OBJECTIVE: Child abuse in the context of legal and de facto marital breakdown has received little attention internationally. Many believe it does not exist in this context and regard it as just a "gambit in the divorce wars." Recently, however, family courts in a number of countries have become concerned over the management of child abuse allegations in custody and access cases, known more commonly now as residence and contact cases. This article presents a unique research study, which investigated how the Family Court of Australia dealt with such cases. The study, covering all forms of child abuse, sought to discover who were the families bringing these problems to family courts, what precisely the abuse was and how the courts dealt with it. METHOD: The study reviewed court records of some 200 families where child abuse allegations had been made in custody and access disputes in jurisdictions in two states, observed court proceedings and interviewed court and related services' staff. RESULTS: The findings showed that these cases had become a core component of the court's workload without any public or professional awareness of this change, that the abuse was real, that it was severe and serious, and that the courts and child protection services did not provide appropriate services to the families. CONCLUSION: A new specialized intervention system was developed based on the research and it is now being trialed and evaluated. The new intervention system contains features derived from the research findings that may be suitable internationally for implementation.