Social Science Update: Are mediation agreements an appropriate divorce tool in families with a history of intimate partner violence?
In 2012, social scientists did a study to examine mediated agreements in initial divorces, paternity cases, and post-divorce modifications. The study looked at intimate partner violence in the context of these mediated agreements.
The study found that there were no statistically significant differences between families with and without a history or intimate partner violence when it came to an agreement for joint legal custody or an agreement for physical custody. In regards to parenting time, 10% of parents with a history of intimate partner violence and 16% of parents without intimate partner violence left the decision up to mutual agreement. Supervised parenting time was agreed upon in 7% of agreements but this supervision was not connected to a history of intimate partner violence. Agreements in families with a history of intimate partner violence were more likely to include specific arrangements regarding child exchanges, restrictions on discipline, physical punishment, parental substance abuse, and referrals for counseling.
The findings of this study could lead to some criticism of mediation in families that have experienced intimate partner violence. There is some concern about whether intimate partner victims are able to make agreements that adequately protect themselves and their children. This raises the question of whether families with a history of intimate partner violence would fare any better if they went to court rather than to mediation.
Most mediators would agree that it is better for parents to go to mediation because they are in the best position to make decisions in the interests of their children. The mediation setting may be the most appropriate even when there are issues of intimate partner violence. Often certain accommodations, such as staggered arrival and departure times, proceedings in separate rooms, and being assisted by a support person, are available in a mediation setting and are not always available in the courtroom setting.