Family law cases where high levels of interparental conflict (high conflict) and/or intimate partner violence (IPV) is present have concerned social science and legal scholars and practitioners for decades because these cases require more court resources and relate to poorer outcomes for children. However, definitions between fields are inconsistent, which limits stakeholders’ ability to consistently identify and support these families.
The current study uses an innovative rapid qualitative method to elucidate (1) court stakeholders’ definitions of high conflict and IPV, (2) how they determine these are present in a case, and (3) whether they distinguish the two concepts in meaningful ways, to highlight areas for family law reform. Court stakeholders (i.e., judges, administrators, lawyers, community service providers; n = 16) from the same Midwestern county were interviewed to better understand their definitions, determinations, and distinguishment of high conflict and IPV in family law cases. Rapid qualitative analysis methods, including matrix analysis, were used to collect, organize, and analyze the data (Averill, 2002).
Results indicate the following: stakeholders largely do not determine a case is high conflict until after the case begins; IPV definitions primarily focus on physical violence; empirically supported methods to identify IPV survivors are infrequently used; and stakeholders disagree about how to distinguish between high conflict and IPV.
These results will be used to increase the implementation of screening for IPV and high conflict in family law cases. Results highlight the need to develop methods for assessing for high inter-parental conflict early in the case and target knowledge acquisition via training strategies (particularly about IPV) for court stakeholders in family law.