Background A potential intervention for improving protections awarded to IPV victims in child custody determinations is the provision of attorney representation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of attorney representation in gaining greater legal protections in these cases.
Methods Study subjects were couples undergoing marriage dissolution involving children who had a history of male-perpetrated IPV. IPV victims with attorney representation were propensity score matched to unrepresented victims. Key study outcomes included the parameters of the court ordered child custody and visitation awards.
Results Cases in which the IPV victim parent received legal aid attorney representation were 85% more likely to have visitation denied to the IPV abusing parent, 77% more likely to have restrictions placed on the IPV abusing parent’s child visitation, 47% more likely to have treatment or program completion ordered for the IPV abusing parent, and 46% more likely to have sole decision-making awarded to the IPV victim parent relative to unrepresented comparison group cases after adjustment for confounding. Cases in which the IPV victim parent received private attorney representation were 63% more likely to have supervision of the IPV abusing parent’s child visitation ordered by the court and 36% more likely to have treatment or program completion ordered by the court relative to unrepresented comparison group cases after adjustment for confounding.
Conclusions Parties involved in child custody determinations are not entitled to publicly supported attorney representation in the U.S. even among cases with a history of IPV. The examination of the effectiveness of attorney representation in improving protective outcomes among these cases has critical importance from a policy standpoint. This study provides evidence of the effect of attorney representation of IPV victims in these proceedings. A follow-up study of custody evaluations is underway, and will also be discussed.
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