Parenting Coordinator/Decision-Making Services
William G. Austin, Ph.D.
Parenting Coordinator Service for Cases involving a history
of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)
One of Dr. Austin’s area of specialization concerns child custody – parenting disputes where there has been a history of Intimate Partner Violence, IPV (e.g., domestic violence. DV) or allegations involving IPV. He offers the service of a Parenting Coordinator (PC) for such cases. They are called IPV-child custody cases (IPV-CC). These cases are unique because there often is a high level of parent conflict, but also there may be safety issues and concern about continuing coercive actions by the other parent, or coercive co-parenting. There may be concerns about harsh or coercive parenting. There may be a court’s legal finding of DV. There may have been a parenting evaluation (PRE or CFI) that addressed the IPV issue. There may have been unconfirmed allegations, or partially confirmed allegations. There may be an angry parent who asserts he was falsely accused.
Dr. Austin treats parent conflict over parenting time/child access issues as “gatekeeping disputes.” The gatekeeping framework is a fresh approach to understanding and managing parent conflict. The gatekeeping conceptual language allows Dr. Austin to integrate co-parenting education and coaching into the PC role with the goal of achieving a permanently improved co-parenting and problem solving relationship between the parents so that a PC would not be needed.
Dr. Austin’s approach to co-parenting/gatekeeping education also adopts a “performance enhancement” approach that attempts to foster a mindset that parents will strive to enhance their performance in their parenting and co-parenting roles. Parents are encouraged to step back from conflict, not just to work towards cooperative co-parenting, but also to strive for excellence in their parenting and co-parenting. Dr. Austin’s approach in PC work is not just to manage the conflict and settle disputes, but also to challenge the parents to work at succeeding and achieving excellence in parenting and co-parenting. [See http://thetobincompany.typepad.com on the performance-enhancement approach.]
This goal is more difficult when there has been a history of IPV, which means one or both parents have definitely not been working up to their potential as parents and co-parents. It is a challenge for parents who have been abused to want to cooperatively co-parent with the other parent.
Dr. Austin has developed several forensic evaluation models for child custody evaluators to use in parenting disputes when there have allegations of IPV. These models are widely used across the country. With a colleague, he recently published a new framework and way of thinking about the assessment of IPV and custody disputes for evaluators, courts, parenting coordinators, and co-parenting educators.
IPV is one of the complex issues that courts, parenting evaluators, and parenting coordinators often encounter when they work with separated and divorced parents. Studies show that among high conflict parents who cannot settle their differences and become involved in litigation to achieve a parenting plan that over half of the time there was a history of IPV. One study (Bow & Boxer, 2003) found that child custody evaluators (or parental responsibility evaluation) estimated that 37% of their cases involved IPV and that 16% concerned severe IPV. 46% of the evaluators’ IPV cases involved violence around the time of the separation. A high percentage of the cases involved threats of coercion and control.
It used to be in the IPV/DV literature that all cases of alleged and corroborated IPV were treated alike. It was an undifferentiated perspective. DV was almost uniformly called “battering” and based on research with female victims who sought refuge in domestic violence shelters. In contrast, a large research literature existed with excellent studies on community samples on domestic violence with married couples. It revealed that about 12-16% of couples reported physical violence had occurred during the previous year and the vast majority of couples reported it was minor in severity and instigated equally by both male and female partners.
An interdisciplinary conference of experts produced a consensus on an IPV typology so that the shades of gray in IPV were recognized. It was a differentiated approach with the identification of subtypes. The term “Battering” was replaced with Coercive Control to describe the severe form with the psychological dynamics of a primary instigator who controls, intimidates, threatens, and isolates his partner from others. Authorities have also pointed out that the coercive control subtype may exist when there is little or no actual physical violence, but the psychological control and intrusiveness may cause just as much emotional damage. Female partners also may have been coercive in the relationship. The new typology also identified Conflict-Instigated IPV as the most common form and where the IPV is usually interactive and mutual. Separation-Associated is another common subtype where the relationship separation produces a violent incident, or a violent incident results in a couple separating.
Dr. Austin and his colleague, Dr. Leslie Drozd, have proposed a new framework for understanding IPV and its relevance to parenting and co-parenting (Austin & Drozd, 2012). This framework combines coercive control and other subtypes with a violence risk approach and identifies the past IPV in terms of 10 behavioral dimensions, or a behavioral grid to describe the past IPV with greater behavioral specificity.
When IPV is part of the parenting dispute, then a PC often will be necessary and is appointed by the court. If there was substantial IPV in the history of the relationship, then it often greatly affects how the co-parenting relationship can proceed. There may be continuing safety concerns. One parent may continue to be afraid of the other. There may have been coercive control by one or both parents that has continued after the separation and is a road block to communication, trust, and co-parenting. In some instances, the IPV may not have been corroborated by an evaluator and the Court may not have made a legal finding of DV, but one parent may continue to allege that there was violence. When there was substantial IPV that was corroborated, the victim-parent may need help in learning to recognize the value the other parent has for the child. Research shows that victim-mothers can learn to effectively co-parent with a former abusive ex-partner, but this can be a delicate process and the PC needs to be vigilant about safety issues for parents and children. If a parent continues to harass the other parent, e.g., coercive co-parenting, then this is a challenge for the PC.
Dr. Austin’s approach to PC work combines his IPV framework with his gatekeeping model (both available on the websites) to assist in conflict containment and constructive co-parenting despite the history of IPV, including cases with uncorroborated allegations of IPV. Each parent receives educational materials on gatekeeping and gatekeeping training. In IPV-CC, the pattern of parenting and co-parenting usually must be that of “parallel parenting” where direct communication and contact may be limited. The goal is still to limit restrictive gatekeeping and gate-closing behaviors and to promote cooperative co-parenting and gate-opening behaviors for the best interest of the children, while at the same time being aware of safety concerns and possible continuing adverse effects of violence on a parent. As a PC, Dr. Austin understands that when there has been substantial IPV in the past that a parent may have difficulty in being supportive of the other parent and may act as a Protective Gatekeeper of the children.
When there has been past violence in the parental relationship, it poses unique challenges for the performance enhancement approach to PC work and co-parenting education. A key is for a parent to accept responsibility for past violent actions and for any continuing contributions to conflict. The gatekeeping perspective is a vehicle to help parents to move beyond their difficult and violent past by focusing on specific gate-opening and closing behaviors with the goal of developing a realistic and workable co-parenting relationship.
Professional Resources: Publications on IPV and Child Custody
Austin, W. G., & Drozd, L. M. (2012). Intimate partner violence and child custody evaluation, Part I: Theoretical framework, forensic model, and assessment issues. Journal of Child Custody: Research, Issues, and Practice, 9(4), 250-309.
Austin, W. G., Thomas, S., & Arnold, A. (2009). Domestic violence: Assessment of the issue of intimate partner violence by the Child and Family Investigator. In R. M. Smith (Ed.), The role of the child and family investigator and the child’s legal representative in Colorado (pp. C17-1 – C17-27). Denver: Colorado Bar Association. Denver: Colorado Bar Association.
Austin, W. G. (2001). Partner violence and risk assessment in child custody evaluations. Family Court Review, 39, 483-496.
Austin, W. G. (2000). Assessing credibility in allegations of martial violence in the high-conflict child custody case. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 38, 462-477.
Bow, J. N., & Boxer, P. (2003). Assessing allegations of domestic violence in child custody evaluations. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(12), 1394-1410.