Allegations of family violence and child abuse in family law children's proceedings

A pre-reform exploratory study
Research Report No. 15 – May 2007

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Appendix A: Summary tables of research literature

Table A1 Key international studies of allegations of family violence and child abuse in the context of post-separation parenting disputes
Authors Country Sample Method Type of abuse % involving allegations Direction of allegations Veracity classification scheme ( n/%) Definition of "violence"

Child sexual abuse: Small clinical

Kaplan & Kaplan (1981)

USA (NY)

1 family from own practice

Case study - clinical judgment

CSA

All

-

True

False (where "false" = unsubstantiated)

-

Benedek & Schetky (1985)

USA

18 children seen by psychiatrists

Analysis of cases - clinical judgment

CSA

All

-

True ( n = 8/18)

False ( n = 10/18) (where "false" = unsubstantiated)

-

Green (1986)

USA (NY)

11 clients from own practice

Case study - clinical judgment

CSA

All

-

True ( n = 7/11)

False ( n = 4/11) (where "false" = unsubstantiated)

-

Schuman (1986)

USA (MA)

7 cases from own practice

Case study - clinical judgment + court judgment

CSA + Phys

All

-

Valid ( n = 0/7)

Non-valid ( n = 7/7)

-

Child abuse: Clinical

Jones & Seig (1988)

USA (Colorado)

20 cases from the caseload of a specialist child abuse centre

Analysis of case files by clinical team

CSA

All

70% made by mother

15% made by father

15% made by children

Reliable (70%)

Fictitious (20%)

Unsubstantiated suspicion (5%)

Uncertain (5%)

-

McGraw & Smith (1992)

USA (Colorado)

18 cases investigated by a sexual abuse team

Analysis of divorce and custody disputes cases

CSA

All

-

Founded (44.4%)

Unfounded (55.6%):

  • Unsubstantiated suspicion (28%)
  • Insufficient information (11%)
  • Fictitious (16.5%)

-

Faller& DeVoe (1995)

USA (Midwest)

215 cases from a university-based clinic

Clinical assessment by team

Domestic relations court

CSA

All

69% of named offenders were fathers

9% step-parents

8% mothers

13% others

Substantiated (73%) [court = 35%]

Unlikely (20%)

Uncertain (7%)

False and possibly false:

  • False (14%)
  • Potentially false (6.5%)
  • Knowingly made false (4.7%)

-

Child abuse: Data from child protective service workers

Anthony & Watkeys (1991)

England

24 cases involving a custody dispute (from 350 referrals from CPS and police)

Assessed case files

CSA

All

-

Proven (20.8%) [56.3% of 350]

Unsubstantiated (79.2%) [43.7% of 350]:

  • "False" (not substantiated) [18% of 350]
  • "False & malicious" [8.5% of 350]

-

Hlady & Guiter (1990)

Canada (BC)

41 cases involving a custody/access dispute (from 370 referrals from CPS)

Charts of all children involved in custody access disputes seen by the Child Protection Service at BC Children's Hospital in 1988 were reviewed

CSA + Phys

All

-

Substantiated with physical evidence

Custody dispute:

  • Physical abuse ( n = 5/7; 71%*)
  • Sexual abuse ( n = 6/34; 17%)

No custody dispute:

  • Physical abuse ( n = 48/110; 44%)
  • Sexual abuse ( n = 33/219; 15%)

[* reported by authors despite small n]

-

Trocmé, McPhee, Tam, & Hay (1994) as cited in Bala et al. (2001)

Canada (Ontario)

Representative sample of 2,447 children

Surveys completed by CPS personnel

CSA + Phys

All

Where parents had separated or divorced, resident mothers made 2/3 of the allegations (sexual abuse most common allegation)

Non-resident fathers raised a third of allegations

Allegations made by resident mothers against non-resident fathers:

  • 23% substantiated
  • 27% suspected
  • 50% unfounded
  • 1% malicious

Allegations made by non-resident fathers against resident mothers:

  • 10% substantiated
  • 18% suspected
  • 72% unfounded
  • 21% malicious

-

Trocmé & Bala (2005)

Canada

7,642 child maltreatment investigations, of which 12% ( n = 903) involved an ongoing custody/access dispute

Assessment and clinical judgment by child welfare workers

CA

All

-

General population:

