W.B. Goodwin Community Center

Monica writes :


My name is Monica and I’m writing to you on behalf of The W.B. Goodwin Community Center. I work with a group of girls from the local juvenile detention center and have to deal a lot with conflict between the girls and found your site very helpful http://www.austindrc.org/information-resources/links-resources.php

Earlier this week one of the girls at the detention center came across this page, dealing with conflict resolution and asked me to pass it along – http://www.complaintslist.com/dont-get-revenge-conflict-resolution-skills/

If it’s at all possible, could you incorporate her suggestion on your web page? I would like to show her (Kenya) that her efforts have reached others outside of the community and I notice a change in her for the better.

Thank you again for making such resourceful site. Let me know if you get a chance to update!



Kris Responds:

Kenya, one of the adolescents involved in the W.B. Goodwin Community Center’s outreach programs, has researched and shared the following article on Conflict Resolution Skills as an aid in learning more productive ways to handle conflict with others.  We happily share it with our public as well:


Thank you, Kenya!!  Keep up the good work!


Divorce Troubles

Lisa writes:

Hi Kris,

I was divorced in Hennepin County in December 2009. My Ex husband did not follow ANY of the orders. He was hiding my then 7 year old from visitation. The judge did nothing. He sold or burned all of my property. The judge did NOTHING. He stole and spend my middle childs education fund stolen from Social Security. He has successfully evaded court service for contempt. Nothing. He has not paid alimoney. Not a thing. I find where he is living. He moves. He was supposed to sell a motorcycle and give me half. This was in 2009. He still has it. He was supposed to take my name off the house and the truck. Nope.
I ended up with a fold up chair, my piano and a dresser not even a vehicle. He had the house rent free for over a year all the TV’s Tools, Nordic track, kichen appliances dining room set, couches, dishes pots cookware. plates, 4 Bedrooms of furniture. I didn’t even get a bed or a tv. Oh yea I still can’t afford a vehicle and he has 3. I contributed as much or more to the marriage than him. My parents gave me tens of thousands of dollars over the years and I made excellent money as a sales rep.

I have been trying to enforce the MTA since we were divorced. Family court in Hennepin county is a joke. I did finally get my child. They would not listen to me when I told them that he was a cocaine addict. Even after they caught him by a hair follicle test, they still left my daughter with him for 5 more months. Driving around all coked up and drunk.

I just got an email from the DMV regarding adding my name to the motorcycle title because it is in the court order. They told me because it was worded wrong I couldn’t do it.

Once, I did get a chance to tell the judge that he hadn’t paid the judgment for alimony. She asked him and he boldface lied and told the judge that he paid it and I should take the judgment off his record. She didn’t even ask for proof. I certainly don’t have proof for something I never recieved. It isn’t on my bank deposits. A simple request would have showed that he owes me over 4000.00 dollars, plus the Harley.

He is now underemployed and works under the table for a man I know. So he has not paid any child support. What a JOKE.

Either the judge is a complete idiot or the court doesn’t allow her to do her job. Either way there is NO justice at all in Hennepin county Family court. But not for friends and family I would literally be on the street. Really, I have nothing of value even to sell.

They are horrible. I should be moving on with my life yet I still have bad credit and no recourse or resources to tap into to get out of the hole I was thown in. My ex is the violator of the laws. He is a cocaine addict and abused all of my girls. CPS told me that I would have to have a picture of him snorting cocaine with my little girl in the picture in order for them to act. They are just as bad.

Judge Laurie Miller is the presiding judge.

Have any advice, Ill listen.


Kris Responds:

Hello, Lisa,

     It reads as though you have been experiencing tremendous personal pain in trying to move forward post – divorce.  Most of the problems cited in your letter are, at this point, legal matters, and your perspective is that the justice system has failed miserably in abating any of these struggles.  You state, you now have your daughter, (a relief I am sure), but you are not getting child support.  Finally, you hail from Hennepin County—with no state referenced.  Could this be Minnesota? 

