It is every child’s right to live free from abuse.

When child abuse or neglect is reported, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) investigates and evaluates it, and if necessary, they may remove the child from an abusive parent. The person reporting the abuse, whether a teacher, a neighbor, a relative or the other parent, does not have to pay for this. It is covered by the state.

During divorce proceedings it is different. Protective parents must pay their own attorneys to safeguard children who are abused by the other parent. Sometimes they must also pay a guardian ad litem for the child. This is expensive. Divorcing parents should not have to ruin their finances to protect themselves or their children from child abuse.

Sometimes it is the spouse rather than the children who is being abused. Consider the Tolland County stay-at-home mom who resumed her career as her kids grew older. As her career took off, her husband became increasingly jealous and abusive. Losing control over her, he demanded to read her emails, falsely accused her of having an affair, and alienated the children against her by badmouthing her. The children did not want to move from their home, so she was stuck with her abuser. Ultimately, her only option was to leave without her children, not knowing when she would see them again.

It can take a year or more for the court to settle a case like this. For this reason, many coercive control victims stay with the abuser for fear of losing their children.

When a divorce is filed, several automatic orders go into effect, such as preventing a parent from moving a child to another state without court permission. The automatic orders also say that children shall have contact with both parties “which is consistent with the habits of the family.” That is vague, since children have typically lived with the parent full time. It certainly doesn’t help domestic abuse victims who has already moved out.

For domestic abuse victims, it would be much better with an automatic order for 50/50 shared parenting that goes into effect when the divorce is filed unless there is a pending DCF investigation or a prior custody order from the court. The system, as it stands currently, gives the abuser the upper hand, since it is the victim who is desperate to leave.

Slow and expensive family court processes pose another set of problems for domestic abuse victims. This is because loving and caring mothers and fathers have court disagreements about the exact amount of parenting time, holiday schedules, schools, child support or other financial matters.

The obvious solution is a presumption of equal-time shared parenting unless there is child abuse or neglect. Scientific research shows that children are best off if they live and spend equal time with two loving parents after divorce. That leads to better physical health, superior mental health, stronger social relationships with family and friends, and less substance abuse.

Family court attorneys should not argue over shared parenting versus sole custody with some weekend visitation. For children who are abused, that’s like arguing whether they should be abused a lot or just every other weekend. In those children, there should be either no contact or supervised visitation. For children who are not abused, the research is clear that the best option is equal-time shared parenting. If children are safe with a parent every other weekend, they are also safe with them on weekdays.

Protecting women and children should be a top priority for the Connecticut legislature. This is not an issue of men versus women though, nor an issue of mothers versus fathers. It is about abusers versus the abused, as fathers can also be abused. According to a Centers for Disease Control survey, 32.5% of women and 24.6% of men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Among abused children, 24% were abused by their father only, 38% by their mother only, 20% by both parents, 14% by non-parents, with 3% unknown.


The above judicial adjustments would make a huge difference for domestic abuse victims. A shared parenting bill (HB5342) that is currently pending in the Connecticut legislature would not only help abuse victims, but other children as well, and especially African American and Latino children. Introduced by representatives Minnie Gonzalez and Juan Candelaria, the bill now has 11 sponsors, including five women and seven minority legislators. Domestic abuse victims deserve support from the Connecticut legislature. Jennifer’s Law was a start, but more is needed.

Maureen Martowska is a retired attorney and mediator; Genevieve DeLuca is a paralegal; and Martin Kulldorff is an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard (on leave). They are members of the Connecticut Shared Parenting Council (MM, MK) and the Connecticut Chapter of the National Parents Organization (GD, MK).