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When Is Coercive Control a Form of Domestic Violence Under Connecticut Law?

May 16, 2024

Under Connecticut law, domestic violence encompasses various actions including threats of pain and injury and stalking. In 2021, the definition was expanded to also include “coercive control.” This provision was called “Jennifer’s Law” and it gave victims of coercive control the ability to get a restraining order against the perpetrator and access other governmental assistance. However, the definition is somewhat vague which can present challenges in proving or disproving a claim of coercive control.

How Is Domestic Violence Defined in Connecticut?

“Domestic violence” is defined as: 

  1. a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury against a family or household member; 
  2. stalking, including 2nd degree stalking, of a family or household member; 
  3. a pattern of threatening, including 2nd degree threatening, of a family or household member or a third party that intimidates the family or household member; or 
  4. coercive control of a 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.

What Is Coercive Control?

“Coercive control” includes unreasonably: 

  1. isolating the family or household member from friends, relatives, or other support; 
  2. depriving the family or household member of basic necessities; 
  3. controlling, regulating, or monitoring the family or household member’s movements, communications, daily behavior, finances, economic resources, or access to services; 
  4. compelling the family or household member by force, threat, or intimidation, including threats based on actual or suspected immigration status to (a) engage in conduct from which they have a right to abstain or (b) abstain from conduct that they have a right to pursue;
  5. committing or threatening to commit cruelty to animals that intimidates the family or household member; or 
  6. forcing the performance of sex acts or making threats of a sexual nature, including threatened acts of sexual conduct, threats based on a person’s sexuality, or threats to release sexual images.

What Are the Consequences of a Court Finding Coercive Control?

Victims of coercive control by a family or household member are eligible for civil restraining orders to protect themselves and their dependent children or other people. In addition, a finding by the court of coercive control makes criminal violation of a protection order or condition of release a “family violence crime” in certain circumstances. Victims may also gain the right to testify or appear in family court remotely and have access to family violence victim advocates and certain assistance programs. Indigent victims applying for a restraining order may qualify for free legal assistance.

A finding of coercive control also impacts child custody matters by expanding the “best interest of the child” factors to include consideration of the child’s physical and emotional health.

How Do Courts Evaluate Coercive Control?

Coercive control does not require a threat or even physical harm or endangerment. It can arise simply by virtue of the power dynamic in the relationship.

While the definition of coercive control may appear clear, it may be so broad as to create an “I know it when I see it” type question for courts. Lack of guidance means that courts may be looking at controlling behaviors that are objectionable but not necessarily unlawful with different judges potentially coming to different conclusions based on their subjective view of when the behavior is coercive. 

The statute does contain the word “unreasonably” in the definition of “coercive control.” While this word is helpful, it still does not provide sufficient guidelines to lawyers or individuals as to what level of control is coercive.

As a result of this broad language, both parties may struggle to demonstrate their case. In such a fact-sensitive situation, it is critical to seek the advice of a knowledgeable lawyer who can help you understand your rights and strongly advocate on your behalf. 

If you are the victim or alleged perpetrator in a case involving coercive control, contact us to discuss how we can assist you with your case.


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