Regardless, wherever the county is, getting some first rate legal advice for the legal issues cited is primary due to the extensive history and seriousness of the charges alleged within the cited issues.  In Texas (where our DRC is located), the Attorney General’s Office is quite dogmatic about child support and takes on that legal battle relieving warring post-divorce parents of the “ burden of the fight”.  Your child’s health, safety and general welfare are the most important issues here.  The reason you want to seek help in your home state is that there are variances from state to state regarding Family Law, and answers/help that you seek must adhere to those rules.

Once  the legal issues have subsided somewhat, then you, as parents, have the opportunity to look at how you can provide a stable, predictable and (ideally)  more cooperative parentingteam in the eyes of this child.  This is the most important gift parents can bestow upon a child—the security that they will be loved and cared for by their parents.  If parents are distracted with their own disputes, it is difficult if not impossible to send a believable message.  If both parents can commit to this vision of a functional, post-divorce parenting team, the child gets a double chance of hearing that message of love.  But one parent can do it, if the other is unwilling or unable to make and keep that promise.—either way, help will be needed.

That’s where mediation comes in.  Mediation is about helping parents take the first steps toward making good parents out of marginal ones—or excellent parents out of average ones.  Assuming we love our children and want the best for them, mediation is about how to commit to maximizing our abilities within our resources to do provide that love.  It is not about giving and taking advice, or therapeutic counseling, though those may be ultimate outcomes of a mediated session.  It is about taking that first step to stop giving our power to the fight and instead, redirect our power toward collaboration and problem solving. 

There are two sources in Minnesota that I will alert you to in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  They can refer you to the resources closer to you for any legal issues, and/or provide the services for any family mediation issues. 

These are:

Mediation Center
Dispute Resolution Institute
Hamline University
St. Paul. MM
Aimee Gourlay, Director


Conflict Resolution Center (a community mediation center like ours here in Texas)
Karmit Bulman, Executive Director


If you hail from a state other than MN, please note, and I’ll research similar resources for you there.  Luckily, most states including Hawaii and Alaska have community mediation services now…which allows most citizens, regardless of income to receive mediation services.

I hope these references will help you in your search for peace of mind.  It sounds like you and your daughter are definitely due for some.

Kind regards,


Divorce in Court

Is Court wrong place for Divorce?

Hennepin County Family Court Judge Bruce Peterson of Minneapolis wrote an editorial for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wherein he indicated that it was “time, perhaps, to get courts out of divorce.”

Judge Peterson stated recently that “the current system of family law may be beyond improvement.” He also stated, “it is amazing to me that the American public has put up with government officials dictating the most intimate details of their personal lives.

The worst feature of the current system is the conflict it generates. We call it an adversary system, but a better term would be a coercion system. The parties bash each other in order to persuade the judge to coerce the other person to do something they don’t want to do.

A wise friend of mine, a psychologist, once told me that the normal response of a healthy adult when faced with coercion is to resist. Sensing impending coercion, people often come to court defensive, anxious, with their heels dug in. Despite thoughtful, creative strides by Minnesota courts to reduce conflict, the specter of coercion still haunts divorce cases and promotes conflict. And it is conflict that hurts children, regardless of the custody label….

‘Suing for divorce’ made sense when divorce required proving fault. But with no-fault divorce, there is no need for courts to control divorces. After watching this process for years, I have come to the conclusion that the time has come to consider taking divorce out of the hands of lawyers and judges and putting it in the hands of the parties and whatever advisers they choose….”

SO, in the words from the Bench, consider mediation before litigation.


Masters in Conflict Resolution?

