Periodically, my daughters send me an article they think I will be interested in. My younger daughter recently sent me an article from Slate by Mary Adkins entitled, “Breaking Up Is Hard Enough To Do Why don’t courts offer mediation to victims of domestic violence getting a divorce?” You can see the entire article at http://www.slate.com/id/2246708/ Ms. Adkin’s premise is “Domestic violence brings women to court seeking protective orders … (b)ut when women who say they’ve been beaten up try to end their marriages, they find themselves at a disadvantage. In family court, they probably won’t be offered mediation—the cheaper, less antagonistic alternative to litigation.”
Ms. Adkins makes a strong case for divorce mediation when she say, “It costs less than litigation—couples save upward of 40 percent in attorney’s fees. It does not require lawyers. And it’s faster, saving money for the state as well. More important, research has shown that mediation leads to less bitterness, keeping the period of conflict short, which is better for children. Research also suggests it yields better outcomes for both parties, though better in different ways—women get more property and more financial support, while men are more likely to get shared custody or more visitation time with children.”
She goes on to quote Oregon’s “plan and protocol” for dealing with victims which states that “when domestic violence is present among parties in a dispute, the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control over the victim is inconsistent with the method and objective of mediation. Fear of the abuser may prevent the victim from asserting needs.”
In essence she feels that evaluative mediation works better in cases of domestic violence than facilitative mediation. She contrasts facilative mediation where, “The mediator does not offer opinions or recommendations. His limited role, in the face of a gross power disparity, can leave victims vulnerable to bargaining away financial support, assets, even custody, all out of fear.” This compares to evaluative mediation where the “mediators are more active. Trained to attend to power imbalances, they offer opinions on fairness and predict how a case will play out at trial. The mediator is charged with preventing exploitative agreements, and the statistics about satisfaction and outcome suggest they do a pretty good job. All agreements coming out of mediation are reviewed by a judge. And in cases with a history of violence, states can mandate shuttling—where the parties sit in separate rooms—rather than face-to-face meetings.”
Domestic violence is always a challenging issue for mediators. Some mediators won’t mediate a case with domestic violence. We try to screen for it but I am not sure we always are made aware of it. If we do find it, we always question the party further to make sure the party feels safe and can participate in the mediation without feeling intimidated. If we decide to mediate, we will stop the mediation at anytime we feel domestic violence is effecting the process. When I did domestic violence training, I remember the instructor talking about the “look.” It was classical conditioning. The spouse only had to hit the other spouse once. After that the spouse only had to give the other spouse the “look.” It is like an invisible fence for dogs. In retrospect, I realize that I have been doing more evaluative mediation in divorce mediation cases where domestic violence is an issue. I believe divorce cases where there has been domestic violence can be mediated but it takes a highly skilled and trained mediator whois using the right style of mediation.
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