Changes to the Family Court system potentially increase the stress and risk to women in abusive relationships, Women's Refuge says.
Separating couples are now expected to resolve their problems, including child-care, out of court through mediation - unless their case involves violence or abuse.
But Whangarei Women's Refuge educator Stacey Pepene said women were often afraid to disclose that they were being abused, and could end up having to face the abuser in mediation.
Ms Pepene said they could not be honest about what was going on, or what they wanted, because they fear they would be punished for it afterwards by their estranged partner.
She said trained mediators did not necessarily have the analysis of domestic abuse to pick up on signs that a woman was hiding the truth.
Ms Pepene said women trying to escape an abusive partner should first contact Refuge for ongoing support before they entered the legal process.