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Child Custody Mediation in Cases of Domestic Violence: Empirical Evidence of a Failure to Protect

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 11 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2005 Pages: 1022-1053
Date Published
August 2005
32 pages

This study evaluated outcomes of child custody mediation in cases involving domestic violence.


Mediation for child custody disputes in the United States is used in all 50 States. Several State governments that require judges to mandate mediation have realized that in cases involving domestic violence (DV), mediation may not be in the best interests of the victims or the children and, therefore, have either prohibited mediation in these cases or allowed victims to be exempt from or to opt out of the requirement. The issue in this study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice is whether mediation results in better or poorer outcomes of children when there is DV than when there is none. The study sample was comprised of 200 randomly selected non-DV reports and 200 randomly selected DV reports from a family court in Southern California. Domestic violence was determined through documentation in the file or through detection by the mediator. Of the 200 DV mediations, there were 163 mediations in which the mediator had clear indicators of DV. The study empirically evaluated outcomes and found that mediators often failed to recognize and report DV even when there were clear indicators of DV. Also, the court screening form very often failed in signaling the existence of abuse. To the extent that the court relies on the mediator’s report, the intent of the legislature that the court assess and address DV is not well served. In addition, legal and physical custody arrangements stemming from mediation resulted in poor outcomes for victims of DV. The results indicate that the ability of mediators to focus on the best interest of the children is called into question. It is becoming clear that mediation is not effective in custody disputes involving families with histories of DV. Tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2005