Mediating the Unspeakable

6 May

Whenever I speak about mediation, I explain that it is an empowering process. Why?  Because it allows people self-determination in reaching a resolution that works for them.

How does that relate to unspeakable acts of violence?

montanaFor the answer, we need to look north to that state of Montana where last week, the Governor signed a bill  that allows victims of domestic violence the power to choose whether they want to use mediation in family law cases.

A 2011 Montana Supreme Court decision ruled that there was “an absolute bar to mediation when the court finds a reason to suspect abuse” … either physical or emotional.

The idea, when the law was passed, was to “shield” the victim from the abuser.

A coalition of domestic violence and mediation organizations and judges felt that the law “re-victimized” the survivors of domestic violence by robbing them of the way to choose how to resolve disputes with their abusers. In other words, disempowering them.

Mediators who work with these domestic violence cases must receive specialized training. For example, an important issue addressed in training is power imbalances – the exact issue that the Montana was trying to protect the victim from.  Also, an important note is that domestic violence itself is NOT an issue to be mediated!! Issues such as parenting plans, visitation and custody are what’s on the table.

I know that mediation isn’t right for everyone or every dispute, but Montana took the right approach in letting the domestic violence victim decide whether it’s right for him or her – perhaps giving them back some of the power that the violent acts took away.





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