I am thinking about earning my masters in Conflict Resolution and Mediation beginning in the fall of 2012. The reason why I am emailing you is because your website and information came up when I was searching for mediators in the city of Austin.  Ihave a huge interest in mediation and especially in the area of family mediation. Earlier this year, I contemplated going to law school, but after looking into it further, the reason why I was interested in going was the mediation aspect. I then discovered shortly thereafter that Abilene Christian University has a wonderful Masters program online in conflict resolution/ mediation. People in the masters program told me that if I just get connected with mediators in Austin, it is very likely that I can squeeze my way into the family mediation field. I have also had the opportunity to talk to someone who is successful in the field and she said the best way is to try to connect with mediators in the area I am interested in working in.  It has come to my attention that mediation (without a law degree) is very tough (but doable). I wanted to get advice from experienced and successful mediators in Austin. Is earning a masters in mediation a career that I should put my time, energy, and money into? Or is something that is only part time? Mediation is something I can really see myself doing, but I have heard it doesn’t have a sustainable income for a career. Any knowledge and wisdom from someone in the field would be very much appreciated.


Kris Responds:


Thank you for your inquiry into the field.  You sound very enthusiastic and willing to learn from those in the field.  The advice given to you sounds solid, and I agree, you have your work cut out for you.  But strong family trained mediators are crucial to a healthy fabric of social and legal services provided to families in the modern world.  I, too, would suggest that you  talk to some private family mediators who do this professionally (i.e. for competitive pay) whether they are in private practice or work for a family service agency.  A next step after graduation would be an Advanced Family Mediation course—one that is approved by the Texas Mediator Trainers Roundtable.  There is one offered at this DRC in July as you may have noticed on the website.  Joining a local and state mediators’ organization such as Austin Association of Mediators and Texas Association of Mediators is critical.  Considering your stage in career, I would suggest that you consider a position in an agency that provides services to families such as Domestic Relations Office or Austin Child Guidance for example whereby you can get experience with case management of families in conflict and need of resources.  Your mediation training will be an asset to these services.  The likelihood of your being able to complete mediation training and hanging a shingle as a mediator and paying your living bills with revenue is remote.  Very few professionals make their living as a full time mediator and those who do have many years of professional experience in another market niche such as law, counseling or as a judge, for example.  They have built a reputation as a reliable neutral and have extensive referral networks spanning decades.  You might want to read through some of the past VoiceBox email inquiries as there are some valuable tidbits there that can possibly add to what I have responded to here.

Regardless of the challenges, the future of the field is wide open and it will take enthusiastic  new mediators to define its future.  I hope you are a leader in this endeavor, and I hope to meet you in the future.

Best of luck in your endeavors!




I need some direction.  I am very interested in dispute resolution and feel that it would be a good match for me and very rewarding.  I have planned but haven’t registered yet to take the Basic Mediation in August.  I work full time but I am trying to look to the future.  I love what I do, but I need a change.  The majority of the various organizations designed to promote private mediator practices (state and national) require a degree.  I don’t have a degree.  I enjoy volunteering and would exceed your requirements.  Realistically could I at some point turn this into a career without a degree?

Thank you for your help!

Kris Responds:


There are several posts in past VoiceBox entries that address much of what you are asking.  It might be beneficial to look back through and glean the pertinent responses for your situation.

I see this course as a life skills course with valuable tools to handle the conflict that arises in everyone’s life regardless of their station.  Some participants apply these tools to current work choices and find that it enhances their performance and opportunities for advancement.  Others, use it as an adjunct private practice to an already existing practice and, in alternative dispute resolution practices.  The latter are the most challenged in attaining their goals and, the field apperas to be the most competitive in this arena.  However, by far, the majority of participants seem to find applicability in a number of ways that enhances their job growth and expansion.  For instance, I was in hospital administration with a background in the social sciences.  I took the course and decided to embark on a career in Mediation.  I started here at the DRC as an Executive Director and through my efforts in Community Mediation non-profit management, have fulfilled my interests in the mediation field.  There are nineteen of these centers throughout Texas and many more in other states.  Many o fmy colleagues have chosen to work in a DRC and have been there for many years in various positions.  In for profit arenas, Customer Service departments are relying more on front line staff to have the skills to manage customer disputes.  These communication and problem solving skills within a conflict resolution framework are invaluable to the employer.

