Knowing Your Rights as a Domestic Violence Survivor

In 2015, New Jersey officially reported 61,659 incidents of domestic violence. According to already outdated reports, a domestic violence incident occurs approximately every 8 minutes and 52 seconds.  

New Jersey's Domestic Violence Prevention Act

The New Jersey Domestic Violence Prevention Act applies to relationships such as a current spouse, ex-spouses, any current or former member of the household, current or former significant others, existing or future parents of the children, among many other combinations not considered by the New Jersey legislature. Fortunately, courts have interpreted the New Jersey Domestic Violence Prevention Act fairly broadly, protecting untraditional relationships as well.

For example, domestic violence survivors do not need to be married or currently living with their abuser to qualify for this law’s protection, as some other states require. Depending on the actions involved, domestic assault is usually categorized into a type of offense, which can include: assault, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, and homicide.

The Process

Unfortunately, the process of navigating New Jersey’s domestic violence laws is somewhat complicated, adding additional stress to those seeking protection. If a survivor decides to request the court for protection from their abuser, the survivor must provide evidence that an act of domestic violence occurred in an informal proceeding to the court. Then, the court will issue a Temporary Restraining Order.

This court order will usually prohibit any sort of communication between the parties and can impose additional restrictions depending on the circumstances. After the court issues the temporary restraining order, the court system schedules a hearing. This hearing considers the evidence and determines whether the temporary restraining order will become a final or permanent restraining order.

If an abuser violates any of the conditions imposed against them, such as communicating with the survivor, then the survivor can file a New Jersey Criminal Complaint for “Contempt of Court.” This elevation from a domestic assault charge into a criminal charge is an important distinction because then the New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office now handles and prosecutes the survivor’s claims.  

Recent New Jersey Case Law

A recent New Jersey case, T.M. v. R.M.W., reminds New Jersey citizens that modern relationships continue to change over time. For example, traditional or regular terms used in daily life do not mean the same thing when they were originally written into the law. In this case, the judge wrote about two important components of a domestic violence matter: how to define a “dating relationship” for a survivor to qualify for a restraining order and how to define consent, generally and in the context of domestic assault.

Though the plaintiff failed to receive a final restraining order, her case indicates that traditional heterosexual relationships are the only relationships that the law should protect. In fact, advocates for domestic assault survivors are using this case to encourage the New Jersey legislature to update the existing domestic assault laws to protect those that may need it today.

Conclusion

As a result, knowledge of New Jersey domestic violence laws and the legal protections offered is imperative not only for survivors but also to assist anyone in need of assistance. Though New Jersey does not wish to burden survivors more, it is important to carefully follow the procedure to eliminate potential loopholes for abusers and most effectively protect one from threats of current and future harm.

Call us at (732) 449-0449 for more information from Anthony J. Cafaro, P.C. or to schedule a consultation in our office in Sea Girt.

NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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