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Defining, Determining, and Distinguishing High Interparental Conflict and Intimate Partner Violence in Family Law Cases: A Qualitative Study of Stakeholder Perspectives



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.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

Materials (e.g., interview guides, summary template outlines) are available upon request from the first author. Completed templates (e.g., interview data) are not available to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the participants. It is not possible to completely de-identify these templates because there are so few stakeholders in each role in this county’s court.


  1. This study (2021-0708) was approved by the university IRB at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Indiana University deferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

  2. Materials (e.g., interview guides, summary template outlines) are available upon request from the first author. Completed templates (e.g., interview data) are not available to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the participants. It is not possible to completely de-identify these templates because there are so few stakeholders in each role in this county’s court.

  3. Interview recordings were used only for the larger study, and thus are not discussed further in the current study.


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We thank the Indiana Supreme Court and our collaborator, Judge Maria Granger, for their support of evidence-based research and practice. We also thank our research assistant, Lucy Liu, and Amy Holtzworth-Munroe for their contribution to this work.


This work was supported by Award No. 103518, awarded by the Indiana Supreme Court Office of Court Services.

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Correspondence to Holly Huber Gifford or Brittany N. Rudd.

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The research was conducted through an academic judicial partnership with a court system in southern Indiana. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Indiana Supreme Court or any Indiana Court System. This study (2021-0708) was approved by the university IRB at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Indiana University deferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Huber Gifford, H., Witzig, J., Ordorica, C. et al. Defining, Determining, and Distinguishing High Interparental Conflict and Intimate Partner Violence in Family Law Cases: A Qualitative Study of Stakeholder Perspectives. J Fam Viol (2023).

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