Child Custody and Coparenting Arrangements in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence

Concurrent Sessions 10 (Invited Presenter Symposium)

Joan Meier, J.D., George Washington University, Merle H. Weiner, J.D., LL.M., University of Oregon, Jennifer L. Hardesty, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

Discussant: Robin Fretwell Wilson, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign; Chair/Facilitator: Brian Ogolsky, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign

3:00 PM
4:15 PM
Golden Pacific Ballroom
Session #
Session Type
Session Focus
  • Research
Organized By
  • Family Policy

About the Session

  • 338-01 - What is Really Happening in Family Courts? A National Empirical Study of Courts' Responses to Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Parental Alienation Claims
    By Joan Meier, J.D., George Washington University
  • 338-02 - Slow Motion: Improving the Legal Response to International Child Abduction
    By Merle H. Weiner, J.D., LL.M., University of Oregon
  • 338-03 - Self-Reported IPV Among Divorcing Mothers: When Is It Documented in Divorce Cases and When Does It Matter?
    By Jennifer L. Hardesty, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign


Intimate partner violence (IPV) is common among divorcing parents in the U.S. who are unable to develop custody and visitation agreements on their own and thus require judicial intervention (Johnston et al., 2005; Morrill et al., 2005). Custody and visitation agreements refer to physical and legal custody determinations as well as visitation orders for nonresidential parents in final divorce judgments. Courts are mandated to factor IPV into decisions about custody and visitation (Jaffe et al., 2003), and researchers and advocates urge courts to prioritize safety in agreements, defined by limiting father’s access to children, protecting mothers during exchanges, and including general safety contingencies and provisions (Davis et al., 2011). Despite mandates, however, studies indicate that courts often fail to adequately consider IPV (Jaffe et al., 2003). A number of factors may contribute to this pattern, including legal preference for joint custody and cooperative coparenting relationships (Dragiewicz, 2010), family courts not being made aware of previously documented IPV (Kernic et al., 2005), and difficulty in substantiating IPV allegations (Johnston et al., 2005) or, when corroborated, the tendency to ignore or minimize the relevance of IPV to custody and visitation agreements (Saunders et al., 2012). This is of concern given the ample evidence that IPV poses ongoing safety risks to mothers and children after separation (Hardesty, Raffaelli et al., 2012). Furthermore, although IPV is common among divorce cases that require judicial intervention, divorce cases in general often settle (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, n.d.). Indeed, divorcing parents are encouraged to use alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, to negotiate agreements and avoid adversarial litigation (Emery & Emery, 2014). These divorce cases also include those with IPV (Rossi et al., 2015) but settlement without judicial oversight may preclude adequate consideration of safety issues. Nonetheless, how settled cases compare to those that are litigated on custody and visitation agreements and the safety of those agreements remains unknown. The overarching objective of this symposium is to investigate family court decisions regarding custody and visitation of minor children when IPV has been documented in civil and/or criminal court records.


To understand the ways in which the experiences of women manifest in legal documents and judicial decisions.
To understand how courts are adjudicating abuse claims and how parental alienation claims impact outcomes, as well as potential gender bias.To examine how international child abduction cases are decided in court when the abductor is the victim of intimate partner violence.

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