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Family Disputes Resolution Service Will Increase Risk

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Family Disputes Resolution Service Will Increase Risk To Victims Of Domestic Abuse

The new Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service, part of changes to the Family Court announced by the Minister of Justice last week, will increase the risk of further abuse to many women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

14 August 2012: According to the Ministry of Justice, “Some types of disputes will not be suitable for FDR. For example, where there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse, where a party’s safety could be at risk, a significant power imbalance exists, or due to illness or disability.”

According to Shine spokesperson Holly Carrington, “It is commendable that the Ministry acknowledges that this process is unsuitable in cases of domestic violence. However, the Ministry’s proposal will not be safe because it relies on parties themselves to disclose the presence of domestic abuse, which often does not happen. For this process to be introduced safely, there must also be a robust system for screening incoming cases for domestic violence.”

Half of all Care of Children cases heard in the Family Court involve domestic violence. According to the Ministry of Justice Family Court review document, “of a sample of 173 Care of Children Act 2004 Cases … 51 per cent had concurrent domestic violence proceedings , while 72 per cent had allegations of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.”

There are certain to be many Family Court cases that involve historical or ongoing domestic abuse of which the Court is unaware. Victims may not offer this information for many reasons -- the victim may still not understand or acknowledge that she/he is being abused, or the victim may have made a conscious decision to keep this information private from the Court out of fear that the offender will retaliate.

Holly Carrington states, “These victims will, at best, not be helped by being forced to go through a Dispute Resolution Service, and at worst, will be put at greater danger. Mediation only works fairly when both parties are able to assert their own interests in the presence of the other party. This is rarely the case for a victim of domestic abuse sitting in the same room as her abuser.” Women who have experienced abuse are often very fearful of their partners. This fear will constrain their ability to participate freely. When a victim is brave enough to speak her mind, there is huge potential for retaliatory violence.

Also, in these situations, a victim is likely to negotiate for what she can get, rather than what she actually believes is in her best interest and that of her children. Abusive partners also often use these processes to pressure victims to reconcile with them. And professionals who facilitate these processes generally lack specialist domestic violence training and experience, and are unlikely to identify domestic abuse if they are not aware of its existence in the relationship. Without knowing it is happening, they are more likely to collude with abusers throughout the process.

For more information: Shine’s submission on the Family Court Review earlier this year: http://2shine.org.nz/library/Documents/Shine%20submissions/familycourtreviewsubmissionfeb2012.pdf

“When Negotiating is not a Fair Fight” – article from Shine’s June 2012 newsletter, and following articles with case studies: http://www.2shine.org.nz/negotiating-not-fair




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