It is not unusual for domestic violence situations to result in the filing of a divorce action. Sometimes, violent incidents can also occur after filing for divorce. In both circumstances, the victim has recourse under criminal law. However, a common question is whether or how domestic violence allegations may affect the determination of financial issues in divorce. This has become a more frequent concern since Connecticut expanded its definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control.”
What Is Connecticut’s Domestic Violence Law?
Domestic violence is a crime in Connecticut. However, before 2021, it was generally limited to conduct resulting in physical injury. In 2021, Connecticut broadened the definition to encompass coercive control, which is “a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.” Known as “Jennifers’ Law,” the provision was a significant change recognizing that limiting abuse to physical injury left many victims in dangerous situations.
The law specified several examples of coercive control including:
- Isolating the victim from family and friends;
- Depriving the victim of basic necessities;
- Controlling or monitoring the victim’s movements, communications, and finances;
- Threatening or harming the family pet;
- Forcing or threatening sexual acts.
Jennifers’ law gave victims of coercive control the right to file for a restraining order that protects them from physical harm as well as prohibits the perpetrator from taking actions that violate the law and/or interfere with the victim’s insurance, rent/mortgage, utilities, property, and other items.
How Does Jennifers’ Law Affect Financial Issues in Divorce?
The effect of claiming domestic abuse depends on when the abuse occurred. If coercive control or another type of domestic abuse occurred before filing for divorce, the abuse may be considered in determining the equitable distribution of marital assets, alimony, and/or child support. Under Connecticut law, the court must at least consider “the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage, or legal separation” in dividing the couple’s assets. This is one of approximately sixteen factors weighed by the court.
However, abuse that occurs during the divorce proceeding is not a factor in determining the distribution of assets and support. This is because actions taken after filing for divorce cannot be the cause of the breakdown of the marriage and, therefore, cannot be considered a factor in allocating assets.
Domestic abuse is a serious matter and any time it occurs, victims should go to the police, report it, and talk to an attorney to discuss their legal options. However, how it affects monetary issues in divorce is complicated. If you are considering divorce, let your attorney know about the abuse upfront. Our attorneys can help protect your rights and advocate for your best interests in court and negotiations to help you achieve a positive result. Contact us today.