  • 42% substantiated
  • 23% suspected
  • 31% unsubstantiated in good faith
  • 4% considered "deliberately false"

Custody/access dispute:

  • 40% substantiated
  • 14% suspected
  • 34% unsubstantiated in good faith
  • 12% considered "deliberately false"

-

Child abuse: Data from family courts

Thoennes & Tjaden (1990)

USA

169 custody/access disputes involving an allegation of child sexual abuse (from 9,000 families in dispute about custody or access)

Survey of mediation and custody evaluation staff from 12 domestic relations courts

CSA

< 2%

Mothers accused fathers in 48% or step-fathers in 6% of cases

Fathers accused mothers in 6% or a mother's new partner in 10% of cases

Likely 50% of allegations

Unlikely 33%

Indeterminate 17%

-

McIntosh & Prinz (1993)

USA

603 family court files (14% involved a custody/access dispute; remainder divorces)

File analysis of the entire one-year caseload of 1987 of the court

CSA + Phys

Physical abuse ( n = 12): 2% of all cases (6% of custody cases)

Sexual abuse ( n = 5): 1% of all cases (2% of custody cases)

Alleged by:

  • Mother ( n = 6)
  • Father ( n = 6)

Alleged by:

  • Mother ( n = 3)
  • Father ( n = 1)
  • Both ( n = 1)

Veracity not assessed by court

-

Bala & Schuman (1999)

Canada

196 family law judgments cited in Quicklaw database

Analysis of all reported Canadian family law decisions in database (1990-1998) involving allegations of child sexual/physical abuse

CSA + Phys

All

Mothers made allegations: 71%

Fathers made allegations: 17%

Grand/foster parents: 2%

Children: 9%

Substantiated in 23% of cases

Unfounded 45%

Evidence of abuse but judge did not make a finding that abuse occurred 35%

-

Family violence: Data from family courts and surveys

Newmark, Harell, & Salem (1995)

USA (Oregon/ Minnesota)

422 separated parents participating in mediation over custody/access disputes

Survey

DV

-

80% of women and 72% of men reported experiencing domestic abuse

-

"Domestic violence" or "abuse" was not formally defined - operationalised through Conflict Tactics Scale domains

Logan et al. (2002)

USA (Kentucky)

Random sample of 82 disputed custody cases in family court from 135 cases containing a court record & at least 1 cust eval report

Court records and evaluator reports examined

DV (but noted child abuse issues)

56% involved DV ( n = 46/82)

Child abuse/neglect issue 67% of DV cases (compared with 42% in non-DV cases)

Child abuse/neglect issue against new partner: 11% of DV cases (compared with 3% in non-DV cases)

-

-

DV was defined as cases in which a domestic violence order (DVO) was present

Logan (2003)

USA (Kentucky)

258 cases from a total of 1,292 divorce cases: 98/258 cases involved children

Court records and evaluator reports examined for mentions of spousal violence

DV

33% of cases mentioned spousal violence

-

-

"Spousal violence" not defined

Shaffer & Bala (2003)

Canada

45 family law contested judgments involving DV, of which 42 wife abuse likely to have been consideration in custody/access dispute

Cases examined to determine whether DV impacts on custody outcomes

DV

42 of the cases involved mention of abuse by women

"In many" of these 42 cases, men alleged spousal abuse by their wives

-

Court judgment

11 cases: Mothers' allegations exaggerated or unfounded (24%)

30 cases: Mothers' allegations accepted by court (i.e. 67% substantiated)

1 case: Court makes no finding (2% indeterm)

3 cases: Father alleges mother abusive partner (6%)

"Wife abuse" not formally defined - in practical terms, it included emotional and verbal abuse, as well as "extreme levels of chronic physical (and sexual) violence" (p. 258)

Humphreys & Thiara (2003)

England

181 women from women's refuges or outreach DV services

(161 surveyed; 20 interviewed)

[2 purposive samples]

Survey and in-depth interviews

DV

-

All

76% reported ongoing violence after separation, which stopped within 6-12 months

36% experienced ongoing post-separation violence

"Post-separation violence" not formally defined. In practical terms, it included: verbal and emotional abuse, serious threats (such as to kill, rape, abduct children, self-harm, or harm family pets), physical assault, financial abuse, to and from other family members, threats to new partners, and sexual violence

