that violence occurred. But the issuing court makes no effort to confirm or deny the validity of the complaint. As Elaine Epstein, Esq., former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association wrote in 1993, “The facts have become irrelevant. Everyone knows that restraining orders…are granted to virtually all who apply…In many cases, allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage.” Thus, the existence of a restraining order does not substantiate an allegation of domestic violence. Neither does the mere fact of the existence of a police report, since this can be generated simply by making an allegation to the police.
In summary, in a large but unknown percentage of the cases Kernic et al. characterized as “substantiated,” no violence actually occurred.
This study confirms others showing that serious domestic violence is not an “epidemic” at all, but is something that occurs in a small minority of cases. The authors carefully combed 2,374 case records, and found 250 cases of “substantiated” intimate partner violence (IPV). This amounts to 10.5% of all divorce filings in Seattle. (They identified an additional 54 cases in which allegations had been made, but no substantiation existed.) This number is relatively close to the findings of reputable researchers such as Janet Johnston or Murray Straus. Since, as discussed above, these 250 cases would have ranged from no actual violence, to violence long in the past, to throwing an object, to a heated argument, to a vicious beating, it is reasonable to conclude that serious domestic violence occurred in less than 5% of the cases, a finding consistent with other reputable researchers.
Nevertheless, the paper does suggest that, as Meier charges, no mention of abuse is found in the divorce case files in a substantial proportion of cases. Meier claims the proportion is 48%. Examination of Table 2 shows that it is 37%, if, as is doubtful, all the cases of “substantiated” domestic violence were correctly designated. Whatever the actual percentage is, the question remains, why was the court unaware of the allegations of domestic violence? The victims or their attorneys appeared in court for the divorce process, where they could have called the court’s attention to the problem. It is not sensible to assert that they were too intimidated to mention the matter, since they had previously reported the alleged violence to the courts or the police. It is more likely that the matter was not re-visited in the divorce proceedings because it was a passing incident, isolated occurrence, or harmless. Despite these speculations, it is fair to say that this report suggests a need to improve the reporting of domestic violence in the divorce process.
The data in this study contradict other assertions of Prof. Meier. Alleged abusers received primary custody of the children in only 9% of “substantiated intimate partner violence cases known to court.” This is inconsistent with Meier’s repeated assertions that the figure is 70%, even taking into account that the Kernic article includes all divorce cases with allegations of violence, whereas Meier’s assertion applies only to contested cases.
Finally, the data in the Kernic et al. article fails to establish the major conclusion stated by the authors. They state, “We found that mothers with a history of intimate partner violence victimization were no more likely than comparison group mothers to be awarded child custody.” (p.1014.) The most likely reason for this result is that the study lacked sufficient power to detect the difference it sought. To attain sufficient power, the sample size would have needed to be considerably larger. This conclusion is reached as follows. In the comparison group without