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Children in the Crossfire: Child Custody Determinations Among Couples with a History of Intimate Partner Violence

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 11 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2005 Pages: 991-1021
Date Published
August 2005
31 pages

This retrospective cohort study examined the frequency of documentation of a known history of intimate partner violence (IPV) substantiated by police and court records in marriage dissolution proceedings involving dependent children and examined that history’s effect on child custody and visitation determinations.


Although most States mandate consideration of intimate partner violence (IPV) in child custody proceedings, little is known about how often a preexisting history of IPV is effectively presented to the courts in dissolution cases and, when it is, what effect it has on child custody and visitation outcomes. This retrospective cohort study examined the relationship between a history of IPV and determination of child custody and visitation agreements among a population-based sample of couples undergoing dissolution of marriage. Two related activities were examined: specific custody and visitation outcomes among couples obtaining marriage dissolution and the frequency of occurrence of these outcomes among couples with a history of IPV. The final study sample consisted of 2,516 Seattle, OR couples with children under the age of 18 and with at least 1 member listing a Seattle residence who filed for marriage dissolution between 1998 and 1999. Results indicate that 11.4 percent of Seattle marriage dissolutions involving children had a history of substantiated male-perpetrated police-or court-reported IPV. Several issues are highlighted as concerns regarding the reality of child custody among families with a history of IPV: (1) a lack of identification of IPV even among cases with a documented, substantiated history and (2) a lack of strong protections being ordered even among cases in which a history of substantiated IPV is known to exist. The study indicates that some progress has been made in recognizing the need to consider a history of IPV as a factor in child custody determinations. Tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2005