In 1991, the Legislature declared that domestic violence is a serious crime against society. It determined that thousands of people in New Jersey were regularly beaten, tortured and, in some cases, killed by their spouses, significant others, or cohabitants. Domestic violence victims come from all social and economic backgrounds. They are male and female. Domestic violence victims are often caught in a “cycle of violence” from which they feel ill equipped to escape. Significantly, the Legislature found there is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse, and that children, even if they themselves are not physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence.
The Legislature’s response was the passage of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Under the Act, Municipal and Family Court Judges are empowered to issue Temporary Restraining Orders (“TROs”) to victims of domestic violence. In some instances, the TRO comes after police involvement and the arrest of the aggressor. Other times, a victim will make a request to a Family Court judge for a TRO. In both cases, if a TRO is granted the alleged aggressor is afforded a hearing within a very short time. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether a Final Restraining Order (“FRO”) should be issued in favor of the victim and against the aggressor in order to prevent future acts of domestic violence or whether the case should be dismissed.
Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act , the court is authorized to enter orders for custody, the payment of spousal and or child support, the exclusive use and occupancy of the residence, and other temporary relief pending the FRO hearing. Law enforcement agencies are required to seize all weapons belonging to the aggressor, regardless of whether weapons were used in the commission of an act of domestic violence. Thus, the allegation of domestic violence and the entry of even a Temporary Restraining Order can have grave consequences to one who is accused of domestic violence.
Acts of domestic violence include: homicide, terroristic threats, criminal restraint, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, burglary, harassment, assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, lewdness, criminal mischief, trespass, and stalking. A judge must only find by a preponderance of the evidence (a requirement that more than 50% of the evidence points to something) that an act of domestic violence occurred in order to issue a temporary restraining order. Judges will inquire about a history of domestic violence, whether or not documented, as a predictor that future acts of domestic violence will occur.
Given the court’s broad powers to make custody, property, and support awards in domestic violence cases, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act often lends itself to abuse by a litigant seeking to gain an advantage in the divorce. It is also critical to remember that Final Restraining Orders in New Jersey are permanent and the consequences are lasting. The smart, experienced family lawyers at Paras, Apy, and Reiss, P.C. defend the wrongfully accused and aggressively prosecute on behalf of the true victims of domestic violence.
The information in this article is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, you should consult your attorney.