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Interdisciplinary Evaluation of Child Custody Decision-making among Intimate Partner Violence Families

NCJ Number
Mary A. Kernic, Ph.D.,
Date Published
December 2020
55 pages

This is the final report of a NIJ-funded study of the effect of parenting evaluations and corroborating evidence of a history of parental intimate partner violence (IPV) on the award of legal protections in child-custody and visitation orders, and with the secondary aim of examining the effect of parenting evaluation on post-dissolution IPV and child maltreatment as mediated by the legal protections awarded.


The study focused on a sample of couples with minor children in King County, WA, who were filing for marriage dissolution between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010. All couples had a history of intimate-partner violence (IPV) documented in police or court records. The cases in the sample that had received a parenting evaluation were compared with cases that had not received a parenting evaluation. Data were collected from police and court electronic data, as well as dissolution case files. Case outcome analysis focused on the following five legal protections that could be awarded in the child custody and visitation plan: 1) denial of visitation; 2) required supervision of visitation; 3) restrictions or conditions on child visitation; 4) required treatment completion for the IPV abusing parent; and 5) ordering sole decisionmaking to the non-IPV abusing parent. The study found that cases with a parenting evaluation compared with those without a parent evaluation trended toward a greater likelihood of legal protections being awarded; and the presence of corroborating evidence of IPV was significantly associated with a greater likelihood of all five of the measured legal protections being awarded. 5 tables, 2 figures, and 66 references