A Collaborative Divorce May Provide Psychological Safety in Cases with Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence

In cases with domestic violence (DV), also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), there are considerable benefits to choosing this out-of-court legal method.

A Collaborative Team with DV/IPV Training

A Collaborative Process is viewed as a peacemakers’ approach, one that may allow the parties to go through the divorce with a team guiding them in their journey. All of the Collaborative team members, including lawyers, financial and family professionals, have completed mandatory training in Intimate Partner Violence. Both partners will receive the support of trained professionals as needed. The Collaborative Process is an interest-based approach that requires the signing of the participation agreement to enable both individuals to be on the same page to reach a mutually agreed upon resolution.

Continual Screening

The Collaborative Process allows for screening throughout the process and is not a singular event. All of the Collaborative Professionals are accountable for asking specific questions and much training is currently taking place to ensure professionals in this field are recognizing the potential for violence during the separation and divorce process.

Using the SCARF Model to create safety

The SCARF model stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness which diminishes the threat for both clients, while creating movement towards resolution.

In a traditional litigation process, the at-risk partner may feel threatened and may struggle to participate. Using the SCARF model, which was developed by the Neuro Leadership Institute 2015- 2020, psychological safety can be created for both parties by reducing the threat.

  1. Status – Each partner is given a voice and has established status in the process.
  2. Certainty – As the Collaborative Process is explained, each person understands their role and commits through the participation agreement, creating certainty.
  3. Autonomy – The couple retains control of the divorce instead of giving that power to the courts, establishing autonomy.
  4. Relatedness – Because a Collaborative Divorce involves a team, there’s an inate sense of belonging and working towards a singular goal.
  5. Fairness – Neutral facilitators work to make sure that each person is heard and respected while focusing on the facts and goals.

Providing Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness will diminish the threat for both clients, while creating movement towards resolution.

Unique Benefits of Choosing Collaborative Practice in a Divorce Where there is Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence

  • By using a collaborative process, there will be a platform created for respectful communication, honesty, and accountability through a transparent process with possible acknowledgement of past use of violence.
  • The Collaborative team may be able to recognize triggers, cues, power dynamics, issues of coercion and threats and intimidation as the clients would have had extensive intake sessions with all the team members.
  • The Collaborative process allows the financial sharing of information which may have been inaccessible in the past to both parties.
  • The pre team meetings and post team meetings will allow for preparation and exploration of potential concerns to minimize team issues being raised in the presence of the clients.
  • Safety measures can be put in place as needed for example having the professionals arriving in advance of the clients with the at-risk client arriving last and leaving before everyone else leaves.
  • The use of video sessions allows for the use of break out rooms during the team meetings if necessary.

Is Collaborative Divorce Appropriate in Every Case?

Collaborative professionals will need to assess whether the vulnerable party is ready to sign the participation agreement as well as whether there are mental health concerns, addictions or pending criminal charges. Additionally, the Collaborative Team will need to consider fear and overall well-being of any partners or children who may be witnessing or experience abuse.

Intimate Partner Violence is a real and pervasive concern in society. According to the Western Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, one in four women in Canada will experience violence in their lifetime. IPV is a reality and will touch many of the clients moving through the separation and divorce process. Once we ask the right questions, the uncomfortable questions, the answers will be provided.

Amrit Malhotra is a Collaborative Family Professional and Registered Social Worker, offering 29 years of experience supporting individuals, couples and families to navigate challenging emotional circumstances. As a neutral family facilitator, she provides a safe, respectful environment to ensure her clients’ voices will be heard. Amrit helps families with parenting plans, conflict resolution, mediation, the uncoupling process, and healthy communication with a focus on the needs of the children.

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