As far as volunteering, we always appreciate interested and skillful volunteers.  We tend to recruit from our own Forty Hour Basic Mediation Courses.  We also tend to recruit sporadically as many of our volunteers have been with us for twenty plus years.  It is a good opportunity to practice skills and different DRC’s throughout Texas require different criteria for volunteering… i.e. some require credentialing with the TMCA organization.

I hope to see you in the August class!


Discrimination civil suit

Looking for proper guidance:

I am trying to learn how to go about filing a civil suit against a N.P.O that i have been working for for the past 5 years as a director. The civil suit is about discrimination that has developed with my employer since April. I was told to sign a sheet of paper that said the past 5 years of my work was totally volunteer. I declined and since has been demoted and replaced. As i was told the reason for this action was because of my age and race. I am lost. What should my next step be?? I am looking for proper guidance.

Kris Responds:


Give the Equal Justice Center a call at:

510 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704-1738
(512) 474-0007

They help with labor issues, unfair treatment of workers and class action suit advice. If they are not the best option for this issue, then ask them for the appropriate legal referral.  The DRC doesn’t give legal advice on matters such as this.  It will, however, assist you in mediation efforts if you have a desire to talk further with the NPO before pursuing litigation.  If that is the case, give one of the case managers a call to set up a mediation at 371 0033.


Perfect attendance?

Inquiring minds want to know :

Does every member of a party have to be present in order to hold a scheduled mediation?  Our party has 3 members and one is unable to attend.

Kris Responds:


Not necessarily; but that is optimal.  It really depends on how crucial the absent party’s presence is to the agreement.  Some mediations are held with a party available by phone or other contact.  Some agree to a proxy representation.  Others may have some approval role but a non-participatory role. Here’s what can happen if a crucial party is not present:  the present parties can work through the various positions and interests represented by each and even address the interests of the absent party, but when it is agreement time, since the absent party wasn’t privy to the detail, they may or may not be able to ‘buy-in” to the final agreement and become a barrier to the implementation.  If the agreement is being approached in good faith, then all parties want to have input, involvement and some ‘say’ in how the process happens and its results.  But, in answer to your question, there are creative options other than all parties being in attendance.



Date: 1/06/2009

Posted by: Kris Donley

New to Mediation

New To The Field of Mediation asks:

What is your best advice, in addition to taking the DRC’s 40 hour basic course, you would give to one who is brand new to the field but interested in hitting the ground running?  Specifically, how does someone new to the field get cases and clients?  Is it typical for newbies to volunteer first and how can I find a mediation practice to join?

Thanks so much!


Kris Responds:

Hi, Nicole:

My best advice is to critically review your past experience and your current strengths.  If you were an established professional in another field before you sought Mediation training; then what was it about that field that drew your interest and what skills and talents did you glean from it?

Drawing upon that background, develop a niche for facilitating disputes within that arena.

The dubious positive about our field is that no profession can claim to dominate a market on conflict leaving the applicability of one’s talent a wide berth within which to practice.  If you worked with children, conflicts abound in higher education, specialty needs and the social services such as adoption.  If it was a business background, consider commerce related mediation …i.e. customer disputes,  BBB complaints (they use mediators for referrals).  If you’ve an administrative background, certainly public and private agencies have witnessed the benefit of those trained in dispute management on their staffs or on contract.

Volunteering gives you experience in areas you might not otherwise have had the opportunity to obtain.  It is an on-going training ground, keeping skills fresh, and providing a gratifying way in which to give back to the community.  It is not likely to generate referrals for you due to the low profile, confidentiality of the process.  Joining those organizations designed to promote private mediator practices (state and national) as well as being involved in civic, church and other community groups and marketing your niche skills are the things that I hear from those private mediators who have established a presence for themselves.  Many of these practitioners train, consult, write, teach and/or do other jobs by the way.   I hope this helps.  If you check back through the Voice Box Q and A, you will find similarly worded questions and responses that are even more detailed.

Good luck!