Family violence and child abuse: Data from family courts

Californian Administrative Office of the Courts

USA (California)

18,000 custody cases across 4 waves of family court data

Snapshot surveys conducted in 1991, 1993, 1996 and 1999

DV, CA

DV raised as issue in 39% of all mediation sessions

Child neglect - 30% of sessions

Child physical abuse - 18% of sessions

Child sexual abuse - 8% of sessions (1991 data)

Mothers allege domestic violence, substance abuse, and harassment

Fathers allege child neglect & psychological disorders (1999 data)

-

"Interpersonal violence" included "ever": "pushing, grabbing, shoving, throwing things, slapping, kicking, biting, or hitting, physical violence, threats of violence, had a restraining order, children ever witnessing violence between parents, physical violence in the last 6 months, use of a weapon, knife, or firearm, sexual assault"

Sorenson et al. (1995)

USA (Florida)

60 contested custody cases from 7 judicial circuits throughout Florida

Examined data reviewed by child representatives

DV, CA, Neglect

83% of cases involved at least 1 allegation

Spousal physical abuse was alleged against fathers/stepmothers in 35% of cases

Spousal emotional abuse (42%)

Child sexual abuse (17%)

Child physical abuse (15%)

Child emotional abuse (28%)

Child neglect (15%)

These were alleged against mothers/stepfathers in 15%, 25%, 7%, 8%, 28%, 35% of cases

-

Substantiated in about 30% but varied by type of alleged abuse:

  • 29% of alleged physical abuse by fathers/stepmothers was substantiated, compared with 11% of alleged physical abuse by mothers/stepfathers
  • 0% of alleged child sexual abuse by fathers/stepmothers was substantiated, compared with ¼ cases of alleged physical abuse by mothers/stepfathers
  • Not able to assess if "fictitious"

-

Smart, May, Wade, & Furniss (2003)

England

A random sample of 430 cases relating to residence and contact disputes from 3 county courts

In-depth analysis of 281 files and mixed-methods analysis on the full data set

DV, CA

22% of cases contained an allegation of physical or emotional abuse

6% of cases contained allegation of child sexual abuse

(2% of cases involved allegations of both domestic violence and child sexual abuse)

-

Indeterminate because of the often opaque nature of court records and documentation

"Violence" and "abuse" were defined as "physical, verbal and emotional violence and harassment of either a parent or child" (note 18: p. 131)

Johnston, Lee, Olesen, & Walter (2005)

USA (California)

120 families referred for child custody evaluations or custody counselling

Analysis and coding of court documents (including mediation data)

DV, CA

Allegations of domestic violence were raised against mothers in 30% of families; and against fathers in 55% of families

Allegations of child sexual abuse were raised against mothers in 6% of families; and against fathers in 23% of families

At least one allegation was raised against mothers in 56% of families; and against fathers in 77% of families

Mutual allegations were raised in 49% of families

Allegations of abuse against mothers were substantiated in 52% of the sample

Allegations against fathers were substantiated in 51% of the sample

Mutual allegations were substantiated in 24% of the sample.

No attempt was made "to distinguish among 'unsubstantiated' allegations to conclude which were clearly false and which could not be determined due to lack of evidence" (pp. 290-291)

"Domestic violence" included "any act of physical aggression or coercive control such as the use of physical restraint, force, or threats of force by one parent to compel the other parent to do something against his or her will. It included but was not limited to assault (pushing, slapping, choking, hitting, biting, etc), use of or threat to use a weapon, sexual assault, unlawful entry, destruction of property, infliction of physical injury, suicide, and murder. It also included psychological intimidation and control maintained through such means as stalking, threats to hurt the children or others, violence against pets, or destruction of property" (p. 288)

Note. DV = domestic violence; CA = child abuse; CSA = child sexual abuse; Phys = child physical abuse.

