Dangerous Liaisons: Social Science and Law in Domestic Violence Cases

56 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2017

See all articles by Joan S. Meier

Joan S. Meier

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: February 2, 2017


This article explores the fundamental differences between law and social science in how they ascertain truth, through examination of a popular domestic violence “typology” which is increasingly used in child custody litigation. The paper examines how courts and evaluators have used the typology to minimize or ignore a parent’s past domestic violence. It also reviews the empirical research to determine whether courts’ understandings of the typology’s “types” are empirically supported. Although the typology has been widely touted as empirically based, the research indicates significant contradictions and gaps in the research, and suggests that there is little empirical support for the key aspects of the “types” on which courts rely. The analysis demonstrates how the nuances and complexities of social science research do not transfer to litigation, resulting in simplistic labeling which often creates harmful outcomes for children. This analysis is important both to the family law and domestic violence fields, where the typology is gaining traction, and to the larger question of how social science is used in the law. The article constitutes a call to courts to step back from frequent and uncritical incorporation of social science in their legal decision-making.

Suggested Citation

Meier, Joan S., Dangerous Liaisons: Social Science and Law in Domestic Violence Cases (February 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3004176 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3004176

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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