This study explores whether parents in family cases with reportedly high levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) feel safer and are more satisfied with shuttle and videoconference mediation than with traditional litigation. The study, conducted in Washington, D.C., used a randomized controlled trial of family cases involving parents with reportedly high levels of IPV where parties were seeking to resolve their separation or divorce cases. For the study, researchers compared traditional litigation (n= 67 cases) to two mediation approaches designed to protect parent safety including shuttle mediation (n= 64 cases) and video conferencing mediation (n= 65 cases).
All parents referred to mediation by the court were first screened for IPV by specially trained Dispute Resolution Specialists (DRSs). Based on the screening, the DRSs identified cases as being potentially eligible for the study if the IPV reported by either or both parents was at a level that the case was considered inappropriate for joint mediation. Cases were considered ineligible if: the case involved an open child abuse case or required other emergency interventions due to immediate danger; a parent lived too far away to participate in mediation in person, was deemed incompetent for mediation (e.g., acutely psychotic), was incarcerated or had a pending criminal case that would interfere, or the parents were in a same-sex relationship (pilot work revealed that there were too few same-sex cases for study purposes). Eligible parents were then randomly assigned to one of the three groups.
The study concludes in cases where parents report concerning levels of IPV, when both parents are independently willing to mediate, mediation designed with strong safety protocols and carried out in a protected environment (like shuttle mediation and videoconferencing) may be an appropriate alternative to court. The study's researchers state that their findings do not definitively favor either shuttle or videoconference mediation. However, they note there are suggestions in the data that shuttle mediation might be preferable because it was more likely to lead to agreement and mediators seemed to prefer it.