'When I came back everything belonging to me was burnt'
Mediation case study: Abigail’s story
Abigail’s story: When mediation started, her husband began “shouting and roaring”, cursing and saying the children did not want her.
Abigail describes her experience with mediation as “horrendous”. She can still recall the day vividly and it still has the power to upset her.
She had separated from her husband following episodes of domestic abuse and a series of court orders, including barring and protection orders. Her husband had so needed to control her that one Christmas, when she refused to miss her work Christmas party, he took everything she owned and burnt it.
“When I came back everything belonging to me was burnt, he set it on fire in the back garden, I didn’t have a pair of underwear, nothing,” she said.
After the separation, they were both in court to deal with custody of and access to their children.
Her ex-husband began arguing, while she sobbed and when the judge intervened, her ex-husband said he wanted to attend mediation. The judge agreed.
Abigail didn’t feel she could object, so she went along. Her ex-husband turned up an hour and a half late.
When mediation started, he began “shouting and roaring”, cursing and saying the children did not want her.
‘It was horrendous’
“He wasn’t just in a chair having a conversation, he was standing up over me shouting in my face. It was horrendous,” she says.
Every time Abigail tried to speak he would stand up and shout over her. The mediator eventually ended the session and said they could reschedule when he had calmed down.
They were both leaving the room, when the mediator stopped Abigail.
“She said to me he is in a heightened state of rage, just stay here.”
The mediator went out and spoke to the receptionist, while Abigail’s ex-husband waited by the lift for 10 or 15 minutes. The mediator took her out another door and brought her to a Women’s Aid office nearby for support.
“She said look, you can’t do mediation with somebody like him,” Abigail says.
“I got the bus home and we didn’t do mediation anymore.”
Asked what she would like judges to know when they are dealing with cases with a history of domestic abuse, she said if either party asks for mediation, judges should speak to them separately.
“It’s very hard to speak up when there is a person across the room that you’re in fear of,” she says. “You can’t speak your personal truth when you are in fear, nobody can. You are not getting an authentic result in mediation if one party is in fear.”