Reflections on Domestic Violence in Custody Disputes

Domestic violence is a significant issue in cases commonly referred to as “high conflict." Scholars estimate that 70-75 % of high conflict cases involve domestic violence.

Where domestic violence is an issue in a custody dispute, it is customary for courts to disqualify an abuser parent as the potential custodial parent. However it has been increasingly recognized that domestic violence is not as clear-cut as originally thought. As such allegations of abuse, especially in the context of separation and divorce, require a careful analysis.

Recently scholars have researched differentiated types of violence in couples disputing custody. Scholars have differentiated between separation/divorce situational violence and battering types of violence. This is area where mental health professionals with expertise in assessing violence risk have assisted the court. They have developed guidelines for custody and parenting time guidelines for domestic violence families.

In cases of situational violence, psychologists have been helpful in teaching the family alternative dispute resolution methods. These professionals offer individual and group anger-management programs. Their services also include advising the court about family interventions that may increase the custody options.

Children raised in families with domestic violence are a special population that deserves special attention. Children who witness parent violence, even in cases of no observable injuries, exhibit adjustment and developmental problems that can have long-term detrimental consequences.