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Revised Jennifer Dulos law would expand scope of domestic violence. By Lisa Backus Feb. 2, 2021

"If the law passes, Connecticut will be the first in the nation to require courts to consider domestic violence or abuse first when ruling on what is in the best interest of the child," Senator Alex Kasser

Reprinted from Connecticut Insider:

Alex Kasser has submitted a revised version of her proposed groundbreaking legislation named after Jennifer Dulos that would expand Connecticut’s legal definition of domestic violence to make it easier for victims to obtain restraining orders. The Greenwich senator’s proposal tightens controls on the number of court filings litigants can make in divorce and custody matters and also lists a range of behaviors that include financial abuse, threats of the loss of housing, stalking, and threatening to publish sexualized images of the victim that would now be considered domestic violence or abuse. Related Stories

“If we can achieve and apply the standards laid out in the law, we could save enormous amounts of judicial resources and we would stop the cycle of abuse years earlier,” Kasser said. The bill has the support of Jennifer Dulos’ close friend, Carrie Luft, who has acted as the spokeswoman for her family as the missing persons case has spanned nearly two years. “Intimate partner violence affects all genders and cuts across the socioeconomic spectrum,” Luft said. “This bill, and other legislation like it, is a critical step toward a larger shift. By changing the language of domestic violence to include coercive control, we can change the law. By changing language, we can also change the discussion, and, I hope, change the story.” “Jennifer would have wanted to do everything in her power to help others in abusive situations to live free from fear,” Luft added.

Jennifer Dulos sought a restraining order and emergency custody of her five children when she left her husband, Fotis Dulos, in June 2017. A judge, however, denied her request for a restraining order because she was unable to show she was physically abused, according to court documents. However, Fotis Dulos had threatened to take their five children and used intimidation to get his wife to sign a custody agreement, court documents show. The divorce and custody dispute spanned more than two years and ended after Jennifer Dulos vanished in May 2019. The 50-year-old mother is presumed dead after police said they believe her estranged husband attacked her in the garage of her New Canaan home when she returned from dropping off their children at school, arrest warrants in the case state. Fotis Dulos died in January 2020 from a suicide as he faced murder and other charges in connection with his estranged wife’s death and disappearance.

Kasser, who also represents New Canaan where Jennifer Dulos lived, has spent the months since the disappearance researching how to prevent similar tragedies by allowing victims to get help they need immediately. She’s worked with legal experts from around the country to craft “Jennifer’s Law,” which is in the hands of the Judiciary Committee. The bill would expand the definition of domestic violence, domestic abuse and family violence in all state statues to include “coercive control,” a set of behaviors that abusers often employ when trying to instill fear to maintain control of their victims. The behaviors include isolating victims from family and support networks, attempts to restrict resources needed for independence, including money, housing, transportation and health care, repetitive demeaning or degrading behavior, threatening to harm a victim’s children or pets, damaging the victim’s property as a means of intimidation, displaying or referring to weapons as a means of intimidation and threats or attempts to obstruct a person’s right to end a marriage or intimate partner relationship.

“The new version has a consistent definition of domestic violence and abuse, which also includes coercive control,” Kasser said. “The law applies that definition to all restraining orders, divorce cases and child custody cases because those are the forum of which domestic violence and abuse plays out in our family court system.”

An earlier version of the bill died last year when the legislature was forced to halt the 2020 session due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kasser used the time to sharpen the bill to include provisions for allowing victims to apply for restraining orders online and to limit litigation abuse by setting a limit of 50 court filings for each person. After that limit has been reached, the litigants must receive court approval before filing any other pleadings, according to the bill. The legislation also requires the court to prioritize child safety by “recognizing, evaluating and adjudicating allegations of abuse, including child abuse” before looking at other factors in determining the best interests of the child, Kasser said. “When there is domestic violence and abuse in the family dynamic, children are also the victims,” Kasser said. “This will prioritize the safety of the children.” The new definition of domestic violence, domestic abuse and family violence will be applied to all statutes that pertain to child safety and custody. The bill also amends divorce statutes to substitute domestic violence or abuse for “intolerable cruelty” and requires the Judicial Branch to provide legal assistance to victims of abuse to help with restraining order applications. Under the bill, the Judicial Branch would have to commit to training judges and other staff in domestic violence, domestic abuse and family violence and presenting the Judiciary Committee with an annual report.

If the law passes, Connecticut will be the first in the nation to require courts to consider domestic violence or abuse first when ruling on what is in the best interest of the child, Kasser said. “Jennifer Dulos was denied a restraining order based on the present definition of the law,” Kasser said. “Had the definition been what I’m proposing, she would have gotten the order.”

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