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HBS Mediation opens in Hastings

HBS Mediation Services, a small divorce mediation business, opened its doors in a suite on the second level of the MidCountry Bank building in Hastings Jan. 1.

The office is quiet and unassuming, and there's only a small window label at the entrance of the building to let people know HBS is there. But the work done in that office can have a huge impact on the clients who go there.

"We give people tools to communicate," said Mike Burkel of Red Wing, a qualified neutral at HBS.

Burkel, along with Kathleen Henry of Hastings, started the business together.

"We've both seen what it's done to people and their divorces when they didn't have those services," Burkel said.

The services they provide help families going through a divorce communicate better and find resolutions that work well for all parties involved - especially the children.

"Our role ... is to help people understand that there is a way to do this that is beneficial to the children," Henry said.

She and Burkel explained that children will adapt to their family changes much more easily if there isn't a high level of parent conflict during and after the divorce process.

"The thing that stresses the kids is if the parents are fighting," Henry said.

Using a mediator allows couples to work out their differences without ignoring their history. That's something a court can't do, Henry said.

In court, she said, "25 years of history has just been decided on a bench."

Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice requires that those getting a divorce at least consider using alternative dispute resolution, or a qualified neutral mediation service. The services range in focus from property to parenting.

"We specialize in family mediation," Burkel said.

Not only does HBS work in divorce, but it also will take on clients who need help with other family conflicts. For example, Henry said, if a family needed help figuring out how to make a holiday gathering go smoothly in the face of a major family conflict, HBS could help. They also offer elder mediation services to those families having a difficult time working out their differences in the face of an older member's death.

"It's not therapy," Henry pointed out.

Mediators help people reach agreements with each other.

"We help people initiate different behaviors and actions that would help resolve a conflict," Henry explained.

Since HBS is still in its early stages, much of Henry and Burkel's time is spent marketing their services to the public. While judges and lawyers know about alternative dispute resolution, much of the general public does not, Burkel said.

As the business grows, Burkel and Henry's hopes are for the people they can help.

"My hope would be that people can learn that in the face of conflict there can be constructive resolution," Henry said.