Today, Your Legal Corner will discuss “Domestic Violence and the Court System.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States. How serious is this problem? According to safehorizon.org, 2 out of 3 female homicide cases involve a woman being killed by a family member or intimate partner.
Another sobering statistic is that most incidents of domestic violence are never reported. While each incident of domestic violence is unique, victims of domestic violence must understand that they are not alone and they must get help before things get worse. If they don’t get help, they likely will end up a statistic.
The first step is the most important step. If you are a victim of domestic violence, the first step is to obtain a restraining order. A restraining order is an order issued by the court that is intended to protect a victim of domestic violence.
In order to apply for a restraining order, an individual must be at least 18 years old and in a special relationship generally defined as a marriage, separated, divorced, living together or having a baby together.
Act of Domestic Violence
An act of domestic violence must have occurred in order to file for a restraining order. Under New Jersey law, there are 14 offenses that qualify as acts of domestic violence. They are assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, harassment, stalking, criminal trespass, lewdness, false imprisonment, criminal restraint, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, criminal mischief, burglary, and homicide.
A victim of domestic violence can also file a criminal complaint arising from the same incident. If there are visible signs of injury, the police officer must sign a criminal complaint. Therefore, a victim can file criminal charges, request a restraining order, or both.
Where do I file?
A domestic violence complaint can be filed at the Domestic Violence Unit of the Superior Court-Family Division Monday through Friday during business hours of 8:30am to 3:30pm. When the Superior Court is closed, a victim may file a complaint at the local police department in the town where they reside or the town where the incident occurred.
When filing a domestic violence complaint, a domestic violence staff member will ask questions about the incident and about any past incidents of domestic violence. The defendant is not present at this juncture. If it is determined that based upon the victim’s version of events, an act of domestic violence occurred, a temporary restraining order will be issued prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with the victim pending the final restraining hearing.
Final Restraining Hearing
Both parties are present at the final restraining hearing. The judge will hear testimony from both parties as well as any other witnesses. Parties should bring photos of injuries and property damage as well as financial information if the victim is requesting payment for rent or mortgage as well as child or spousal support.
The judge will determine whether an act of domestic violence has occurred. If such a finding is made, the judge will bar the defendant from the victim’s place of residence, employment, as well as prohibit the defendant from having any communication with the victim. Importantly, the defendant is barred from any future acts of domestic violence.
While dealing with the court system can be overwhelming, it is a necessary, critical step in ensuring your personal safety. As first said many, many years ago in ancient China, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Till next time, God bless, keep smiling, when Your Legal Corner, will discuss “Moving forward after a divorce.”
Victoria M. Dalton is an attorney with the law offices of Hoffman DiMuzio.
Send questions, or comments to Victoria at [email protected]. Or call 856-845-8243.
Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational articles about the law and is not legal advice.