Table A2 Key Australian studies of allegations of family violence and child abuse in the context of post-separation parenting disputes

Authors

Aust'n state

Sample

Principal method

Type of abuse

% involving allegations

Direction of allegations

Veracity classification scheme ( n/%)

Definition of "violence"

Child abuse: Data from family courts

Kiel (1988)

NSW

7 FCoA cases requiring judicial determination

Content analysis of court files and written reasons

CSA

All

Against fathers/male partners

2 cases had findings of CSA. Author claims strong evidence but no finding in other 5

As alleged

Mertin (1995)

SA

Clinical sample: 27 mothers and 34 children whose mothers had sought refuge from violent partners

Survey

Child Phys

All

Against fathers/male partners

53% of children reported being hit by fathers. All but 3 children had no contact with fathers following separation

Defined by participants

Hume (1996)

SA

50 cases in which chid sexual abuse (CSA) raised in FCoA proceedings: 36 involved specific allegations; 11 suggested child at risk of CSA; 3 alleged "inappropriate behaviour"

Content analysis of court files

CSA

All

64% against fathers

Confirmed child sexual abuse in 56%

No abuse in 11%

No finding or no investigation in 33%

As alleged

Family violence: Data from family courts and surveys

Keys Young (1996)

National

128 men and women who had accessed mediation

Exit surveys

DV

62%

75% by mothers

18% by fathers

-

Defined by participants

Sheehan & Smyth (2000)

National random sample of 396 divorced men and women

Telephone survey

DV

65% women and 55% men on "legal definition"

65% by women

53% by men on "legal definition"

53% by women and 24% by men on fear-based definition

14% by women and 3% by men when injuries resulted

-

Legal - offence under criminal law

Fear-based

Injury-based - injury requiring medical intervention

Rhoades, Graycar, & Harrison (2000)

National

674 family court judgments

Content analysis

DV

67% of sub-sample of judgments

-

-

-

Family violence and child abuse: Data from family courts

Horwill & Bordow (1983); Bordow 1993

Melbourne and Sydney

100 family court child-related judgments (H&B); 294 child-related judgments (B)

Content analysis

DV

CSA

Other CA

DV 24%

CSA 7%

Other CA 3% (B) 1

-

-

-

Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, & Sheehan (1998)

FCoA

Sub-sample of case

40 files from 1992-1993

Content analysis

FV

CA

FV "extensive" - exact figure uncertain

Much FV "masks CA"

-

-

-

Brown, Frederico, Hewitt, & Sheehan (1998)

Melbourne and Canberra

FCoA

117 "flagged" CA cases (Melbourne) taken from all files in 1994 and first half of 1995

38 CA cases (Canberra) plus small comparison sample

Content analysis of files

Interviews with key FCoA and child protection staff

FV

CA

All

Complex gender breakdown with respect to correlates of alleged CA

9% false allegations of CA2

-

Brown, Frederico, Sheehan, & Hewitt (2001)

Melbourne and Canberra

FCoA

200 family court cases in which child abuse allegations had been made

Content analysis

FV

CA

All

-

9% false allegations of CA

-

Brown (2003)

FCoA

Case files

Sample 1: n = 150

Sample 2: n = 100

Content analysis

FV

CA

All

Mothers alleged twice as often as fathers (both samples)

Mothers' allegation much more likely to be substantiated (sample 1)

22% substantiated; 78% non-substantiated (sample 1)

52% substantiated; 48% non-substantiated (sample 2)

As alleged

FCoA (2003)

Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney

450 consent applications

300 settled applications

91 judicial determinations

FV

CSA

FV an issue in 67% of judgments

Allegations of FV substantiated in 51% of these

CSA an issue in 26% of judgments

Unacceptable risk found in 38% of these

-

CSA:

  • Unacceptable risk
  • No unacceptable risk
  • No finding

As alleged

Kaspiew (2005)

Melbourne

40 randomly selected fully litigated children's matters

File content analysis

DV

CSA

DV a "factor" in 58%

CSA 40%

-

-

As alleged

Kaye, Stubbs, & Tolmie (2003)

40 mothers, mainly from refuges and women's health services

Interview content analysis

DV

CSA

Other CA

Serious DV 85%

Towards fathers/male partners

-

Defined by participants

Shea Hart (2004)

Adelaide

All child-related judgments between 1991 and 2001

Significant post-1995 reform increase in applications for contact when violence and abuse were noted

Many applications continued to be successful

DV

43% DV

16-20% CA

Towards male applicants for access or contact

At least one allegation or incident accepted by a judge

As alleged

McInnes (2006)

Adelaide

Focus groups

100 female subjects

Court-ordered contact continued in many cases, in which children were exposed to "long-term continuing harm"

DV

CA

All

Towards male partners

-

Defined by participants