Elder Abuse

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there a law or work on a law regarding couples involved in domestic violence requiring them to seek counseling separately. Or, more specifically, if doing counseling with a couple when domestic violence is apparent, are therapists then required to refer to separate therapists for the individuals of the couple?

Answer: A.R.S § 25-403.03(G) forbids the court to order joint counseling between a victim and the perpetrator of domestic violence. The law adds, "The court may refer a victim to appropriate counseling and shall provide a victim was written information about available community resources related to domestic violence."

The Arizona rules of family law procedure offer some protection for domestic violence survivors. For example, Rule 67(B)(3) states: "In a proceeding concerning custody or parenting time of a child, if an order of protection is in effect involving the parties where there is a finding by the court of any conduct that would form the basis for an order of protection, the court may order mediation or refer the parties to mediation only if there are policies and procedures in place to protect the victim from harm, harassment, or intimidation."

Rule 68(B), which governs mediation in the context of Conciliation Court Services, says much the same thing. In fact, the court or conciliation services may deem mediation inappropriate for reasons such as parental unfitness, substance abuse, mental incapacity, domestic violence, or other good cause.

In addition to these statutes and rules, behavioral scientists have increasingly recognized the impropriety of joining couples into counseling when one has suffered domestic violence at the hands of the other. Unfortunately, not every therapist understands this. Some erroneously believe that "couples counseling" or "anger management" therapy are easy answers to domestic violence and should be explored.

Most true domestic violence experts will say that domestic violence has nothing to do with "communication issues" or an offender's inability to "control anger." Batterers generally hurt their spouses because they believe they are entitled to do so, not because they suffer from an inability to control their emotions. (Otherwise, they would behave the same way in public, and with everyone, not just their spouses!)

Many domestic violence survivors have also reported feeling pressured to negotiate or mediate with their spouses during the course of a divorce, even when they disclosed to the authorities that domestic violence existed in their relationship. There are lots of reasons for this. It could be that the mediator simply didn't take the disclosure seriously, and felt like the case should be resolved in a straightforward manner. It may also be that, even though the mediator took the disclosure seriously, he or she still believed that a settlement was still appropriate and possible. (This often occurs in the context of divorce cases that involve only property and debt division, without any child custody or parenting time issues.)

Finally, it may be that the court employee didn't recognize some of the intimidating, nonverbal cues displayed by the batterer during mediation sessions simply because he or she had never lived with the batterer, and was not familiar with his unique way of taking care of business.

If you find yourself in the position of being ordered to attend mediation or conciliation services appointments with your batterer, it is better to obey the court order, while still remembering a few simple rules:

First, make it crystal clear to the court and any mediator that you are a victim of domestic violence, and that you object to the proceeding. (The court may overrule your objection and order the meeting anyway, but at least you will have made the record clear.)

Second, if the violence was severe enough, you should explicitly ask the court and mediator to take the remedial steps required by the rules of family law procedure (stated above) to assure your protection while you are present at the appointment. This could include the posting of a security guard outside the door of the office while you are meeting with the batterer and the mediator. It could also involve asking for an escort to your car when you arrive at (and depart) the session. You might even want to consider asking the mediator for a time limit on the session so that you are not forced to endure a lengthy stretch of time, sitting in a room with someone who has seriously hurt you before.

Most importantly, please remember that while it is good to be reasonable and fair in your negotiations (in fact, it is expected of you!), you are not *obligated* to agree to anything, or to sign anything, especially if you feel unfairly pressured by the mediator or your spouse.

There is no shame in temporarily saying no to a settlement offer, and taking the time afterwards to consult with an attorney and agree to the terms later. It is almost always better to consult with a lawyer about a settlement proposal before signing anything. Most family law attorneys charge a fairly reasonable consultation fee.

If you are a domestic violence survivor, please also take the following recommendation to heart: You should already have a safety plan in case an emergency arises. This includes preparation of a quick travel bag (concealed a location known only to you) that contains basic necessities for an overnight visit to a different residence or shelter. You should keep a cell phone with you at all times, and you should try to make arrangements in advance with a close friend or relative who can provide shelter to you at any hour of the day or night if such an emergency arises. For more information about safety plans, domestic violence prevention and resources about finding a shelter or other domestic violence services organization, click Here.

October 23, 2006