Saunders: Child Custody Evaluators’ Beliefs About Domestic Abuse Allegations:

October 31, 2011

“The most common areas of knowledge across professional groups were children’s exposure to domestic violence and prevalence of domestic violence. The least common areas—especially among judges, evaluators, and private attorneys—were knowledge of post-separation violence, screening for domestic violence, and assessing dangerousness (although the majority still acquired knowledge in these areas). Domestic violence workers had the highest rates of knowledge regarding all topics.”

Purpose of Study:

“Little is known… about child custody evaluators’ beliefs, background, knowledge about domestic violence, and other factors that may shape their recommendations1 regarding custody and parent-child visitation arrangements.The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of what child custody evaluators and other professionals believe regarding allegations of domestic abuse made by parents going through a divorce….”

Key Findings:

Belief in False Allegations of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

 Professionals were asked to estimate what percent of domestic violence allegations by mothers and fathers they believed to be false. Among the major findings:

• Judges, private attorneys, and custody evaluators were more likely than domestic violence workers and legal aid attorneys to believe that mothers make false allegations.

 • After we controlled for background (number of custody cases, survivors known, and training) and demographic variables (age and gender), judges did not differ from legal aid attorneys and domestic violence workers regarding their estimate of what percentage of mothers’ domestic violence allegations were false.

 • Domestic violence workers and legal aid attorneys gave the highest estimates of the percentage of fathers’ making false domestic violence allegations, while judges and custody evaluators gave the lowest estimates.

• On average, evaluators estimated that one fourth to one third of child abuse allegations were false.

• On average, evaluators estimated that 26 percent of mothers’ domestic violence allegations were false and 31 percent of fathers’ allegations were false.