Post image for Studying safety concerns for family mediation

Studying safety concerns for family mediation

October 7, 2013

Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Maurer School of Law  have been awarded a four-year, $763,686 grant to study whether family mediation is a safe alternative to court-based litigation in cases with a history of intimate-partner violence.

The award comes from the National Institute of Justice, which is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. The IU researchers will subcontract with a co-principal investigator from the University of Arizona and partners from the D.C. Superior Court’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division.

Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, professor of psychological and brain sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, is co-principal investigator for the study. Amy G. Applegate, a clinical professor in the IU Maurer School of Law, is a member of the research team.

“Some experts argue that family mediation is a useful alternative, while others raise concerns about whether parties with a history of intimate-partner violence can be adequately protected from physical and emotional harm in mediation,” Holtzworth-Munroe says. “Our research will provide new evidence to help weigh the risks and benefits of mediation in these cases.”

“Despite the use of protective measures such as shuttle or videoconferencing mediation, the appropriateness of mediation has been a source of controversy in cases involving intimate-partner violence,” says Applegate, who is also director of the Viola J. Taliaferro Family and Children Mediation Clinic at the IU Maurer School of Law. “The NIJ’s generous grant also makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of mediation in these cases.”

Connie J.A. Beck, co-principal investigator and associate professor in the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychology, explains that the study will consist of a randomized control trial of family mediation with cases of intimate-partner violence that Multi-Door would generally consider inappropriate for mediation. These cases will be randomly assigned to one of three study conditions: traditional court-based litigation, shuttle mediation or video-conferencing mediation.

“We estimate 75 mediation cases for each study condition,” Beck said, adding that no study of the outcomes of these approaches has ever been conducted.

The study will take place at Multi-Door. Immediate and one-year outcome measures have been established, and a one-year follow-up study will be conducted to evaluate continuing intimate-partner violence and fear-related issues.

“Traditionally, the path forward for families with high IPV has been to court, where litigation has the potential to escalate violence,” says Multi-Door Director Jeannie Adams. “The division’s goal is to provide a safe method of dispute resolution when possible for families in high-conflict situations; we can do this best by providing alternatives to the traditional mediation model, using shuttle and video conferencing mediation when appropriate. We are very excited about the study since it will provide us with evidence to support whether families with high IPV fare better in mediation or court.”

Data analyses will test hypotheses, such as the hypothesis that mediation will not result in more fear or continued violence than court cases but will result in more flexible and customized safety arrangements to protect both parties and their children. In addition, cost-benefit analyses will be conducted.

In addition to Applegate, Holtzworth-Munroe, Beck, and Adams, other researchers involved in the study are Matthew Centeio-Bargasse, Darrell Hale, Jennifer Herman, Kitty Huggins, Roberta Mitchell and other Multi-Door staff. Consultants to the project include statistical consultant Brian D’Onofrio, associate professor in IU Bloomington Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; cost-benefit analysis consultant Kerry Krutilla, associate professor in the IU Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and Peter Salem, executive director of the Association for Family and Conciliation Courts, who will consult on dissemination and policy implications of study findings.

Results of the study will be published in interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journals, reports, and presentations to stakeholders, with a goal toward informing families, mediators, judges and courts about the feasibility of special types of mediation as an option for separating parents who have a history of intimate-partner violence.