At Family Mediation North East, we receive a number of calls from people who are or who have experienced Domestic Abuse. Will they be safe in mediation? Do they have a choice? What will happen?
We are strongly committed to ensuring that survivors of Domestic Abuse have the same opportunities as anyone else: good quality information which enables them to make decisions about the best way forward for them and their families.
Domestic abuse usually occurs in intimate or family-type relationships and the majority of those affected are women and children. Women’s Aid estimates that at least 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 experience it annually, even though only half of the incidents are reported to the police.
Domestic Abuse does not automatically rule out mediation. Many relationships can get heated at the point of separation. Leaving an abusive relationship and getting good support can change the dynamic and empower survivors to be able to stand their ground in mediation. Where mediation can safely proceed, the outcomes are positive and lasting for both parents and children.
The Family Mediation Council’s position is that “Even where there is a history of domestic violence, mediation can still be very effective. The presence of a skilled mediator in the room can ensure you get your views heard on important issues such as future contact arrangements. But the decision to try mediation should be made carefully and in conjunction with your mediator, with your safety the prime concern. ”
Before mediation starts, you will be invited to an individual and confidential appointment without your ex-partner present. This is the Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Your attendance is voluntary. Legal Aid is available and mediation is free if you qualify.
We never disclose information about you or tell your ex when your appointment is. During the MIAM meeting, the mediator will always explore with you any Domestic Abuse issues and whether you can be kept safe and comfortable in mediation. Where we can’t proceed or you don’t want to mediate, we will be able to offer you valuable information about support services, legal aid for advice and support in any court proceedings, and alternatives to mediation. There will be no pressure put on you.
The MIAM meeting is an opportunity to really think through your experiences and the choices available to you in a safe and confidential setting. The mediator will talk to you about your situation and ask questions that are relevant to your particular circumstances.
What if I don’t want to talk about my experiences?
At Family Mediation North East we understand how difficult it is for any survivor of abuse to disclose their experiences and you will never be under any pressure to talk about things unless you want to. You stay in control of the information you decide to share; this is voluntary at all times. If you don’t want to talk about particular things, you can just tell us that; we will still be happy to give you information about your options and about support services.
If you do feel comfortable to talk, the mediator will explore with you some of the following issues, depending on whether they are relevant to your particular circumstances:
Are there patterns of power and control? Being away from an abusive partner may have led you to feel able to stand your ground now. Or it may be that you still feel intimidated and vulnerable to manipulation. If there is a significant imbalance of power that we don’t feel we could manage, we will explain to you that mediation is unsuitable at present and talk with you about other options. However, if you are feeling stronger, we can explore with you what we could do to help you have your say and have your views heard in mediation.
Has your ex acknowledged the abuse and taken any steps to address the issues or shown a willingness to do so? Is your ex accepting any responsibility? What needs to happen for you to feel confident that things have changed? Are there any contributing factors such as drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues, and are these being addressed? Does your ex acknowledge the impact on the children and show any commitment to protecting them in future?
Is there a realistic chance that mediation will work and is there any risk that your ex will use the mediation sessions to abuse you further? For example, is your ex likely to stick to any arrangements you agree? In property and finance mediation, will your ex be open in disclosing financial information? How have you resolved disputes in the past and can you think of times when you have done this successfully together?
Are you feeling strong enough and are there any safe arrangements that can be made? Have you had any support? What support do you need? Can your children be kept safe from conflict and harm? What support do you have around you both, for example, family members that might be able to help with safe arrangements?
The mediator will signpost you to Support Services and, if relevant, will tell you about Legal Aid available through the Domestic Violence Gateway. Mediation is always voluntary, so you are not committing to mediation by attending an individual MIAM meeting. We will help and support you, whether or not mediation goes ahead.
Where there are patterns of abuse, mediation may not be suitable. Nor is mediation likely to be suitable where there is active risk, though it may be so at a future time if risk can be reduced and managed.
Where you do decide to proceed with mediation, we have a standard arrangement for you to arrive and leave at separate times. There are separate waiting areas, so you will never need to be sitting in the waiting room with your ex or to be alone with them at any time. A mediator will be with you throughout the mediation session.
We can help you with some difficult situations. For example:
What if I want to mediate but can’t be in the same room with my ex? If it is not sufficiently safe and comfortable for you to be in the same room, we can use shuttle mediation if needed. This means you are in separate rooms and do not need to come into face to face contact. The mediator goes from room to room between you to carry out your negotiations.
Can we mediate if there is an injunction in place? This of course depends on whether you want to mediate and whether we can keep you safe. If you do, and we can, then we can talk you through how to seek a variation of the conditions to allow mediation to proceed.
What if there are child protection issues? Again, this depends on your willingness to mediate, your safety and the safety of children. Ofsted Serious Case Reviews identify that there is a high correlation between domestic abuse and child abuse, particularly when there are additional problems of mental ill-health and drug and alcohol misuse within a family. Where there are unaddressed risks to you or your children, we will support you to get the services you need and we may need to report concerns to Social Services. This is one of the very few exceptions to the confidentiality that we offer you. If the risks are significant and ongoing, it is unlikely that we will be able to mediate until the risks have been addressed.
Where Social Services are already involved and it appears we may be able to proceed, we will seek your permission to speak with them before mediation starts so that you know in advance what social services see as safe boundaries. As an example, we recently carried out mediation where Social Services advised that only supervised contact was permissible. Within these boundaries, the family members were able to come up with a safe, workable and child focused plan that they were all happy with.
What if court proceedings are ongoing or there is already a court order in place? In mediation, we are able to work with families at any stage of legal proceedings, be it before, during or after court involvement. Where court proceedings are ongoing, the court will usually be happy to adjourn to enable parents to come into mediation, unless there are reasons why mediation seems unsuitable, such as child protection issues.
Where court proceedings have already taken place or where there is a Court Order in force, parents can come into mediation to discuss any variations to the order that might be needed as their own circumstances or the child’s needs change over time. Then, if needed, they can apply to the court by consent to have the order varied; this is a much simpler, cheaper and quicker process than ironing out any disputes in court.
Mediation will go at your pace and you will stay in control at all times. Mediation is voluntary throughout so you can withdraw at any point if you do not feel it is working for you.
At the end of mediation, we produce a written record of the decisions you have made in mediation. If you want to make this legally binding, we will explain how you can do this. Through the Help with Mediation Scheme, there is some Legal Aid funding available for Legal Aid for those who are eligible. This enables you take legal advice alongside Children Mediation and Property and Finance Mediation and there is some additional funding to make Property and Finance decisions legal binding.
If you have any questions, call us on 01670 528441 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will speak directly to a mediator and the call will be free and confidential.