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Why mediation isn’t usually ideal when emotional abuse is a concern

On Behalf of | Mar 29, 2024 | Mediation |

Over the past few decades, divorce and child custody mediation has become increasingly popular. This alternative to litigation is often heralded for its ability to reduce conflict and promote amicable solutions. However, in situations where emotional abuse is a concern, mediation may not be the ideal path.

Emotional abuse, characterized by attempts to control, intimidate or diminish the other person’s sense of self-worth, can create a power imbalance that makes fair negotiation difficult, if not impossible, even with a mediator present. 

Power imbalance concerns

Mediation thrives on the assumption that both parties can voice their opinions and concerns freely and negotiate from a position of relative equality. Emotional abuse disrupts this balance, leaving the victim in a vulnerable position. An abuser can use manipulation tactics during mediation to intimidate or coerce the other party into conceding to unfair terms, under the guise of reaching an agreement.

Mediators, no matter how skilled, may not be fully equipped to recognize or address the subtle dynamics of emotional abuse. Traditional mediation training focuses on conflict resolution and negotiation, not on identifying psychological abuse or its impacts on the negotiation process. As a result, important decisions regarding divorce or child custody may not fully account for the history of abuse and its effects on the victim and children involved.

Finally, participating in mediation can also be traumatic for victims of emotional abuse. Being in a controlled setting with the abuser, even if a mediator is present, can trigger anxiety, fear and stress, compromising the victim’s ability to advocate for their own needs and those of their children. This environment may inadvertently re-expose victims to manipulative and controlling behaviors.

In cases involving emotional abuse, more structured legal processes can provide the protections and support victims need. Seeking personalized legal guidance is a good way to learn more.