Appellate Court Rules Victims of Domestic Abuse Cannot be Forced into Post-Divorce Mediation
An appellate court decision has prioritized the protections of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) over the requirements of property settlement agreements (PSAs) that specify mediation be used to settle all disputes. The court ruled that in the presence of a final restraining order stemming from domestic violence such mediation requirements cannot be enforced, as they undermine the protections of the PDVA.
The case originated in Union County, New Jersey, where a judge ordered a divorced woman to enter into mediation over child support disagreements. A final restraining order had been entered against her ex-husband due to domestic violence complaints. The judge also suggested that the restraining order be amended to allow for email contact, which the appellate judge also found against.
In general, New Jersey court rules do not allow mediation when an FRO exists. The restraining order is designed to protect the victim from unwanted contact, and mediation was found to be forcing them into exactly the sort of unwanted contact the FRO is designed to prevent.
The court noted that victims of domestic violence abuse can still choose to enter into mediation with their former spouse if they wish to. The ruling only prevents courts from imposing mediation when a restraining order is in place. Even if the spouse signs a PSA or other agreement stipulating mediation, a subsequent restraining order should take precedence when future disputes have to be settled outside of the court room.