Victims of harassment, abuse, assault or other forms of domestic violence can find protection in New Jersey under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A 2C:25-17), which establishes procedures to obtain final restraining orders against abusers. To obtain such an order, one can file a summons and complaint in either municipal or superior court, where after a summary hearing (in essence, a trial) a final restraining order can be obtained if you can prove, both a “predicate act” and the need for protection against future acts or threats of violence.
Domestic violence is a frightening reality for many people, and it cuts across age, race, and social class. Abusers often rely on the dynamic of control – which is exacerbated by financial control and physical abuse or threats and intimidation. In New Jersey, spouses, partners, and others can seek protection where necessary. As noted in the recent case, A.M.S v. M.L.S and K.L.S, (App. Div. 2018) it is also possible to obtain a final restraining order against other related family members who have participated in violence against a victim.
A final restraining order, can be fashioned to prevent all contact between the parties, limit proximity between parties, and remove from possession, items that could be used to commit violence in the future.
Final restraining orders in New Jersey, unlike in some other jurisdictions, do not have to be renewed. Unless modified or dissolved for good cause, they can be permanent, which, if you are named as a Defendant, means it is extremely important for you to seek counsel to protect your rights. A finding against you can have serious implications both professionally, as well as within the context of other family matters. If you have had a FRO issued against you, that finding will be recorded in the state central registry, maintained by the Administrative Offices of the Courts, and can be released to other public agencies, the police department, other courts, or the Division of Child Protection and Permanency. Unfortunately, some people have tried to take advantage of the process during contentious divorce proceedings, as a way of either forcing the removal of a spouse from the home or handicapping that spouse for custody or parenting time issues.
On the other hand, if you are a victim of domestic violence, do not hesitate to protect yourself. While the process of obtaining an FRO seems straightforward, a summary hearing is very much like a trial. You must testify in court before a Judge, who will assess your credibility. You may have evidence of abuse that can be introduced as exhibits. How you present your case matters because a judge is required to find that the acts of the defendant fall into the category of a “predicate act.” The judge will also then make a secondary determination of whether a FRO is needed to prevent future violence or threats of the same. This is why it is important to consult with an attorney who can prepare you and present your case in its most compelling manner.
You may be concerned about the potential long-term consequences of obtaining a FRO, and costs associated with the process. Rest assured, the statutory scheme in New Jersey allows you to ask a judge for interim financial relief if you are financially dependent upon your spouse or partner, as well as attorney’s fees if needed. Contact the Law Offices of Sadaf Trimarchi for more information about protecting your rights under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.