Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2011

6 - Violence, Abuse, and Postseparation Parenting


Happy families do not break up, and while every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, violence and various forms of abuse are common features of separated families. Indeed, research evidence from large-scale community or national surveys has established that domestic violence is a pervasive and common problem in all intimate relationships. A general population survey in Canada found that 8.6 percent of women and 7 percent of men reported some kind of physical abuse from a current or ex-partner within the last five years. Women reported much more severe abuse. Levels of abuse and violence are particularly high in intimate relationships between younger people. In one major study in New Zealand, domestic conflict was present in 70 percent of the intimate relationships of twenty-five-year-olds, with this conflict ranging from minor psychological abuse to severe assault.

It is therefore unsurprising that a history of violence and abuse should be common among families who have separated. The pervasiveness of violence and abuse among parents who have separated is evident in Australian research. Sheehan and Smyth, reporting on interviews with a general population of separated parents, found that 65 percent of women and 55 percent of men indicated that they had experienced violence against them within the criminal law definition of assault. Fifty-three percent of women and 24 percent of men reported violence or threats of violence that induced fear. Fourteen percent of women, and 3 percent of men reported injuries resulting from violence that required medical treatment.

Romans, Sarah, Forte, Tonia, Cohen, Marsha, Mont, Janice Du, & Hyman, Ilene, Who Is Most at Risk for Intimate Partner Violence? A Canadian Population-Based Study, 22 J. Interpersonal Violence 1495 (2007)
Fergusson, David, Horwood, John, & Ridder, Elizabeth, Partner Violence and Mental Health Outcomes in a New Zealand Birth Cohort, 67 J. Marriage & Fam. 1103 (2005)
Sheehan, Grania, & Smyth, Bruce, Spousal Violence and Post-Separation Financial Outcomes, 14 Australian J. Fam. L. 102 (2000)
Beck, Connie, Michele Walsh, & Rose Weston, Analysis of Mediation Agreements of Families Reporting Specific Types of Intimate Partner Abuse, 47 Fam. Ct Rev. 401 (2009)
Cahn, Naomi, Civil Images of Battered Women: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody Decisions, 44 Vanderbilt L.R. 1041 (1991)
Pagelow, Mildred, Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Their Consequences for Custody and Visitation Agreements, 7 Mediation Q. 347 (1990)
Smart, Carol & Neale, Bren, Arguments against Virtue – Must Contact Be Enforced?, 27 Fam. L. 332 (1997)
Fineman, Martha, Domestic Violence, Custody and Visitation, 36 Fam. L.Q. 211 (2002)
Kaye, Miranda, Stubbs, Julie, & Tolmie, Julia, Domestic Violence, Separation and Parenting: Negotiating Safety Using Legal Processes, 15 Current Issues in Criminal Justice73 (2003)
White, Prentice, You May Never See Your Child Again: Adjusting the Batterer's Visitation Rights to Protect Children from Future Abuse, 13 Am. U. J. Gender, Social Policy & L. 327 (2005)
Jaffe, Peter, Johnston, Janet, Crooks, Claire & Bala, Nicholas, Custody Disputes Involving Allegations of Domestic Violence: The Need for Differentiated Approaches to Parenting Plans, 46 Fam. Ct Rev. 500 (2008)
Gray, Matthew, Allegations of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Children's Proceedings: A Pre-Reform Empirical Snapshot, 21 Australian J. Fam. L. 252 (2007)
Johnston, Janet, Domestic Violence and Parent-Child Relationships in Families Disputing Custody, 9 Australian J. Fam. L. 12 (1995)
Johnston, Janet & Campbell, Linda, A Clinical Typology of Interparental Violence in Disputed-Custody Divorces, 63 Am. J. Orthopsychiatry190 (1993)
Kelly, Joan & Johnson, Michael, Differentiation among Types of Intimate Partner Violence: Research Update and Implication for Interventions, 46 Fam. Ct Rev. 476 (2008)
Steegh, Nancy Ver, Differentiating Types of Domestic Violence: Implications for Child Custody, 65 Louisiana L. R. 1379 (2005)
Williams, Stacey & Frieze, Irene, Patterns of Violent Relationships, Psychological Distress, and Marital Satisfaction in a National Sample of Men and Women, 52 Sex Roles771 (2005)
Eaton, Mary, Abuse by Any Other Name: Feminism, Difference, and Intra-Lesbian Violence, inMartha Fineman & Roxanne Mykitiuk, The Public Nature of Private Violence195 (1994)
Mason, Gail, Boundaries of Sexuality: Lesbian Experience and Feminist Discourse on Violence Against Women, 7 Australasian Gay & Lesbian L. J. 41 (1997)
Hassouneh, Dena & Glass, Nancy, The Influence of Gender Role Stereotyping on Women's Experiences of Female Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence, 14 Violence against Women310 (2008)
