In the Best Interests of the Abuser: Coercive Control, Child Custody Proceedings and the "Expert" Assessments That Guide Judicial Determinations
This paper outlines why domestic violence (or more specifically, coercive control) should be crucial to child custody proceedings. What is known about parenting in the context of coercively controlling violence, and what the legislation directs courts to consider, is juxtaposed with the actuality of court decision making. Current knowledge about the recognition of domestic violence in judicial practice is overviewed, drawing particular attention to the role of the "expert" family assessment in
... mily assessment in determinations of a child's "best interests". A comprehensive synopsis of the existing research on these "expert" reports in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States is provided. It is concluded that, in court proceedings the reality of living with coercively controlling violence and the potential on-going risks it poses to children and non-abusive parents, is typically negated. Instead, "best interests" considerations prioritise the maintenance of perpetrator/child relationships, and thus "abuser's rights" over victim safety. Judicial officers are not experts in domestic violence and they can only make decisions on the basis of the evidence before them, the assessments made by the "experts" likely play an important role in best interest considerations. Of concern is current research that calls into serious question the expertise of these "experts" when it comes to proceedings involving allegations of coercively controlling violence.