Safety Planning in Family Law Cases: An Emerging Duty of Care for Lawyers?

By Hilary Linton

Research and experience tells us that intimate partner homicides are the most predictable and preventable of murders. We also know that adversarial processes and adversarial lawyering escalate conflict and therefore risk. Our knowledge base of the predictive factors for domestic murder and murder-suicide is extensive. The research supporting the accuracy of various screening tools in identifying predictive factors is well known. And the steps that family/collaborative lawyers, mediators and arbitrators can take, based on informed screening, to enhance their own clients’ safety (and their clients’ spouses’ safety)—the protective factors—are also well established.

Given this state of knowledge, this paper asks whether there is an emerging duty of care for family/collaborative lawyers, mediators and arbitrators to understand the predictive factors and protective factors, to apply the most appropriate screening tools and to engage in appropriate safety planning for clients who are at risk of being harmed or killed by their spouses.

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