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Dilemmas in child custody disputes: the child's best interest in courtroom discourse
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Child and Youth Studies.
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis examines courtroom interactions involving child custody disputes, exploring how participants during courtroom hearings orient to and manage the task of presenting their own side, while contesting the opposing party, in matters like the child’s best interest, domestic violence, parental neglect and misconduct. Drawing on 42 audio-recorded courtroom examinations of litigating parents by the same side and opponent side attorneys, it examines authentic courtroom hearings. Theoretically and methodologically, the thesis primarily builds on discursive psychology and conversation analysis. It draws on and contributes to studies on institutional talk by explicating the subtle interactional work required by participants in this institutional setting.

The overall aim is to examine how interactional dilemmas in child custody disputes, requiring participants to simultanously manage contradictory activities, are handled through discursive practices. A core dilemma concerns the child’s (lack of) participation in the proceeding. In this absence, litigants try to mobilize the child’s voice and experiences in order to support their own claims, in danger of having such attempts dismissed as mere reflections of their own interest. The child’s reported speech and reported affects are important discursive devices for handling this dilemma. Another dilemma arises when litigants blame each other. Although this is necessary to ‘win’, litigants are regularly blamed when doing so, which generates something of a blame machinery of never-ending blame. A final dilemma concerns domestic violence. While implicitly gendered social categorizations are invoked to support mothers' claims of fearing their ex-partners, such discursive work is undermined through contrasting social categorizations.

By analyzing child custody disputes on the micro-level of courtroom interaction, this study contributes to an understanding of how disputes are built through participants’ discursive practices.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Child and Youth Studies, Stockholm University , 2014. , 95 p.
Keyword [en]
Child custody disputes, discursive psychology, conversation analysis, institutional talk, interactional dilemmas, reported speech, reported affect, blame allocations, social accounts, membership categories, gendered categories
National Category
Applied Psychology
Research subject
Child and Youth Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-97452ISBN: 978-91-7447-825-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-97452DiVA: diva2:679083
Public defence
2014-02-07, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
Vittnesmål i vårdnadstvister - förhandlingar om barnets bästa i domstol och familjerätt
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2010-0335
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Accepted. Paper 3: Accepted.

Available from: 2014-01-16 Created: 2013-12-11 Last updated: 2015-02-24Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Blame-account sequences in child custody disputes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Blame-account sequences in child custody disputes
2014 (English)In: Discourse & Society, ISSN 0957-9265, E-ISSN 1460-3624, Vol. 25, no 1, 47-64 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article analyzes how cross-examining attorneys and litigating parents accomplished blame attributions and accounts during courtroom examinations in child custody disputes. It draws on recordings from 42 cases. It is shown how person descriptions were vital parts of sequences of blame ascriptions and subsequent blame accounts, where cross-examining attorneys elicited and then invoked parents’ disparaging person descriptions of their ex-partners. As part of the institutional format of these disputes, parents had to handle an interactional dilemma concerning the reflexive implications of blaming others. While blame-implicative descriptions had been used to allocate blame to the ex-partner, they now backfired in that cross-examining attorneys would deploy the same descriptions as ways of reallocating blame (to the testifying parent). As part of such blame reallocations, cross-examining attorneys upgraded alleged prior blame attributions, thus fueling the dispute and setting up a recursive machinery in the form of a never-ending series of blamings.

Keyword
blame accounts, blame attributions, child custody disputes, courtroom interactions, interactional dilemmas, person descriptions
National Category
Applied Psychology
Research subject
Child and Youth Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-97538 (URN)10.1177/0957926513508857 (DOI)000330625300003 ()
Projects
Vittnesmål i vårdnadstvister - förhandlingar om barnets bästa i domstol och familjerätt
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2010-0035
Available from: 2013-12-13 Created: 2013-12-12 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
2. Category Work in Courtroom Talk About Domestic Violence: Gender as an Interactional Acomplishment in Child Custody Disputes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Category Work in Courtroom Talk About Domestic Violence: Gender as an Interactional Acomplishment in Child Custody Disputes
2014 (English)In: Feminism and Psychology, ISSN 0959-3535, E-ISSN 1461-7161, Vol. 24, no 1, 115-135 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This article examines how domestic violence and its effects on post-separation family life are dealt with within child custody disputes. Drawing on membership categorization analysis, audio-recorded courtroom testimonies from abused mothers seeking sole custody have been analysed. It was found that gendered categories like ‘male perpetrator’ and ‘female victim’ were central components in the mothers’ accounts of their legal claims, serving to support their claims of fearing the fathers of their children. However, the analyses also reveal that the opposing party attempted to contest and undermine such accounts during cross-examinations by substituting the very same categorizations. Such re-categorizations, for example from ‘female victim’ to ‘mad woman’, take the responsibility for the mother’s alleged fear away from the father. In exploring the relevance of gendered categories in mothers’ accounts, the article provides empirical examples of the subtle and complex ways through which gender discourses are manifested in child custody disputes in order to support or contest legal claims.

Keyword
membership categorization analysis, category-based accounts, gendered categories, domestic violence, child custody disputes, courtroom interaction
National Category
Sociology Psychology
Research subject
Child and Youth Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-97537 (URN)10.1177/0959353513515294 (DOI)000330772500007 ()
Projects
Vittnesmål i vårdnadstvister - förhandlingar om barnets bästa i domstol och familjerätt
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2010-0335
Available from: 2013-12-13 Created: 2013-12-12 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. Reported Speech and Reported Affect in Child Custody Disputes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Reported Speech and Reported Affect in Child Custody Disputes
2014 (English)In: Research on Language and Social Interaction, ISSN 0835-1813, E-ISSN 1532-7973, Vol. 47, no 1, 69-88 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This study analyses mothers' versus fathers' versions of events in three cases of audio-recorded child custody disputes in Sweden. We show how the parents use direct reported speech (including self-quotes) and reports of feelings as discursive devices for creating alternative versions with epistemic authority and credibility. Data in Swedish and English translation.

National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Child and Youth Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-97536 (URN)10.1080/08351813.2014.871806 (DOI)000337177900006 ()
Projects
Vittnesmål i vårdnadstvister - förhandlingar om barnets bästa i domstol och familjerätt
Funder
Forte, Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, 2010-0335
Available from: 2013-12-13 Created: 2013-12-12 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved

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