OVW Custody and Abuse Project

Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project

OVW Custody & Abuse Project          

DV LEAP has partnered with the Dept. of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women on a 2-year cooperative agreement to improve the family court system’s ability to protect children in custody cases involving domestic violence or child abuse. The DV LEAP Custody and Abuse Project responds to the well-documented trend of family courts granting custody or unsafe access to parents accused of (and even found to have committed) domestic violence or child abuse. To date we have conducted 24 trainings-- for judges, court-appointed custody evaluators/guardians ad litem and attorneys/advocates-- to increase accurate case assessment and effective protective parent representation in custody and abuse litigation.

In partnership with the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, we provide education on critical issues that often determine case outcomes, such as the misuse of flawed parental alienation theories and failure to consider evidence of abuse. One particularly powerful aspect of the Project’s work is the development of a unique database of cases that have “Turned Around.”  These are cases in which the initial custody order placed a child (or children) in dangerous contact with an abusive parent and a subsequent order protected the child. Analysis of these cases is providing valuable understanding of how and why custody evaluations so frequently fail to identify or predict actual risk to children who are victims of family violence.  The first portion of this research is being readied for publication as of fall 2013. 

Additional valuable research by DV LEAP includes a national analysis of published alienation and abuse cases with respect to gender and allegations of abuse.  Preliminary results affirm that parental alienation claims by fathers increase their chances of reversing custody from the mother to themselves, but the same is not true for mothers who accuse fathers of alienation. Preliminary results also indicate that when mothers allege child abuse fathers’ custody rates increase significantly. 

As part of this Cooperative Agreement DV LEAP and the Leadership Council have produced a number of written tools and resource materials to assist professionals working in the family court system.  Links to each of the documents are provided below:


I. Resources on the misuse of Parental Alienation Syndrome/Parental Alienation

      1. Critical Bibliography of articles on Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation

      2. Summary of Case Law Addressing Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation

3. Scientific and Professional Rejections of Parental Alienation Syndrome


II. Resources for attorneys and advocates representing protective parents

1. Guidelines on Best Practices for Litigating Custody and Abuse Cases in Order to Preserve Appeals to State Court and the Supreme Court

      2. Preparing DV Survivors for a Custody Evaluation

      3. Making the Record for Appeal 

      4. Pro Se Guidelines on How to Make the Record for Appeal (any jurisdiction)

      5. Pro Se Guidelines on How to Make the Record for Appeal (WV annotations)


III. Research Summaries

      1. Research Indicating That the Majority of “High Conflict” Contested Custody Cases Have a History of Domestic Violence

      2. Rates at Which Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Recieve Sole or Joint Custody

      3. Scientific and Professional Rejections of Parental Alienation Syndrome


IV. Other Resource Materials

       Critiques and Case Reports of GALs’ Failures to Protect Children in Custody and Abuse Cases