"Jennifer’s Law" Changes Domestic Violence Definition in Connecticut

domestic violence definition

Connecticut’s domestic violence laws already required those accused of abuse to act quickly to defend their reputation and their freedom. Now the newly adopted “Jennifer’s Law” is changing the domestic violence definition in the state’s family violence criminal charges, family courts, and protective order proceedings. These changes broaden what counts as domestic violence in CT and creates a risk of further abuse within the state court system.

CT Governor Signs Jennifer’s Law, Expanding What is Domestic Violence

On June 28, 2021, Governor Ned Lamont signed SB-1091, called “Jennifer’s Law” into law. The newly adopted bill was named after Jennifer Dulos, a mother of five whose body went missing in 2019. Investigators believe Jennifer was murdered by her estranged husband, Fontis Dulos. It was put forward by legislators with the help of domestic violence survivor advocates hoping to prevent future fatal domestic violence incidents.

This domestic violence reform legislation took two years to pass, in part because it changes nearly a dozen statutes around family law, criminal family violence charges, and protective orders. It drastically expands Parts of the law went into effect almost immediately, on July 1, 2021. However, the protective order provisions are effective as of October 1, 2021.

Connecticut’s New Domestic Violence Definition

After Jennifer’s Law takes effect, the new domestic violence used in divorce, child custody cases, and family violence in criminal cases. The new definition includes:

(1) A continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury against a family or household member, …

(2) stalking, … of such family or household member;

(3) a pattern of threatening, … of such family or household member or a third party that intimidates such family or household member; or

(4) coercive control of such family or household member, which is a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person's free will and personal liberty.

The law also allows the alleged victims of domestic violence who have received a protective order to appear in court electronically with advanced notice to the court. It also requires each court building to provide a secure place for alleged victims to wait for their court hearings away from their alleged abusers.

Coercive Control: Non-Physical Domestic Violence

Jennifer’s Law expands what is domestic violence in Connecticut’s family courts to include non-physical acts of dominance and control. The new statute defines “coercive control” to include unreasonably:

(A) Isolating the family or household member from friends, relatives or other sources of support;

(B) Depriving the family or household member of basic necessities;

(C) Controlling, regulating or monitoring the family or household member's movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources or access to services;

(D) Compelling the family or household member by force, threat or intimidation, including, but not limited to, threats based on actual or suspected immigration status, to (i) engage in conduct from which such family or household member has a right to abstain, or (ii) abstain from conduct that such family or household member has a right to pursue;

(E) Committing or threatening to commit cruelty to animals that intimidates the family or household member; or

(F) Forced sex acts, or threats of a sexual nature, including, but not limited to, threatened acts of sexual conduct, threats based on a person's sexuality or threats to release sexual images.

These forms of non-physical domestic abuse have been gaining attention across the country. Last year, California and Hawaii adopted coercive control provisions for their own domestic violence statutes. New York, Maryland, and South Carolina are considering similar measures. Advocates for domestic violence survivors say that by including non-physical forms of power and control within the definition of domestic violence, the courts can identify and correct an abuser’s behavior before it escalates to physical harm or death.

Will Jennifer’s Law Lead to Abuse of Its Own?

However, some Connecticut attorneys are concerned that the specific language in Jennifer’s law “is likely to cause more problems than it solves.” Attorney Rueben Midler, who represented Jennifer Dulos in her own divorce, said the reform could allow some to take advantage of the system by falsely alleging economic coercion to get an advantage in family court. Protective orders can remove an alleged abuser from their home, limit their access to their children, and limit their Second Amendment right to bear arms. If a spouse uses the new domestic violence law improperly at the start of a divorce, it could negatively affect every part of the accused’s life.

At the Lebedevitch Law Firm, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, family lawyer and criminal defense attorney Stephen Lebedevitch knows how Connecticut’s new domestic violence definition could be used against you in the state’s protective orders and criminal charges. If you are being falsely accused of domestic violence or coercive control, he will stand beside you at the initial protective order hearing, work to get your family violence charges dismissed, and advocate on your behalf to modify the restraining order and get your life back. Contact us for a free consultation to talk to Stephen today.