Johnson's Differentiation Theory: Is It Really Empirically Supported?

30 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2015 Last revised: 1 Nov 2015

See all articles by Joan S. Meier

Joan S. Meier

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: 2015


Michael Johnson's differentiation of different "types" of domestic violence has had significant impact on the field, including courts and providers. Yet aspects of the typology, in particular, Johnson's claim that non-control-based "situational couple violence" is by far the most common form of domestic violence, have been problematic, particularly in family courts. The quasi-scientific label is already being used by judges and evaluators to minimize abuse claims brought by one parent against the other. One reason Johnson's typology has been so quickly and widely accepted is its claim to an empirical basis. But what do the data actually prove? In this article, Professor Meier takes a close look at the studies and data Johnson references and finds them substantially lacking in the empirical "proof" he asserts they provide. In fact, the studies might well support an opposite conclusion to Johnson's: that control-based abuse is far more common than truly "situational" domestic violence.

Keywords: children, abuse, custody, family court, domestic violence, quantitative research

Suggested Citation

Meier, Joan S., Johnson's Differentiation Theory: Is It Really Empirically Supported? (2015). Journal of Child Custody, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 4-24, 2015 ; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2015-41; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-41. Available at SSRN:

Joan S. Meier (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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