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Child Custody and Visitation Decisions When the Father has Perpetrated Violence Against the Mother

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 11 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2005 Pages: 1076-1107
Date Published
August 2005
32 pages

Utilizing hundreds of custody and/or visitation orders where the father perpetrated domestic violence (DV) against the mother, this study evaluated the effectiveness of statutes (the Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence) mandating a presumption against custody to a perpetrator of domestic violence and judicial education about DV.


Over many years of research, the adverse effects of domestic violence (DV) on children have been well-documented. However, research indicates that judges are resistant to considering DV as a factor in custody adjudications. In 1994, the Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence was developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and intended to represent the best current expertise concerning legal approaches to DV containing guidelines on custody and visitation and judicial education. The goal of this study, supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice was to assess the direct and indirect impact of two aspects of the Model Code: provisions regarding child custody and provisions on judicial education, specifically on custody and visitation order cases where the mother had been subjected to violence by the father. Across 6 States, 393 custody and/or visitation orders were examined where the father perpetrated DV against the mother. In addition, 60 judges who entered those orders were surveyed. 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 a presumption for joint custody. The statutory presumption against custody to a perpetrator does appear to be effective in reducing orders that give legal custody to a father who has battered the mother. However, even with the presumption, 40 percent of the fathers were given joint custody. In all six States, the vast majority of judges (86 percent) received DV education, irrespective of legislative mandate. However, they scored no better in knowledge or attitudes. It was suggested that efforts should concentrate on improving the quality and usefulness of judicial education. Tables, references

Date Published: August 1, 2005