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Draft Summary: Overview of Family Court Outcomes Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
28 pages

This is the Draft Summary Overview of a study that examined whether and to what extent family courts are ignoring or rejecting valid claims of one parent (“protective parent”) that the other parent is abusing one or more of their children.


The Family Court Outcomes Study (FCO) sought to collect and interpret neutral and valid data on 1) the rates at which courts credit (believe) various types of abuse allegations raised by either parent against the other; 2) the rates at which parents win/lose the case or win/lose custody of a child when alleging any type of abuse against the other parent; 3) the impact of alienation claims/defenses on the previous two issues; and the impact of a complaining parent’s gender on whether or not the court believes her/his claims of child abuse. The study collected and interpreted nationwide data on this issue. An online analysis of relevant appellate court opinions was conducted for the 10-year period from January 1, 2005, through December 31, 2014. The study’s investigators and coders reviewed states’ differing laws and language to ensure the search did not overlook relevant cases. The final dataset consisted of 4,338 cases. The data analysis focused on three core outcomes: 1) crediting of abuse, 2) custody outcomes, and 3) wins (i.e., which parent won the case, regardless of the requests involved). An expanded data set was constructed that consisted of all cases containing child abuse claims (n=2,794). Overall, data analysis supported “protective” parents’ complaints that courts are not protecting at-risk children from future abuse by the abusive parent; however, future research must determine the accuracy of courts’ beliefs or disbeliefs in mothers’ abuse claims. Extensive tables and figures

Date Published: January 1, 2019