The Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and the University of Washington's School of Public Health, will conduct a collaborative research study to examine the impact of legal representation on child custody and visitation decisions in marital dissolutions between spouses with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV). The governmental agencies providing cooperative support for this project include the Seattle Police Departments Domestic Violence Unit (SPD DVU), Washington State Office of the Administrator for the Courts (OAC), and King County Superior Court (KCSC) and Kent Regional Justice Center (RJC). A retrospective cohort study will be conducted among King County couples with minor children filing for marriage dissolution with the King County Superior Court (KCSC) or Kent Regional Justice Center (RJC) between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010 who have a history of police- or court-documented IPV. Specifically, a complete list of all such cases filed at the KCSC in Seattle, Washington or the RJC in Kent, Washington between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010 available from the OAC SCOMIS database, will comprise the initial eligible pool from which the study sample will be drawn. Also examined will be the two-year period post-decree among the subset of cases with filings between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009 for post-decree court proceedings indicative of continued child custody/visitation disputes. Using propensity score matching, both civil paid (n=500) and pro bono/legal aid (n=250) represented cases will be matched with pro se cases (n=750) for a total sample size of 1,500 cases.
This study is designed to address the critical gap in IPV and legal representation research through accomplishing these specific aims: 1. To describe the prevalence of legal representation (both paid civil representation and pro bono/legal aid representation) among IPV victims undergoing marriage dissolution involving children during a ten-year period in a population-based sample of marriage dissolutions; 2. To estimate the effect of legal representation, both globally (any legal representation) and by payor status (paid civil vs. pro bono/legal aid) on child custody and visitation outcomes and post-dissolution child custody and visitation disputes including the proportion of couples for whom: 1) visitation is denied to the abusing parent, 2) supervised visitation between the abusing parent and the child(ren) is ordered, 3) restrictions are placed on the abusing parent's child visitation, 4) treatment program completion is a prerequisite to the abusing parent's child visitation, and 5) sole decision-making is awarded to the non-IPV-abusing parent. 3. To estimate the effect of legal representation on the following set of secondary outcomes: 1) court order of professional supervision of visitation, 2) court order that future dispute resolution to be conducted only through the court, 3) prohibition of overnight visitation by the abusing parent, 5) formal court findings of IPV, 6) post-decree child custody/visitation disputes, and 7) primary residential parent status is awarded to the abusing parent (adverse outcome).