Domestic violence (also known as intimate partner abuse, or IPA) is prevalent in the news these days – and it is unbelievably prevalent in society. One out of four women will experience it in her lifetime!
What is IPA? Not just physical violence. It is about power and control, and may take the form of financial or psychological control, threats, or controlling relationships with friends or family. It can occur in same-sex relationships as well as in opposite sex relationships.
Is divorce mediation a viable option when IPA is present? Wise people have had differing thoughts. Some say that mediation can never work where there is IPA, because there are inherent power imbalances, and therefore the survivor will never have a true voice. Others say that the survivor should not be punished twice – by experiencing the violence and then being told she cannot mediate. The current wisdom is that the survivor should be the one to decide. After all, she is the expert on her own situation – no one else knows it as well.
If you are in an abusive relationship but think mediation would be beneficial, how can you make the mediation experience safer?
- Get a lawyer. While this might seem ironic, it is important to have a mediation-friendly attorney who you can consult with during the mediation process, and who can help you evaluate whether mediation is right for you.
- Work with a mediator who has domestic violence training and expertise. It is important that your mediator can read signs and take steps to keep you safe.
- Speak up. Make sure your mediator knows what has happened, and about your concerns. Remember, you can always ask for a private meeting (caucus) with the mediator if you do not feel safe speaking up in front of your partner.
- Create a safety plan for mediation sessions – make sure you are safe coming to and leaving your meetings, and that you will be safe at home afterward.
- Ask to set ground rules in the sessions that will make you feel safer.
- Make sure you have the support you need – whether it is by bringing a friend or advocate with you, or by calling someone afterward.
- Stay away from blame. Use these sessions to plan the future, not to review the past
- Don’t agree to things that will make you (or your children) unsafe. Make sure you can live with the things you are agreeing to.
- Make sure you have your agreement reviewed by your attorney before you sign it. Your attorney’s job is to make sure that you understand every word of your agreement, that the agreement is fair, and that it will not put you or your loved ones in danger.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be honest with yourself- think about whether you can really speak up for yourself freely in the presence of your abuser. Realize that mediation may not be the best process option for you in this situation. And if this is so, understand that it is not your fault.