Divorce, Domestic Violence and Mediation

This post is written by Abigail C. Barnes with the Alford Law Office.  Abbie is a former director of the McCracken County Child Support Office, former Domestic Violence Prosecutor and former Felony Offense Public Advocate.

 It has been said that going through a divorce is one of the top five stressors in a person’s life.  Add abuse, whether physical or emotional, to the mix and the stress becomes heightened to the point of being dangerous.  In fact, when the abused party is trying to untangle themselves from a toxic relationship,  that is statistically the most dangerous time he or she has to face.  Domestic violence is about power and control.  As anyone who has undergone a divorce would know, a divorce alone leaves you feeling powerless to control your circumstances at best.  If domestic violence is an issue, then usually the abuser fights harder for the upper hand, while the abused party is faced with abuse at a heightened rate.

Mediation is an amazing tool to help an individual going through a divorce maintain some control over what happens.  Mediation is a guided negotiation with a knowledgeable and unbiased party at the helm, helping both parties reach an agreement that satisfies them both.  However, throw the dynamic of domestic violence into the mix, and the negotiations have the tendency to become volatile and one sided.

As a former Domestic Violence Prosecutor, I have seen first hand the affects that domestic violence and abuse have on an individual who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.  Many times, the abuser will expertly manipulate the abused to reach their desired result.  Their end game being to assert their power and control over the situation, thus getting what they want at the expense of the other party.

Fortunately, the courts have recognized this as a significant issue, and many jurisdictions, including Kentucky, prohibit mediation in cases where a Domestic Violence Order (“DVO”) has been entered.  Unfortunately, however, many acts of domestic violence go unreported, thus leaving the court with no knowledge of how ordering parties to mediation may affect the negotiations.  It is not uncommon to have an abused party, who for whatever reason, has not reported the abuse, or who has reported it but did not follow through with charges or a DVO.  In these cases, if the abused party remains silent, they could be sent to mediation and placed into a situation that allows the abuser to maximize his/her power and control over the situation, thus manipulating the abused into a one-sided agreement.  The significance of this can be even more dramatic if there are children involved.

If you find yourself in the situation where you are involved in court proceedings against an individual who has routinely abused you, either physically or emotionally, the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to hire an attorney who understands that dynamic and fully inform them of your circumstances.  Silence truly is your enemy.  Do not remain silent in situations that have the potential to affect your future.  Speak up.  Tell your attorney so that special precautions can be made to protect you from being further intimidated at the negotiating table.


Photo courtesy of Jane Fox

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