Research confirms what experienced practitioners know: child custody cases often move through court systems without adequate regard for peoples’ real life experience of domestic violence.

As a result, custody and parenting time arrangements negotiated or ordered by the court can expose victimized parents and children to further manipulation and abuse.

Many factors contribute to this problem, including:

  • Lack of awareness about domestic violence
  • Confusion about professional roles and responsibilities around domestic violence
  • Inconsistent screening and assessment of domestic violence
  • Misapplication of personal and professional assumptions, biases and beliefs
  • Ill-informed decision making around domestic violence
  • Disconnected outcomes, interventions and services to address domestic violence

Structured Approach to Decision-Making

Employing a structured approach to domestic violence that includes the following four components can counteract these forces, increase safety, and improve outcomes for battered women and children:

  • Identifying DV through systematic and universal screening
  • Understanding the full nature and context of DV
  • Connecting DV to the issues in the case and standards for decision-making
  • Accounting for the nature, context and implications of DV in all actions and decisions

Connecting Domestic Violence to Parenting

The decision to use violence against a partner can signal problematic and even dangerous attitudes about parenting and behaviors towards children. It can also affect how a non-violent or secondarily violent partner parents. Connecting domestic violence to parenting is critical in child custody cases. Some important considerations include:

  • The abuser’s attitudes and beliefs about parenting
  • The abuser’s behaviors towards children
  • The children’s experiences of and reactions to DV
  • The problems that DV creates for the children
  • The way DV affects the other partner’s parenting

Accountability and Due Process

Despite their efforts, battered mothers often cannot obtain full protection under the law. It can be hard for them to get their claims before a judge. They often do not get the full range of relief that the law allows. Several forces influence this problem, including:

  • Increased pressure to resolve child custody disputes “out-of-court”
  • General skepticism of and hostility to battered mothers’ claims for child-related relief
  • Reliance on private, non-judicial actors to evaluate and essentially decide cases
  • Mounting caseloads and dwindling court resources
  • Complexity of traditional court processes
  • Lack of confidence in the judiciary
  • Diminished access to competent, affordable legal assistance

Professional accountability and due process must be secured for battered mothers and their children. That means working to achieve:

  • Centralized concern for the safety and wellbeing of battered mothers and children
  • Restrictions on the delegation of judicial functions to non-judicial actors
  • Compliance with and enforcement of laws and professional standards of practice
  • Fairness and transparency in all system processes, whether provided in or out-of-court
  • Easy access to traditional court processes with simplified rules of evidence and procedure
  • Knowing and voluntary decision-making about dispute resolution alternatives
  • Universal access to unbundled and no-to-low cost legal services