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Domestic Violence, Visitation and Custody Decisions in New York Family Courts, Executive Summary

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2002
16 pages
This study investigated how some courts handled batterers’ petitions for visitation and custody.
The study was conducted in New York City and Westchester County. It relied on three sources of information. First, it used a random sample of custody and visitation cases in New York City Family Courts in 1995. Second, a full sample of visitation cases in the White Plains Family Court in suburban Westchester County in 1995 was reviewed. Finally, interviews with attorneys who represented victims of domestic violence in Family Court in New York City and Westchester County were conducted. The findings in New York City indicate that half the visitation petitions and a third of the custody petitions were granted. Fathers were more often the petitioners, but there was no difference between mothers and fathers in rate of success in securing court orders. Fathers who successfully petitioned the court for a protection order against the mother were significantly more likely to be granted custody than fathers that did not. In Westchester County, results showed that visitation was granted in 47 percent of the cases, and there was no difference between the dispositions of mothers’ and fathers’ petitions. Visitation appeared to be granted more often if the mother had a protection order against the father than if no family offense petition had been filed, but this difference was not statistically significant. Lawyers practicing in family court reported a number of problems with the court’s handling of visitation in domestic violence cases. There was considerable violence against their clients in the course of visitation. In these cases, the attorney was unable to secure a suspension of visitation or supervised visitation from the court. Most attorneys reported threats rather than actual violence, or non-cooperation, such as keeping the children longer than specified in the visitation order. Attorneys said they never requested that the court deny visitation to an abuser, for fear of invoking the friendly parent provision, which gives custody to the parent most likely to encourage the other parent’s involvement. Subsequent research should examine violence during visitation and the exposure of children to violence after their parents have separated. 6 tables, 2 references

Date Published: May 1, 2002