Child Custody and Domestic Violence

Allison C. Morrill, JD, PhD, Principal Investigator  

Funded by National Institute of Justice (1999-WT-VX-0013)

This research evaluated the effectiveness of statutes mandating a presumption against custody to a perpetrator of domestic violence (DV), and judicial education about DV.  Across six states, we examined 393 custody and/or visitation orders where the father had perpetrated DV against the mother, and surveyed 60 judges who entered those orders. 

Evaluation Results

With the presumption, more orders gave legal and physical custody to the mother and imposed a structured schedule and restrictive conditions on fathers’ visits, except where there was also a “friendly parent” provision and a presumption for joint custody.  The presumption is effective only as part of a consistent statutory scheme.  Although 86% of judges had received DV education, they scored no better in knowledge or attitudes.  More of their orders gave mothers sole physical custody, and knowledge was associated with maternal custody, yet fewer structured or restricted fathers’ visitation.  Quality of DV education is more important than statutory mandate.

Scholarly Publications

Child custody and visitation decisions when the father has perpetrated violence against the mother.

Morrill AC, Dai J, Dunn S, Sung I, Smith K. (2005).

Violence Against Women, XI (8), special issue on child custody and domestic violence, 1076-1107.

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