In Connecticut and beyond, domestic violence is a major issue affecting not only families but society as a whole. The impact of domestic violence extends from the household to the law enforcement community to the legal arena. Whether you’re the victim of domestic violence or you have been accused of engaging in domestic violence, below we discuss some important things to keep in mind—particularly if you’re in the divorce process or fighting for child custody.
For Domestic Violence Survivors
The Connecticut Judicial Branch defines family violence, often called domestic violence, as “an event between family or household members that either causes physical injury or creates the fear that physical injury is about to happen.” Family or household members, according to the law, include:
- Individuals who are related
- Individuals who are (or were previously) married
- People who have a child together
- People who live together
- People who are (or were recently) dating
There are three different types of protection orders that victims of domestic violence can request a court to issue. Below we provide a brief look at each:
- Restraining order. Restraining orders are civil orders that a court can issue even if the accused individual has not been arrested. These orders generally mandate that the person against whom the order is issued not restrain, threaten, harass, assault, molest, sexually assault, or otherwise attack the individual who sought the order. Additionally, the restraining order may prevent the offending individual from going within 100 feet of the victim or entering the victim’s home. The order may also include minor children and even pets. Any family or household member who is under an ongoing threat of physical pain or physical injury by another household or family member can apply to the Superior Court for a restraining order. The court determines the length of the order, and it may last up to one year, after which time the victim may apply for an extension.
- Protective order. Protective orders are issued by criminal courts when a defendant has been accused of a specific crime, such as assault, threatening, stalking, harassment, sexual assault, or risk of injury to a child. Protective orders provide similar protections as restraining orders, and they remain in effect until the criminal case is finished or the court modifies the order.
- Standing criminal protective order. This type of order is also issued by criminal courts when the defendant has been convicted of certain crimes, including those that would warrant a protective order, family violence crimes, or any other type of crime committed against the victim by a household or family member. Standing criminal protective orders remain in force until the court finds reason to change or revoke the order.
In 2018, Connecticut courts issued 7,297 restraining orders, 26,975 protective orders, and 1,695 standing criminal protective orders.
Some of the rights that victims of domestic violence have include:
- To receive notice of any court proceedings related to their case
- The right to attend any of their offender’s court proceedings, except in the circumstance that the victim is going to testify at the defendant’s trial and the court determines that the victim should not hear other in-court testimony.
- To receive compensation or restitution from the defendant, if ordered by the judge
- Information regarding the arrest, conviction, sentencing, or release of the offender
For Those Accused of Domestic Violence
Being accused of domestic violence-related crimes is a very serious matter that can impact your quality of life, your ability to obtain or retain a job, and your relationship with your children and other family members. If you are arrested in Connecticut for a family violence crime, a family relations counselor will meet with you before your first court appearance, and will provide a recommendation to the court after your arraignment as to whether the court should refer you to the state’s family services department for an in-depth assessment. Other items that will typically occur at your first court date include the following:
- The issuance of a protective order against you if the court determines that such action is necessary
- The determination of whether your case should be turned over to family services for pre-trial management
- The determination of whether you qualify for additional programs or services based on the specific facts of your case
If the court turns your case over to family services for pre-trial management, you should do the following to ensure the successful completion of your supervision period before trial:
- Follow all court orders
- Complete all court-ordered treatment programs
- Cooperate with the family relations counselor assigned to your case
- Live a violence-free lifestyle
Many individuals who are accused of family violence may avoid trial by agreeing to complete a Family Violence Education Program. You must apply to these programs through the court. If you’re eligible for the program, you will complete nine 90-minute sessions focused on reducing any future family violence. Successful completion of the program, along with any other requirements set forth by the court, may result in the dismissal of the family violence charges against you. An attorney with experience in domestic violence cases can advise you on your eligibility for the program and provide guidance during the application process.
Not all accusations of domestic violence are factual. Emotions often run high during a divorce or breakup and can sometimes result in false claims of domestic violence. If you feel you have been wrongly accused, an attorney can help protect your rights and reputation. Your attorney will use a combination of the following to help support your defense:
- Evidence and witness statements refuting the alleged abuse
- Documented interactions between you and your accuser
- Medical records from the alleged victim
- Mental health evaluations of your accuser
- Previous attempts to secure a restraining order against you or others for family violence
Call a Family Lawyer for More Information
Whether you’re the victim of domestic violence or stand accused of a domestic violence-related crime, the decision to drop or dismiss domestic violence charges rests with the prosecutor and the court, not with the victim. Victims can (and many do) recant their statements given to police or investigators, but this doesn’t mean an automatic dismissal of the underlying criminal charges, and it may even put the victim at risk of facing charges for providing false information in a police report.
Call a family lawyer if you are involved in a divorce in which you or your spouse is alleging domestic violence. Without question, if you are a survivor of domestic violence and are ending a marriage or fighting for custody of your children, tell your family lawyer. A family lawyer will know about the legal and other protections available to you and answer any questions you may have.