Divorce, Custody, and Spousal Violence: A Random Sample of Circuit Court Docket Records

T. K. Logan, Robert Walker, Leah S. Horvath, Carl Leukefeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The fastest growing marital status category in America is divorced, with the number of divorced individuals quadrupling between 1970 and 1996. The majority of children in divorced families live with a single parent and often lose contact with the noncustodial parent. A recent review of the literature suggests that many noncustodial fathers fail to keep contact with their children and become delinquent in child support payments because of their dissatisfaction with the custody arrangement. However, there has been little examination of how custody arrangements are typically determined or settled. In addition, divorces that involve spousal violence bring further complications to child custody, visitation, and child support decisions. This study included a 20% random sample of court records for all divorces settled in one county judicial circuit court during 1998. The purpose of this study was to examine characteristics of divorcing adults as well as characteristics of child custody arrangements, visitation, and child support decisions. Contrary to popular belief, findings from this study indicate that divorce actions were almost always settled through agreement of the divorcing parties rather than by adjudication. About 38% of the couples had children in common and between 78 and 92% of cases were settled through agreement, which suggests that fathers are in fact agreeing to the custody arrangement, rather than being forced into it. About one in five records overall noted spousal violence, and there was no significant difference in settlement methods for couples with or without spousal violence. Cases with children and spousal violence were significantly more likely to have also mentioned substance use and postdecree activity. This study suggests a need for more focused attention on divorce cases with spousal violence to reduce postdecree court involvement and safety of children and adult victims, as well as further study into what causes noncustodial parents to lose contact with their children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Family Violence
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • Child support
  • Court records
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Fatherhood
  • Spousal violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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