National Family Violence Center - What We Do
Research, Scholarship, and Public Education
The Center’s core mission is to provide pioneering, evidence-based analyses that support urgently needed reforms in the nation’s family courts. The Center’s and affiliated professionals’ powerful new research findings are regularly distributed in print, online, and through in-person or virtual presentations to lawmakers, judges, attorneys, advocates, and other professionals. The Center also brings scholars and policy professionals together to ensure these populations are informed of the new findings, and to discuss their implications for scholarship, policy, and system-reform work – in particular, the compelling need to create an integrated legal response to adult and child maltreatment.
Mapping and Transforming Courts’ Responses to At-Risk Children
Experts in the field of family violence know that the best predictor of future violence is past violence. Experts in intimate partner violence know that many partner-abusers direct their rage at the children when their partner is no longer available, post-separation. Nonetheless, family courts nationwide regularly treat past domestic violence as irrelevant to future risks to children, sometimes with disastrous results.
The Family Court Outcomes Study
Between 2015 and 2019, the Director led a team in a federally-funded five-year national study, “Child Custody Outcomes in Cases Involving Abuse and Alienation Allegations” (2019) (“Family Court Outcomes Study”) that produced the first empirical data measuring national trends in family courts’ responses to abuse allegations. It is also the first research study to assess courts’ responses to child abuse as well as intimate partner violence claims. This new data proves quantitatively what many experts and survivors have reported anecdotally, that family courts adjudicating custody and access are failing to take seriously reports of a parent’s dangerousness, frequently reject mothers’ and children’s reports of domestic abuse, and award custody to alleged – and known - abusers at surprising rates.
View the Child Custody Outcomes Study
The Center is using this research to fuel its four-pronged approach to transforming courts’ responses to families with a history of abuse. First, it is educating and training judges, lawyers, psychologists and others on both the problems and the solutions these data compel. Second, it is disseminating this much-needed data to a wide array of print, online and visual media. Third, it is providing drafting and research support for lawmakers and advocates doing policy work at both federal and state levels. Finally, the Center provides expert consultation and supports selected litigation in both federal and state courts, using friend-of-the-court (“amicus”) briefs to educate the appellate judges.
Building on the ground-breaking, unanimous adoption by the U.S. House of Representatives of 2018 H.Con.Res.72 on Child Safety in the Family Courts, the Center's Legislative Clearinghouse supports advocates and lawmakers at the state and federal levels seeking to strengthen custody laws to better protect children. The Clearinghouse helps centralize legislative efforts across the country, develops and disseminates best-practice templates for custody statutes, and provides research and technical assistance to support policy changes.
The United Kingdom has been grappling with the same problems and has commissioned a series of reports and recommendations to change how family courts respond to cases involving abuse allegations. In response to searing critiques of UK child parenting proceedings, a series of reports were solicited by the Ministry of Justice (see assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases). Many of these recommendations are now being implemented by the courts or incorporated into legislation.
The NFVLC's collaboration with the UK and other nations' professionals ensures we can learn from their advances as we design templates for model state custody laws to protect at-risk children in custody litigation.
Recently, NFVLC's Director presented to a Maryland legislative group considering recommendations for strengthening custody laws to better protect children. Read more about the research data to the Maryland Child Custody Workgroup that put the recommendations together or watch the proceedings, Child Custody Workgroup's findings at a joint briefing before the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees. Read the Child Custody Workgroup Proceedings.
Drawing on the Director’s 15 years of appellate experience at DV LEAP, the non-profit she founded in 2004, the Center participates in selective federal, Supreme Court, and state-level appeals, including those involving the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of international child abduction. The Center produces amicus briefs in partnership with pro bono lawyers from a selective network of law firms. The Center uses these friend-of-the-court briefs to bring together broad coalitions of concerned professionals and advocates to educate courts while strengthening the national grassroots movement for change.