A seasoned veteran of the unit, Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) thinks he’s seen it all. However, investigating violent sex crimes often provides a surprising twist or two to his job. Stabler has little patience for the despicable criminals he and his partner, Detective Benson, investigate, which is evident when his temper flares. Stabler is married to Kathy, his highschool sweetheart, and has five children.
Detective Stabler often encounters cases which he relates to his family, and sees the “perps” as a threat to his children, thus motivating him to become more involved with the victims and suspects.
Stabler is devoted to his family and frequently mentions or thinks about them while working cases. He married his wife, Kathy (Isabel Gillies), when he was 17, and in the beginning of the series they have four school-aged children: Maureen, Kathleen, and twins Richard (“Dickie”) (Jeffrey Scaperrotta) and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”). After years of the stress involved with being married to a police officer, Kathy Stabler leaves her husband, taking their children and temporarily moving in with her mother. Stabler later signs the divorce papers, saying, “When love warps to hate, there’s nothing you won’t do”. He did not believe that had happened yet, but realized it would, and he did not want Kathy to regret him. However, after being cleared in the death of a suspect, Stabler realizes that he can’t bear to lose either his job or his family and seeks reconciliation with his wife. A short time later, Kathy announces that she is pregnant and asks Stabler to come home. After a serious car accident, Kathy delivers a healthy baby boy, Elliot Stabler, Jr (Eli).
Of his five children, Kathleen and Dickie have most directly affected his job. Kathleen is twice arrested for DUI; though he uses his clout as a police officer to make the first charge disappear, he realizes that he cannot continue to protect his daughter, and she is sentenced to community service. Kathleen then steals her father’s credit card and gives it to her boyfriend, who rings up thousands of dollars in charges. She is later arrested for breaking and entering and robbery, at which time doctors and her family realize that she suffers frombipolar disorder, which she inherited from her paternal grandmother, Bernadette Stabler (Ellen Burstyn). After speaking with her grandmother, Kathleen agrees to treatment. In the episode “Turmoil“, Dickie is nowhere to be found after a fight at school. It is later revealed he is trying to join the army, something Stabler disapproves of. It later turns out that Dickie’s friend, Shane, has been murdered.
Stabler is fiercely protective of his children and becomes defensive if a suspect asks about his family. In the episode “Tragedy“, he reveals he helped deliver all of his children to that point; he sees aspects of them in every molested child. As a result, he harbors an immense and open hatred for pedophiles, admitting in the episode “Slaves” that he sometimesfantasizes about killing them; he almost loses his job as a result. Stabler has occasionally seen aspects of himself in a child abuser, as in the episode “Shaken“, when an abusive parent reminds him of an incident in which he lost his temper and slapped his then-toddler daughter Maureen. While he restrained himself from hurting her further, he was frightened by his loss of control. In the episode “Confession“, he does over a pedophile who posts a picture of Elizabeth on his website.
Many victims tend to respond to him. In the episode “Resilience“, Stabler successfully reaches out to a 15-year-old girl (Rachael Bella) who regresses to a child-like state after being attacked by her father. SVU’s resident psychiatrist, Dr George Huang (B.D. Wong), theorizes that only Stabler would be able to reach her, as he is a father, and she is looking for another father figure.
Stabler rarely talks about his childhood. It is implied that his father, Joseph, also a police officer, was abusive, and his mother, Bernadette (née) McGinley, suffers from bipolar disorder. As a result, Stabler has “erased his childhood”, and maintains little contact with his mother. However, Bernadette finally admits she is bipolar when Kathleen is suspected of having the same disorder.
In the 12th season episode “Gray” Stabler attends a rally, in which Kathleen is involved, that provides rape awareness to the college campus; surprising to him, he is listed as a guest speaker. Seconds after he is introduced, an adolescent woman comes running into the rally accusing out loud that a man (who is running behind her as well) has raped her. Stabler has no other option than to arrest the man at the rally. As the investigation continues, Stabler finds out Kathleen was the rape victim’s “Designated Buddy” the night the victim was raped. She then provides her father a confidential report on the accused rapist for a prior incident.