A new law will prevent automatic mediation in family law cases where one party has a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against another. The court can still order mediation if requested by a party protected by a PPO. This is a victory for victims of domestic abuse. I am optimistic that the passage of this law reflects our increasing knowledge and sensitivity to the needs of a party who is the victim of domestic violence.
In divorces where a PPO has been issued, mediation could put pressure on the party protected by the PPO to agree to a settlement they may later regret. During mediation the parties are normally in separate rooms with their respective attorneys, with the mediator shuttling between the rooms trying to negotiate a settlement. Notwithstanding this physical separation, the drafters of the new law seem to recognize that an abused party may still feel fearful and incapable of standing up to the settlement demands of their abusive spouses.
Bypassing mediation in family law cases involving domestic violence, however, may have some unintended negative consequences in practice. Almost all divorce cases are settled without the need for trial. Many of these settlements are achieved during mediation. If a judge’s docket is burdened by a large increase in divorce cases going to trial because they issued a PPO and therefore no mediation was conducted, I worry this could have a chilling effect on the issuance of PPO’s in divorce cases. It may also pose a financial burden on parties who will now have to pay their attorneys to take the case through the trial, when it might have otherwise settled.
Notwithstanding this, I believe the new law gives victims of domestic abuse more power and control in their divorce cases. It moves us in the right direction of helping the holder of the PPO end their marriage, hopefully without feeling additionally victimized in the process.