Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2009


Judges in domestic cases often underestimate the risk to a mother and her children that an angry and abusive father or other intimate partner poses. In a recent Maryland case, for example, two judges refused to deny a father visitation or require that visitation be supervised, despite the fact that the father had threatened suicide. During the father’s unsupervised visitation, he drowned all three of his children, then attempted to kill himself.

The Danger Assessment tool (the D.A.) developed by a Johns Hopkins Nursing professor and validated by herself and other social scientists shows how much the father’s thoughts of suicide increased the risk that he would commit murder. Had the judges had that Danger Assessment, the children might have been kept safe.

The attached article does something that we think has never been done before. It takes the D.A., which has been used widely to counsel domestic violence victims, and investigates whether and how it might be admissible in myriad types of court proceedings, both civil family law proceedings and criminal matters. The primary goal is to inform judges of the importance of the impact of the complex of factors in a particular case, including unemployment of the abuser, access to a gun, the presence in the home of children from an earlier relationship, and threats of suicide.

My co-author and I hope this will be a pivotal article that will lead to the taking of steps that result in heightened understanding by judges and provision of greater protection for victims and their children. We suggest (1) how the D.A. evidence may be admissible (or not) under current rules; (2) the possible advisability of amendments to current rules or statutes; and (3) judicial training on the D.A. factors.



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