Academic journal article Family Relations

Intimate Partner Violence, Parental Divorce, and Child Custody: Directions for Intervention and Future Research*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Intimate Partner Violence, Parental Divorce, and Child Custody: Directions for Intervention and Future Research*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Joint custody and cooperative coparenting are often unsafe for women who leave violent partners. Although certain legal protections are available, more work is needed to understand and address abused women's needs in this context. This study provides divorce scholars and practitioners with information on the interface between separation/divorce and intimate partner violence. We review existing research, policies, and programs and propose directions for intervention and research that center around the unique needs of these families.

Key Words: child custody, children and domestic violence, coparenting, divorce, intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) refers to a pattern of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse by a current or former intimate partner in the context of coercive control (Campbell & Boyd, 2000). Although violence may be perpetrated by men and women, we focus on male-perpetrated IPV in this study. IPV is a key factor in many women's decisions to end their marriages (Kurz, 1996). Yet, separation does not always stop the violence. Women who share children with abusers are particularly vulnerable to postseparation violence, as they are likely to have ongoing contact with former partners, ongoing contact presents opportunities for further violence. Thus, joint custody and cooperative coparenting, which are strongly encouraged by courts in many states, are often not realistic or safe for abused women and can be harmful for their children (Hardesty, 2002). In this article, we explore the intersection of separation or divorce and IPV and its relevance to divorce scholars and practitioners. First, we review research, policies, and programs related to IPV, parental divorce, and child custody. Unless otherwise specified, we use "child custody" broadly to refer to physical and legal custody, as well as visitation. Based on the limitations of existing work, we then propose directions for intervention and future research that center around the unique needs of these families.

Theoretical Framework

According to systems theory, all members of a family are interdependent (Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993). One part of the family cannot be understood in isolation from the rest of the system, and what happens to one part of the system affects the entire family. Families also influence and are influenced by other systems (e.g., cultural norms, legal system), which make up the family's environmental context and may support or interfere with family functioning (Whitchurch & Constantine). Based on these assumptions, systems theory is helpful for understanding how families adjust to separation/divorce and experience violence. Mother-child, father-child, and mother-father dyads experience significant transformations when parents separate, as they develop new rules and ways of interacting (Stewart, Copeland, Chester, Malley, & Barenbaum, 1997). Although separated, parents remain interdependent through their connection to the same child (Ahrons, 1994). However, this ongoing connection between former spouses presents risks to women and their children when there is IPV. Drawing from family systems theory, we offer recommendations for intervention and research that consider the needs of the entire family system, while at the same time holding perpetrators of IPV accountable for their behavior and prioritizing the safety of women and children after separation/divorce.

Postseparation Violence

Data are not available specific to who is more likely to initiate separation when there is IPV. However, we suspect that women are more likely than men to initiate separation in abusive relationships for two reasons. First, leaving is the culturally accepted and dominant solution available to women who are victims of abuse (Brown, 1997). Second, abusive men are often highly dependent on their partners (Johnston & Roseby, 1997) and thus reluctant to relinquish control over them through separation (hotton, 2001). …

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