Professor Wilson’s work in family law evaluates the risk factors present in child physical abuse, child sexual abuse, and neglect. Using this work, Professor Wilson partnered with law professor David Orentlicher, a then member of the Indiana House of Representatives, in crafting concrete guidelines to better protect children throughout the child protection system. Professor Wilson has also assisted lawmakers and judges to evaluate proposals for the reform of state marriage and divorce laws, including publishing the leading critique of the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution.


INDIANA (2002-2004)

In 2002, Representative David Orentlicher of the Indiana House of Representatives,  then a health law faculty member at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, approached Professor Wilson about possible law reforms to better protect children.  Professor Wilson’s article, The Cradle of Abuse: Evaluating the Danger Posed by a Sexually Predatory Parent to a Victim’s Siblings,51 Emory L.J. 241 (2002), had just appeared.   There, she showed that when an act of incest occurs in a household, it is often not limited to the single “index” child.  Together, Representative Orentlicher and Professor Wilson distilled a set of presumptions to guide caseworkers in Indiana when confronting allegations of incest in households containing more than one child.  Today, Indiana law defines as a child in need of services all children “living in same household as victim of sex offense” if the offender also lives there and other criteria are met.  Ind. Code § 31-34-1-3 (2016). The Indiana Code also now establishes a rebuttable presumption of risk to a child living in the same household as the victim and a convicted offender, and bars certain common “defenses” to a finding of risk—for instance, that an adult who molests a stepchild is “safe” with his biological child.  Ind. Code  § 31-34-12-4.5 (2016).


indiana (2006-2007)

In 2006, Professor Wilson again partnered with Representative Orentlicher to improve steps taken to protect children after allegations of abuse in the household.  Drawing on her work on Sexually Predatory Parents and the Children in Their Care:  Remove the Threat, Not the Child, in her first book, the Handbook of Children, Culture and Violence (Nancy Dowd, Dorothy G. Singer & Robin Fretwell Wilson, eds., 2006), Professor Wilson argued that caseworkers should remove alleged offenders from the home during the pending investigation, rather than revictimizing the child by removing him or her. Professor Wilson developed the public health rationale for acting proactively to protect children in Removing Violent Parents from the Home: A Test Case for the Public Health Approach, 12 Virginia J. Soc. Pol’y & Law 638 (2005).

Representative Orentlicher introduced proposed legislation that allows law enforcement officers to take an alleged offender into custody in order to remove him from the home and to initiate proceedings to secure a stay-away order, a law that became effective on July 1, 2007. The law also authorizes the court to issue a child protective order if certain conditions are met and makes it a Class A misdemeanor for the alleged offender to return to the home during the order and for the non-offending parent to knowingly or intentionally allow the offender to return. Ind. Code §§ 31-34-2.3-1 thru -8 (2016).


Organizing the Principal Critique of the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution

In 2004, Professor Wilson spearheaded the principal academic response to the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, resulting inReconceiving the Family:  Critique on the American Law Institute’s Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution (Robin Fretwell Wilson, ed., Cambridge University Press, 2006).

In 25 chapters, authors who span the spectrum from traditionalists to progressives explore how the ALI Principles would reform nearly every aspect of the state law of divorce of the 50 states, including property distribution and alimony or spousal maintenance to custody standards and notions of parenthood. That critique has been cited by courts on multiple occasions, including United States v. Batton, 602 F. 3d 1191, 1201 (10th Cir. 2010); In re Bernard T., 319 SW 3d 586, 597 (Tenn. 2010); Smith v. Smith, 769 N.W.2d 591 (2008).

As the ABA Journal has reported, Professor Wilson with co-authors has shown that courts have largely overlooked the ALI’s recommendations, citing them primarily when reaching results already authorized by the law of the state.

Professor Wilson’s pointed critique of the ALI’s test for De Facto Parents probes the consequences for children, and their mothers, of thinning down conceptions of parenthood.