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Jennifer’s Law Recognizes “Coercive Control” as Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence or abuse may petition the family court for an order of protection against their abusers. Historically, Connecticut law required that a victim show actual physical injury before the court would act. The inability to prove bodily injury left many people vulnerable to continued abuse. But a new law enacted in 2021 has broadened the definition of domestic violence, making protection orders available to victims of certain types of nonphysical force.

Jennifer’s Law,” which took effect October 1, is aimed at protecting people who are subjected to a pattern of escalating abuse that might turn deadly. The law is named after Jennifer Farber Dulos and Jennifer Magnano, women who were killed by their domestic partners.

Jennifer’s Law expands the definition of domestic violence. A person may obtain a protective order by showing a pattern or history of “coercive control” by an intimate partner or by a family member or household member. As defined in the law, coercive control means use of superior power, leverage or access to resources to deprive the victim of their free will or autonomy. Examples of coercive control include:

  • Threatening physical violence against or coercion of a person or a person’s child
  • Threatening sexual assault against or coercion of a person or a person’s child
  • Depriving the victim of financial resources for necessary goods and services
  • Forcing the victim to take action or refrain from action against their will
  • Isolating the victim from family or friends
  • Stalking or cyberstalking

Of particular significance is the law’s recognition of financial abuse as a form of domestic violence. It is common for abusers to restrict their partner’s access to money or other resources and by doing so to control the partner’s actions or limit their options. Control of resources often prevents the victim from escaping from an abusive situation.

Although Jennifer’s Law is meant to better protect victims of domestic abuse, implementation has been slow. It takes time for judges, judicial staff and lawyers to learn the legal tools included in new law. In addition, moving forward with the revised statute has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts have been closed or operations have been severely curtailed. This caused a backlog of family cases, including those involving domestic violence.

Needle Cuda partner Alexander Cuda pointed out in an recent television interview that getting a case heard may take several months or over a year in some instances. “It’s been very much … a challenge for litigants, for lawyers, for the courts to be able to hear pending claims in a timely fashion,” said Cuda, who chairs the Connecticut Bar Association’s Family Law Section. This difficulty underscores the need for skilled legal representation in such cases.

At Needle Cuda, based in Westport, our highly experienced attorneys represent Connecticut residents in a wide range of family law matters, including domestic violence cases. Feel free to contact us online or call 203-557-9500 for an initial consultation.

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