Mediation isn’t appropriate for everybody. Where there has been a history of hurtful behavior, manipulation, domination, or threats of violence or actual violence, mediation may not be the best place for decisions to be made. Safety and balance of communication are essential in mediation. If you are afraid or feel intimidated, mediation may not be appropriate for you.
Is Mediation Right For You?
Have you ever been afraid of your partner or ex-partner?
Are you worried s/he would get back at you for something you might say or do in mediation?
Do you think it might be hard to stand up to your partner or ex-partner and say what you want or need or think?
If so, you are like thousands of other people going through divorce and custody cases each year. And, just like them, at some point in your case, you may be ordered to go to mediation to work out an agreement with your partner or ex-partner.
You need to know that you can ask the court for an excuse or waiver if you are afraid for your safety or you think your partner or ex-partner will control the mediation.
What is mediation?
A mediator helps people talk and listen to each other about what is important to them. Together, you and your partner decide what divorce or custody arrangements are best for you and your family. If you reach a final agreement, a judge will read it and can adopt it as the court’s decision.
If the court orders you to mediation:
- You don’t have to reach any agreement.
- You can end mediation at any time.
- You can leave at any time.
- You can ask the court for an excuse, or waiver, if mediation isn’t appropriate.
Why do some people decide to mediate?
Here are some reasons people said mediation is right for them:
“Even though my ex has been abusive, I know I can speak up and say what I want.”
“Having a trial could make things worse. He’s/She's never forgiven me for testifying against him/her last time.”
“I felt like it gave me a chance to have more control of our agreement, instead of letting a judge decide things for us.”
Why do some people decide NOT to mediate?
“He’s/She's such a sweet-talker, I know he’ll/she'll be running the show.”
“He’ll/She'll use it as a chance to do something to me: get back at me, put me down, corner me afterwards, follow me home, etc.”
“I don’t want to give him/her the chance to pressure me.”
“If I speak up and say what I think, he’ll/she'll get back at me or the kids.”
“I’m not sure that I can stand up to him/her if he/she just keeps trying to manipulate me and put me down. I’m stronger now, but he/she might wear me down.”
If some of the above are true for you, think carefully if you are still planning on going to mediation for the following reasons:
- If you want to mediate simply to save money.
- You think if you give your partner what he/she wants, he’ll/she'll leave you alone.
If any of the following things are true, mediation is likely to be dangerous:
- You are afraid you will be hurt, stalked, or harassed at the mediation or after it.
- Your partner has threatened you or threatened to commit suicide.
- Your partner can scare you into not speaking up for yourself and your needs.
What If I Decide I Want to Try Mediation?
Here are some things that might make mediation better for you:
- Work out a secret signal between you and the mediator that means, “Stop! I need a break!” The mediator can call for a break, so you don't have to. Or, you can ask for a break whenever you need one.
- Bring a crime victim advocate or some other support person to the location of the mediation. Talk with the mediator about this first. The advocate or support person cannot be with you in the mediation session with your partner or ex-partner. Your attorney can be with you if you have one.
- Plan with the mediator to arrive last and leave first.
- Try ‘shuttle mediation’ where you don’t have to be in the same room as your partner and the mediator goes back and forth between you. If you do a shuttle mediation, you can have a support person sitting with you if the mediator agrees.
- Before you go to the mediation, visit the place where it’s going to happen. Figure out where you want to sit, where the exits are, or anything else to make you feel comfortable.
- Be honest with the mediator about your concerns. S/he can’t help you if s/he doesn’t know what’s going on.
What if I Try It And It Doesn’t Work?
That’s okay. You or your partner can choose to stop the mediation if you think it isn’t working. The mediator can also stop the meeting if it seems unsafe or you can’t reach an agreement. Your case will then go back to a judge.
What If I Don’t Want to Mediate?
Let the mediator know your concerns. The court rule requires parents to attempt mediation if they cannot agree on the terms of a parenting plan. If mediation is not right for your case, you can request the court to waive mediation. If the court denies a waiver, safeguards such as those listed above can be implemented in your case.
What if there is a No Contact Order?
If you do want to mediate and there is a No Contact Order you can mediate as long as both parties agree to mediate. Under the court rule it is not a violation of a No Contact Order to participate in mediation.
Who can I talk to about this to help me decide?
Your attorney, the mediator, a counselor, or a staffperson at the local domestic violence program or shelter.
IN IOWA, CALL THE HOTLINE FOR FREE, 24-HOUR CONFIDENTIAL HELP OR ADVICE: 1-800-942-0333.