Johnson, Michael, Domestic Violence: It's Not About Gender—Or Is It?, 67 J. Marriage & Fam. 1126 (2005)
Fergusson, DavidHorwood, John, & Ridder, Elizabeth, Response to Johnson, 67 J. Marriage & Fam. 1131 (2005)
Johnson, Michael, Conflict and Control: Gender Symmetry and Asymmetry in Domestic Violence, 12 Violence against Women1003 (2006)
Johnson, Michael, Patriarchal Terrorism and Common Couple Violence: Two Forms of Violence Against Women, 57 J. Marriage & Fam. 283 (1995)
Wilson, Margo & Daly, Martin, Spousal Homicide Risk and Estrangement, 8 Violence & Victims3 (1993)
Johnson, Holly, & Hotton, Tina, Losing Control: Homicide Risk in Estranged and Intact Intimate Relationships, 7 Homicide Stud. 58 (2003)
Rhoades, Helen, The ‘No Contact Mother’: Reconstructions of Motherhood in the Era of the ‘New Father’, 16 Int'l J. L. Pol'y & Fam. 71 (2002)
Hale, Brenda, The View from Court, 11 Child & Fam. L.Q. 377 (1999)
Steegh, Nancy Ver & Dalton, Clare, Report from the Wingspread Conference on Domestic Violence and Family Court, 46 Fam. Ct Rev. 454 (2008)
Archer, John, Sex Differences in Aggression between Heterosexual Partners: A Meta-analytic Review, 126 Psychological Bulletin651 (2000)
Straus, Murray, Measuring Intrafamily Conflict and Violence: The Conflict Tactics [CT] Scales, 41 J. Marriage & Fam75 [1979])
Straus, Murray, Future Research on Gender Symmetry in Physical Assaults on Partners, 12 Violence against Women1086 (2006)
Hunter, Rosemary, Narratives of Domestic Violence, 28 Syd. L.R. 733, 744–49 (2006)
Dobash, Russell & Dobash, Rebecca, Women's Violence to Men in Intimate Relationships: Working on a Puzzle, 44 British J. Criminology324 (2004)
Frieze, Irene, Investigating the Causes and Consequences of Marital Rape, 8 Signs532 (1983)
Frieze, Irene & McHugh, Maureen, Power and Influence Strategies in Violent and Nonviolent Marriage, 16 Psychology of Women Q. 449 (1992)
Johnson, Michael, Conflict and Control: Gender Symmetry and Asymmetry in Domestic Violence, 12 Violence against Women1003, 1011 (2006)
Kaye, Miranda, Stubbs, Julie & Tolmie, Julia, Domestic Violence and Child Contact Arrangements, 17 Australian J. Fam. L. 93 (2003)
Hughes, Honore, Psychological and Behavioral Correlates of Family Violence in Child Witnesses and Victims, 58 Am. J. Orthopsychiatry77 (1988)
Hilton, Zoe, Battered Women's Concerns about Their Children Witnessing Wife Assault, 7 J. Interpersonal Violence77 (1992)
Parkinson, Patrick, Custody, Access and Domestic Violence, 9 Australian J. Fam. L. 41 (1995)
Parkinson, Patrick & Humphreys, Cathy, Children Who Witness Domestic Violence – The Implications for Child Protection, 10 Child & Fam. L. Q. 147 (1998)
Edleson, Jeffrey, Children's Witnessing of Adult Domestic Violence, 14 J. Interpersonal Violence839 (1999)
Wolfe, David, Crooks, Claire, Lee, Vivien, McIntyre-Smith, Alexandra, & Jaffe, Peter, The Effects of Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence: A Meta-Analysis and Critique, 6 Clinical Child & Fam. Psych. Rev. 171 (2003)
Brandon, Marian & Lewis, Ann, Significant Harm and Children's Experiences of Domestic Violence, 1 Child & Fam. Social Work33 (2007)
Holt, Stephanie, Buckley, Helen, & Whelan, Sadhbh, The Impact of Exposure to Domestic Violence on Children and Young People: A Review of the Literature, 32 Child Abuse & Neglect797 (2008)
Eekelaar, John, Rethinking Parental Responsibility, 31 Fam. L. 426 (2001)
Eekelaar, John, Contact – Over the Limit?, 32 Fam. L. 271 (2002)
Busch, Ruth & Robertson, Neville, Innovative Approaches to Child Custody and Domestic Violence in New Zealand, 3 J. Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma269 (2000)
Freckelton, Ian, Custody and Access Disputation and the Prediction of Children's Safety: A Dangerous Initiative, 2 Psychiatry, Psychology and Law139 (1995)
Dalton, Clare, When Paradigms Collide: Protecting Battered Parents and Their Children in the Family Court System, 37 Fam. & Concil. Cts Rev. 273, 275 (1999)
Harrison, Christine, Implacably Hostile or Appropriately Protective? Women Managing Child Contact in the Context of Domestic Violence, 14 Violence against Women381 (2008)
Parker, Tracee, Rogers, Kellie, Collins, Meghan, & Edleson, Jeffrey, Danger Zone: Battered Mothers and Their Families in Supervised Visitation 14 Violence against Women 1313 (2008)
Jaffe, Peter & Crooks, Claire, Partner Violence and Child Custody Cases: A Cross-National Comparison of Legal Reforms and Issues, 10 Violence Against Women917 (2004)
Flood, Michael, “Fathers' Rights” and the Defense of Paternal Authority in Australia, 16 Violence against Women328 (2010)
Cheadle, Jacob, Amato, Paul, & King, Valarie, Patterns of Nonresident Father Contact, 47 Demography205 (2010)