Earnest refund

A New Home Owner asks:

My husband and I moved to Austin a little over a year ago from Dallas where we lived for 26 years. We are two level headed people who may have made a terrible mistake when looking to buy a home here in Austin. After looking for months we thought it would be best to build a home. Back on July 13, 2008 we entered into a contract to build a new home with Ryland Homes and put down $5,000.00 in earnest money. We should have listen to our instinct that this was not right for us to do since the Sales Counselor was extremely pushy. Within the week we went to the design center to determine the price list giving to us by the Sales Counselor was incorrect. The upgrades where going to be close to $40,000.00.  One week from the date we signed the contract we decide this was not a good deal for us and told the Sales Counselor we did not want to pursue and we request the earnest money to be reimbursed. Nothing was done on the property no permits, no survey, not even a sold sign was placed on the property. On August 8, 2008 we received a letter from the Controller of Ryland Homes stating they would hold our money in escrow up to a year to apply to the purchase of a Ryland Home at a later date but they would not refund any part to us. We have tried to contact the Controller on several occasions to talk with him about reimbursement of the earnest money but we cannot get him to return our calls. We sent an e-mail to the Sales Counselor in regards to our concern and he told us he could not help us and he would forward our e-mail to the Controller. We have heard nothing in regard to our concerns.

We have learned a very expensive lesson.

Is this a matter your organization could assist us with? Any
consideration would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.


Kris Responds:

Hello Kathryn:

What a frustrating experience!  We provide mediations to parties involved in disputed earnest money frequently.  Often agreements are worked out with some or all monies returned.  Other times, parties ‘dig in’ and are unable to reach a solution.   What we can do is give you a chance to try an inexpensive alternative solution.  It will require a call by you to one of our case managers who will proceed to set a date and time with a qualified mediator; then they will contact the Home Builders Company to solicit their willingness to participate.  It is a voluntary process and does not usurp either yours or the Builder’s right to proceed to court.  However, mediation is often a more successful, satisfying and certainly much less expensive option to try.  (If you live in Travis County, the entire mediation will only cost you $35.00)

Give the case managers a call at 371-0033 and let them do their best.

Thank you for writing and good luck!!


Mediation Training with a full time job

Inquiring Professionals want to know :

How do people do mediation training if they already have full time jobs? Is there another route? Does masters education count for any credit?



Kris Responds:

Hello Ronald,

Thank you for even considering our training program. Like any other specialized education or training program in a given field, a working adult has to make very difficult–sometimes seemingly impossible decisions relating to their priorities. It ‘s the state statute that requires the
Forty Hours of Classroom instruction, and the market that determines when and where these take place. While alternative schedules have been attempted (i.e. consecutive weekends and night classes), the overwhelming majority of participants have preferred to take time off from their jobs and use the work week when resources and structure are available for their children and other responsibilities. We try to make this palatable by splitting the training between two work weeks to allow for professionals to tend to their office demands during the training. Since most workplaces benefit from employees who have received this training, enlightened supervisors have supported such priorities and, in many cases, pay for all or part of the training.

You ask about graduate degree credit. There are now graduate degrees in Conflict Resolution and several programs that now incorporate the equivalent of a Forty Hour Basic Mediation Course. If the outline of such a course meets the statutory requirement, then credit is often granted to a candidate who is applying for volunteer credentials through the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association (TMCA).
More often, however, we mediators hail from fields that are related or familiar with conflicts
such as the social sciences, law, the clergy, public policy and/or service, but are trained as advocates within those fields. This course re-orients a specialist from a particular field to a more generalized and coached practice as a neutral. Those that can struggle the most with this subtle but powerful shift are often the best and brightest from their respective fields. This is why the additional training is required, and why it is considered a completely separate set of skills and philosophy.

In spite of the logistical challenges, overwhelmingly, participants claim that it was the BEST training they have ever received, and the financial and time investment were well worth the experience. I regret we can’t make it easier those with difficult work demands, but I very much hope to see you in a future class.