The COVID-19 Pandemic And Domestic Violence in Connecticut
As the media is documenting almost every day, incidents of domestic violence have risen dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic for obvious reasons. Among the many very complicated aspects of this increase has to do with existing and new protective orders. Here are eight of the most frequently asked questions about domestic violence and protective orders during social distancing caused by the coronavirus.
Are the police arresting people for domestic violence during the Covid-19 lockdown?
Yes. Police are still enforcing laws during the Covid-19 (“coronavirus”) lockdown, but they are focusing more on violent crimes, including domestic violence. Recent news reports demonstrate an increase in domestic violence calls to police throughout Connecticut. It is believed that people are under increased stress from conditions created by the coronavirus. Things like fear of the virus, job loss, and uncertainty about the future combined with stay-at-home orders increases stress, anxiety and depression which can lead to increased alcohol and drug use. These factors combined with stay-at-home orders have the potential to create conflict within the home which can lead to verbal and even physical fights. If one is arrested for domestic violence, the stress can increase even more because the court will likely put a protective order in place which means the arrested person may not be able to return to the home for many months.
Can I modify my domestic violence protective order in Connecticut because of the coronavirus lockdown?
Right now, you may not be able to modify your protective order in Connecticut because of the coronavirus. This is because the Connecticut courts are under orders to only conduct what is know as “Priority 1” business. Priority 1 business is mainly comprised of processing newly arrested persons, new applications for restraining orders and emergency motions for temporary custody. In fact, the Connecticut courts currently only have a handful of courthouses open for business and the courthouses are not open every day during the week. Unfortunately, this can create real problems for people who have protective orders against them. If you are forced out of your home because of a protective order, it may be difficult to find alternate housing during the coronavirus pandemic. It can also create child-care issues for the children left in the home with the other parent, especially if that parent must continue to work if they are deemed essential. Once the courts begin operating more normally, you should be able to modify your order if the conditions justify it.
How is the coronavirus affecting domestic violence cases in Connecticut?
Domestic violence arrests are on the rise in Connecticut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Increased stress, increased alcohol and drug use and stay-at-home orders combine to create a greater chance of conflict in the home. In addition, all criminal cases, including domestic violence cases, are being delayed for several months as the courts in Connecticut are only hearing a few limited types of cases. This means that an efficient resolution to a domestic violence case is delayed as well. Resolution of many domestic violence cases is achieved through private counseling between the arrested person and the alleged victim. Other times, the arrested person attends state-approved domestic violence education classes to resolve the case. Many of these programs are all on hold because of the coronavirus. The longer a case takes to resolve, the longer it remains open, causing financial hardship and other problems, especially if an order of protection keeps the arrested person from returning home to help financially or with child-care.
How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting orders of protection in Connecticut?
At the moment, Connecticut courts are only hearing a limited number of new cases and cases that existed before the coronavirus pandemic are being delayed for several weeks or even months. If you are arrested for a domestic violence offense during the pandemic, the court will put a protective order in place that could force you out of your own home. If you were arrested before the pandemic, you will likely not return to court for some time and your existing protective order remains in effect. This means that, for the time being, you cannot return to court to modify whatever protective order is in place. Protective orders can be burdensome as they often interfere with child-care and the ability to financially support your family. Modification of protective orders is a common and necessary occurrence in Connecticut courts, but the current pandemic is slowing the process considerably, leaving persons without the ability to modify an order even when it is in the best interest of all parties.
Will the court change my protective order in Connecticut because of the pandemic?
Unfortunately, right now, the answer appears to be no. That is because courts in Connecticut are only hearing certain types of cases due to decreased courthouse operations in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Under normal circumstances, someone who is subject to a protective order can return to court to ask the court to modify the protective order to, for instance, allow the person to return home. However, due to the pandemic, court hearings are being delayed for weeks or even months. That means the protective order remains in place. Furthermore, modifications to protective orders are more likely to be granted if a person has made progress in resolving the domestic violence case by taking anger management classes, couple’s counseling or state sponsored domestic violence cases. Many of these activities are on hold as well creating even more delay in changing protective orders.
Can I change my no-contact protective order in Connecticut because of coronavirus?
Actually, the current coronavirus pandemic is making it almost impossible to change a no-contact protective order in Connecticut. This is because the courts in Connecticut are on a limited schedule and are only hearing certain new cases, like new arrests. If you have a no-contact protective order already in place, the courts are not currently hearing motions to modify those orders. That is expected to change when the courts begin to normalize operations. Also, any motions to modify your no-contact order would be heard on your regularly scheduled court dates. Nearly all court cases, however, have been moved by the courts for several weeks if not months. It may be some time before you can return to court to try to modify your no-contact protective order.
Do I have to follow a protective order during the coronavirus lockdown?
Yes. Even though the coronavirus is creating difficult circumstances for nearly everyone, the current pandemic does not permit a person to ignore a protective order. Protective orders, though meant to protect the parties involved from further violence, can be burdensome and sometimes counterproductive. They can impede financial support for the family and create problems with child-care. The coronavirus is certainly making some of these situations even worse. Despite that, if you fail to follow a protective order, even during the coronavirus pandemic, you could be arrested. Violation of a protective order is a felony in Connecticut and even a minor violation of an order can lead to an arrest and a felony charge. For example, if you have been ordered to stay away from your home while your criminal case is pending, you cannot return home even if your spouse or partner says it is OK. That is true even if your absence from the home is detrimental to you and your family.
Are there exceptions to a protective order due to coronavirus?
No. Once a court has issued a protective order in Connecticut, the person subject to the order must comply with the conditions of the order. So, if the order is a no-contact order, you may not contact the protected person for any reason, including an emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic. If you do, you could be arrested and charged with a felony for violation of a protective order. It is not a defense that an emergency forced you to violate the order. However, if a genuine emergency, including the coronavirus, did cause you to violate a protective order, that may be grounds for the prosecutor to exercise his or her discretion and either drop or reduce a charge of violation of a protective order.