The fracture behavior of adhesively-bonded double- and stepped-lap joints composed of pultruded glass fiber-reinforced polymer composite laminates and subjected to axial tension was experimentally investigated and numerically modeled. Two methods were used for the calculation of the strain energy release rate: the experimental compliance method and the virtual crack closure technique. Their results showed good agreement for stepped-lap joints, while significant deviations were observed for double-lap joints due to small stiffness changes. The experimental compliance method results were sensitive to these small changes and the virtual crack closure technique accuracy was affected by the inability of the finite element analysis to accurately model the behavior before visual crack initiation. The dominant fracture mode changed from Mode I to Mode II in the case of stepped-lap joints, while an almost constant mode ratio was retained for double-lap joints in the applied loading range. A non-convex mixed-mode fracture criterion was established for crack initiation and propagation based on the virtual crack closure technique results. Both the experimental compliance method and the virtual crack closure technique proved applicable for the interpretation of the fracture mechanics data of the structural joints examined, provided that stiffness degradation can be accurately described. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.