Psychological Dynamics in Child Custody Disputes

Understanding the Impact of Coercive Control and Abuse on Family Court Decisions and What Judges and Legal Professionals Should Be Looking For

Sacha | The Justice Lark


Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Child custody decisions have undergone significant changes over the years, with courts shifting from one doctrine to another to determine the best course of action for families in turmoil.

Initially, the “tender years” doctrine prevailed, asserting that mothers were the most suitable caretakers for young children. This approach eventually gave way to the “psychological parent” concept and then the “best interest of the child” doctrine.

In recent years, the “shared parenting”, “friendly parent” or “failure to cooperate” standard has gained traction, with many family courts advocating for co-parenting arrangements.

This theoretically allows children to bond with both parents while preventing either parent from feeling as if they have “lost.”

However, by prioritising “shared care” or the “friendly parent doctrine”, family court professionals may inadvertently overlook abuse.

This approach is not grounded in empirical evidence but rather in accepted doctrine and prejudice.

In cases involving coercive and controlling abuse, the need for empirical analysis is particularly crucial, as this type of abuse is often concealed by deception and lacks physical evidence.

Child custody disputes also tend to involve posturing, bullying, and intimidation tactics that reflect adversarial cultures in family court systems, which is not at all conducive to what family courts say they are actually seeking to achieve.

That is particularly problematic in the context of survivors needing protection from an abuser, where the family court may itself also end up acting as a perpetrator, and thus re-victimising the survivor seeking support.

The Complexity of Child Custody Disputes

Child custody disputes are often fraught with emotions, leading to a myriad of complications and challenges for the parties involved and the professionals tasked with making…



Sacha | The Justice Lark

Passionate writer and researcher focused on promoting justice and equity, with emphasis on issues related to gender-based violence, trauma & mental health.