Spousal Abuse, Child Custody and Access Research Team

The study was funded by the Canadian Bar Association, Law for the Futures Fund. The final (272 page) research monograph was released publicly in 2001, Spousal Abuse, Children and the Legal System. The report is cited regularly by individuals and organizations seeking law reform as well as by academics in academic literature. The research team members most actively involved in the research (Charnley, Gallagher, Gavin, Guravich, Neilson) have remained active in educational and professional pursuits in the domestic violence field since the release of the report, drawing upon data and experience gained during the project.

Research Team members:

  • Linda Neilson, Team Coordinator, (Dept. of Sociology, UNB)
  • Cynthia Davis (Lawyer, Dept. of Justice)
  • Jim Richardson, (Dept of Sociology, UNB)
  • Barbara Baird, (Solicitor, Fredericton)
  • Gary Bowden, (Dept. of Sociology, UNB)
  • Alison Charnley, (Health & Com. Services)
  • Tim Gallagher, (Psychologist, Fredericton)
  • Susan Gavin, (Family Court Worker)
  • Michael Guaravich, (Family Court Services)
  • Susan McCallen, (Dept. of Sociology, UNB)
  • Joan Wright, (Psychologist, Fredericton)


The goal of the research team is to study how allegations of spousal abuse affect legal decision-making about the future care of dependent children, and to explore how legal decisions about children affect family members' lives, in order to propose legal or procedural changes that may help to reduce the incidence or consequences of spousal abuse after separation or divorce.


1. Primary Research

  • survey of 5,170 reported family law cases; detailed analysis of 182 cases involving dependent children and allegations of domestic violence;
  • random survey of 2,138 family court files in three jurisdictions; detailed analysis of 289 files involving dependent children and allegations of domestic violence;
  • interviews with 74 men (20) and women (54) involved in such cases;
  • survey and analysis of questionnaire data from 147 lawyers;
  • public release of 272 page research report.

2. Publications:

In addition to the final research report, this project has resulted in the publication, in the United States and Canada, of six articles, one book chapter and one book review many of them reproduced and republished in edited collections and in educational materials for judges, lawyers and mediators. Publications associated with the project are listed at the end of this report.

3. Conference and Professional Presentations:

Over 20 academic and professional conference presentations in Canada and Europe, many of them connected to professional education: judicial education (5); social worker and mediator education (7), lawyer and law student education: (6); crown prosecutor education (1), in addition to academic presentations.

4. Educational endeavours:

Active involvement in judicial education: presentations to judges locally (New Brunswick: Moncton, Mirmichi) and at national judicial educational conferences (Halifax, Whitehorse) on domestic violence issues. One team member has been working with the National Judicial Institute in the design of curriculum and preparation of educational materials for judges across the country in the domestic violence field and is currently drafting a judicial resource manual for Canadian judges on behalf of the National Judicial Institute.

Active involvement in organizing, designing and delivering educational workshops, courses and programs in the domestic violence field to social workers and mediators, locally (in New Brunswick) and nationally across Canada (3 team members).

Reports to the Department of Justice, New Brunswick, on the development and design of policies and domestic violence screening tools for court-social-worker mediators in New Brunswick (2 team members)

Presentations to the Province of New Brunswick on domestic violence policy reform

Active involvement within the university community to combat all forms of violence; delivery of lectures and workshops on this issue (1 team member).

Active involvement in ensuring that child protection workers receive domestic violence training (1 team member).

5. Professional and law reform endeavours:

(2004) Attendance at full day consultation, Department of Justice, proposed new legislation, policies and reforms in the domestic violence field, March 24, 2004, Fredericton, New Brunswick (3 team members).

Academic Opinion: Internet Access to Family Court Judgments. Academic opinion solicited by Department of Justice, New Brunswick, for circulation to government departments, lawyers and the judiciary. Submitted, June 2004, 23 pages.

Initiation, drafting and implementation of revisions to national professional standards of practice for family mediators to bring the professional standards up to date on domestic violence matters (2 research team members). The Standards are posted on line at: Family Mediation Canada (2003) Practice, Certification and Training Standards: http://www.fmc.ca/pdf/standardsweb2003.pdf

(2003) Presentation of formal Brief on Revisions to the Divorce Act to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Government of Canada.

(2003) Pre-publication version of (2003) “Putting Revisions to the Divorce Act Through a Family Violence Filter: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” Canadian Journal of Family Law 20 (1) included in Canadian Bar Association, Continuing Legal Education Training Materials.

(2002) Academic advisor to the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, educational program on family dynamics, abuse and control for lawyers and mediators (1 team member).

(2000) Participation in three-day national consultation on child custody and access issues; academics, women's groups, service providers, from across Canada. Vancouver, British Columbia, organized by Vancouver Custody and Access Support and Advocacy Association, April (1 team member).

(1999) Delivery of workshop "Responding to Government - Women with Child Custody and Access Issues" Making Waves, Atlantic Provinces, Women and the Law Conference, Gander, Newfoundland, September 1999 (1 team member).

Publication List

Final Research Report:

Spousal Abuse, Children and the Legal System Final Report for Canadian Bar Association Law for the Futures Fund (Fredericton: Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, March 2001) book length manuscript, 272 pages. Download Report in PDF format (1 mb).

Related Publications:

“Assessing Mutual Partner-Abuse Claims in Child Custody and Access Cases”, Family Court Review 42 (3) (2004). An amended version of this article titled “Assessing Mutual Partner-Abuse Claims” was published by the National Judicial Institute in Enhancing Judicial Skills in Cases of Violence & Abuse in Intimate Relationships in educational materials for the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges national conference. Whitehorse, Yukon, June 24-24, 2004.

“Children and Family Violence in the New Brunswick Legal System: How Responsibilities Get Lost In Rights” in Understanding Abuse: Partnering for Change, University of Toronto Press, 2004.

“A Comparative Analysis of Law in Theory and Law in Action in Partner Abuse Cases: What Do the Data Tell Us?” Studies in Law, Politics and Society 26: 141-87. An amended version of this paper titled " Factors Limiting the Presentation of Evidence in Partner Abuse Cases" was published in Canadian Bar Association (2002) The 2002 National Family Law Program Vol. II, Chapter 22, Kelowna, British Columbia.

" Partner Abuse, Children and Statutory Change: Cautionary Comments on Women's Access to Justice" Windsor Yearbook on Access to Justice (2000) 18: 115-152; also published with permission of author and publisher by National Judicial Institute (2000) in New Brunswick Social Context Education Seminar: Rendering Justice in a Diverse Society, conference materials for judges.

"Partner Abuse, Children and the Courts: Preliminary Impressions” FVRC Networker, Issue 11, Winter 1998, p. 5-8.

"Spousal Abuse, Children and the Courts: The Case For Social Rather than Legal Change". Canadian Journal of Law and Society 12(1): 101-145; republished in J. Banfield (ed.) Readings in Law and Society (North York: Captus Press 1999).

“Putting Revisions to the Divorce Act Through a Family Violence Filter: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” Canadian Journal of Family Law (2003) 20 (1) 11-56.

"Assessing Mutual Partner-Abuse Claims”. Power Point presentation. In National Judicial Institute Enhancing Judicial Skills in Cases of Violence & Abuse in Intimate Relationships, Educational Materials. Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges national conference. Whitehorse, Yukon, June 24-24, 2004.

"Book Review. Reclaiming Self: issues and resources for women abuse by intimate partners, edited by Leslie M. Tutty and Carolyn Goard. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing. In Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 14 (2) 2002: 449-454.