his family. Accordingly, the mediator proposed a solution whereby the parcels would be divided not on the basis of maintaining equal value, but rather on their suitability for each brother’s future plans. By further dividing the father’s remaining possessions to keep the inheritances comparable, the mediation succeeded in satisfying the brothers while keeping the family intact.


Land Development Deal Gone Bad

A businessman invested into a land development firm that sought to build a strip of land into a burgeoning marketplace. There was a clause that provided the mechanism for which the investors could get their money back with an interest rate of 12%. "We invested this money for diversification; we timed it poorly, and ended up really needing it. Now, we've been having meetings for six years; they're just avoiding settlement." A breakdown in trust occurred despite the regular meetings, and the investor was frustrated with the time span. "I'm spending way too much time on this," he said, "when I should be taking care of my customers. I just want visibility of when this will end."

The land developers, unable to pay the requested amount immediately, offered joint development of the land. They explained that the situation in the area had changed; new opportunities had opened up in the neighborhood, and there was more demand for commercial space. This renewed the investor's confidence, but he was still unwilling to agree for joint development. He offered a payment plan with additional interest at a rate of 15% annually, and his confidence grew further as the mediator mentioned the enforceability of a contract formed through mediation. The land developers argued that they couldn't afford the higher interest rate, and offered land to the investor.

''I'm not a real estate manager, I don't know what the land is worth, and I don't know how to sell it. If the land is really that valuable, sell it, and give us the cash," responded the investor. The developers looked surprised and encouraged at this response. It was the "aha" moment that the negotiations required: while the intent of the investor had simply been to get his money back, this statement had a profound effect on the land developers. The developers viewed the comment as the investor sharing his vulnerability, and crediting their abilities in land management. There was a burst of confidence in the room - the implication was that the land developers' experience in purchasing and selling land was valuable to the investor. The developers' self confidence in their ability to manage the land had decreased in the past several years due to the time it was taking for their business to get off the ground. However, a well-respected investor trusted their ability to sell the land at a fair price and give him his fair share. The situation was a win-win; they became confident in their ability to sell the land at a premium, more than what the investor needed. The parties agreed, and for the first time in 6 years, were able to reach settlement. Both left the mediation center with something valuable; the investor with a settlement and time for his customers, and the developers with a newfound sense of confidence in their business model.


Property Dispute — Family Rights

A father of four - one daughter, three sons - left land and property to each of his children to be divided equally. The land was split into two locations: one piece of prime real estate in a market district, and one good piece of real estate in a residential district. The young daughter, financially secure and wishing for a smooth process, waived her rights to the inheritance, as a  sign of goodwill to her brothers. Tensions rose among the three brothers as they attempted to divide the properties, unsure of how to do so. Eventually, tensions reached a breaking point and a fight ensued, resulting in the case coming to the mediation center. At first, the brothers refused to speak with one another, each harboring bitter feelings for the others. Only their advocates spoke. The mediator requested that they bring in an additional neutral third party from their family to help facilitate the process. Each had great respect for their younger sister's husband, and over the next several sessions, they brought their brother in law to mediation.

In a tight room packed with three brothers, their advocates, their children, aunts, and uncles, it was a difficult task at first for the brother in law. It wasn't until several sessions in which all grievances - even those unrelated to the case - were aired that the relationships began to cool. As the tense emotions surrounding many sibling relationships were released, the bitterness the brothers held for one another began to ease, and they began to cooperatively look for solutions to their problems with the help of their brother in law and mediator. The two acted as a team, creating an environment that felt less like negotiation and more like a family discussion. Conflicts still rose, as they do in any family, but each was dealt with in time.

Each brother wanted a piece of the prime real estate as they felt it was the most valuable. The mediator and brother in law were able to get the brothers to move past money and focus on their interests, getting them to explain what they wanted out of life. One of the brothers disclosed that he simply wasn't interested in starting a business, and was open to letting the other two keep the prime property so that he may move into the residential property with his wife and two sons. However, he didn't want to be given an unequal share. The other two sympathized with this, and offered that they would split the market property and agree for their brother to receive a greater share of the material goods their father had left behind.

The entire group - brothers, sister, children, brother in law and mediator - traveled together to view the stock the father had left behind, to cooperatively work through who would take what; the settlement was drafted, and the relationship among the brothers repaired. They had cast aside sibling rivalries and bitter pasts to look towards the future.