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Since the beginning of the collaborative family law movement, commentators from various professions have discouraged collaborative lawyers from accepting cases involving intimate partner abuse. The collaborative process, with its face to face meetings and emphasis on transparency and good faith, carries with it many risks for the partner who has been abused and who is attempting to end the relationship with the abusive partner. There may be occasions, however, when the at-risk partner believes that the collaborative process will enhance her safety or at least provide her with less exposure to future harm than other resolution processes. This article will explore whether there is any circumstance under which the collaborative lawyer should consider accepting a domestic abuse case into the collaborative system of resolution.

Historically, domestic violence lawyers have favored the dual track of litigation and negotiation. While no system assures safety, serious questions remain whether the collaborative process can be safe under any circumstances for those who experienced abuse. Before making that determination, the collaborative lawyer must do what most family law lawyers have failed to do. The lawyer must make a commitment to study and understand the dynamics of intimate partner abuse. Without proficiency in understanding intimate partner abuse (domestic violence), and intentionally prioritizing safety of the client who has experienced abuse, the collaborative lawyer cannot validly assess a client’s future risk, particularly with an alternative dispute process. This article addresses ethical and practical issues that confront the collaborative lawyer when a case involves abuse and suggests remedies that can make the process safer.


This draft is soon to be published in volume 32 of the Ohio State Journal of Dispute Resolution.

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