Domestic violence survivors can now choose mediation

Montana legislators and Governor Steve Bullock chose to empower survivors of domestic violence when HB 555 was respectively passed and then signed, allowing survivors to “opt in” to mediation for family law disputes, instead of being barred by Montana’s laws. The prior law was paternalistic, assuming that survivors of domestic violence were incapable of making fully-informed voluntary decisions about their property and children due to prior abuse. But those of us who have mediated such cases successfully have found that, with the appropriate support, some survivors are able and ready to make important decisions about their future and the future of their children. That support can include having advocates present, or using telephone or online mediation, sometimes called ODR, so that the parties are separated by physical distance. Advocates can include pastors, counselors, and other family members. Montana lawmakers made the right decision to put the choice of mediation back into the hands of survivors. Mediation that works can be the first step for them in regaining control over their lives.