How Does a Dominant Emotionally Abusive Spouse Affect a Divorce Mediation?

As an attorney mediator, I believe it is my responsibility to not allow a dominant, emotionally-abusive spouse to control how a mediation session is conducted or the flow of discussions occurring within the mediation session.  Both parties must have an opportunity to be heard without being interrupted or controlled by the other party in the mediation.

I have had emotionally abusive individuals who have dominated conversations with their Dwayne Wager, Esq: How Does a Dominant Emotionally Abusive Spouse Affect a Divorce Mediation?spouses for years attempt to exert the same control in our mediation sessions.  It is imperative that the controlling conduct not be permitted to proceed within the mediation session.  In this situation, I view part of my responsibility as a mediator to ‘level the playing field’ by not permitting the abusive spouse to dominate the discussions occurring within the mediation.  Additionally, I instruct the abusive spouse to direct their comments to me and not at their spouse and ensure that each party has adequate time to express their respective positions and concerns without being intimidated and/or interrupted by the other party to the mediation.

Handling an abusive spouse is critical to the success of a divorce mediation.  If the playing field is not maintained as reasonably balanced as possible by the mediator, the emotionally abusive individual would likely dominate discussions and intimidate their spouse.  Without a ‘safe haven’ to work within and the opportunity to be heard to express their respective positions and feelings, the mediated resolution to issues of custody, child support, visitation, and equitable distribution of marital property would likely be skewed in favor of the dominant spouse.

My experience has demonstrated that even in extreme cases where Orders of Protection have been issued in the past or contemporaneously during the mediation process, the mediation can succeed as long as the parties are given the opportunity and time to express their true feelings and positions regarding the issues under discussion.  The abusive spouse must respect the ‘safe haven’ within the mediation that is created by the mediator and they must be required to adhere to a standard of mutual respect that will permit the parties to candidly and honestly discuss the many issues that need to be resolved in order to successfully conclude the mediation.

Indeed, it may be that it is only within the ‘safe haven’ of the mediation session that the spouses can communicate at all.  Emotions and ongoing abuse can degrade a relationship to the point that only with the assistance of an experienced mediator can the parties effectively communicate at all.  Assisting couples to engage in productive communication even when the odds are against them, given years of dominance and emotional abuse, has been extremely professionally rewarding to me.

Should you have any questions regarding the divorce mediation process, please visit my website at li-divorcemediation.com for more information and/or contact me at dwagner@li-divorcemediation.com.

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