Abused women and child custody: the ongoing exposure to abusive ex-partners

J Adv Nurs. 1999 Feb;29(2):416-26. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00904.x.


Abuse of women in domestic relationships has become an epidemic. Research studies have documented that abuse does not end when a woman with children leaves the abuser but, in fact, the danger increases. A father's legal right to custody of and access to his children and the children's bond with their father prevent a woman from truly breaking free of her abuser. Theoretical literature has addressed how custody and access can serve as a means for an abuser to continue his abuse and expose his children to ongoing abuse and discord. Research on how custody and access issues are affecting abused women is limited. Key details about this phenomenon are not known. Hence, a research study using the qualitative methodology of phenomenology was conducted on abused women's experiences with custody and access and the ongoing exposure to abusive ex-partners. Six single mothers who had left abusive relationships and were at the time sharing custody of and/or access to their children with their abusive ex-partners participated in the study. Unstructured, non-directive interviews were conducted. Direction for analysis was taken from the specific steps outlined by Giorgi. Data analysis revealed that all of the women were living in great fear for their safety and that of their children. The ongoing danger and stress of living with the restrictions of the law took its toll on the women and ultimately affected their physical health and psychological well-being. The women described their experiences as having four components: (1) safety--living with ongoing danger; (2) stress--living with the restrictions of the law and the legal system; (3) coping--social support systems; and (4) to heal and move forward in life.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Battered Women / psychology*
  • British Columbia
  • Child
  • Child Custody* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Safety
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological