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A Look at the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991

Understanding the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

There are more than 50,000 domestic violence cases annually in the state of New Jersey. While that number is considerable and women remain the victims in more than 70% of those cases, many family lawyers are encouraged that the numbers are moving in the right direction. Momentum for much of that change started in 1991 with the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

Most New Jersey divorce attorneys agree that the PDVA was important legislature that has allowed for significant social change. Prior to the PDVA, domestic violence was not clearly defined by the law. This presented a number of challenges, including how law enforcement could and should respond and the extent of power that the courts possessed in regard to domestic violence cases. Not only did the PDVA define domestic violence as a legal concept, but it also defined criminal charges as they pertain to it. It defined domestic violence restraining orders and established who is eligible for them and how a person can apply for one as well.

Domestic Violence as Defined by the PDVA

This law establishes criteria that must be met in order for a complaint to be considered a domestic violence case. The plaintiff can be a person of any age or gender. The defendant can be any gender but must be a person who is at least 18 years old or emancipated. Emancipation can be declared by a court or administrative agency, or it can occur automatically when a minor:

  • Is married
  • Enters military service
  • Has a child or is pregnant

The plaintiff and the defendant must have a specific relationship together either at the time of the domestic violence or in the past. Those relationships as outlined by the law include:

  • Dating
  • Living together
  • Marriage
  • Separation
  • Divorce
  • Having a child in common
  • Anticipating having a child in common

The case must also involve at least one of 18 criminal offense categories. That includes any crime involving risk of serious bodily injury or death and:

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Contempt of a domestic violence order
  • Criminal coercion
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal restraint
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Criminal trespass
  • Cyber harassment
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Lewdness
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats

Restraining Orders

Restraining orders are issued by the court in an attempt to protect a victim of domestic violence from further harm. The provisions contained in this kind of court order vary from case to case, and the law provides judges with significant latitude so that they can adequately protect the plaintiff within the context of that specific domestic violence case.

Restraining Orders: Who Is Eligible and How to Apply

Any person who has been the victim of domestic violence may apply to the court for a restraining order. The victim has the option to file in the jurisdiction where the violence occurred, in the jurisdiction where the defendant resides or in the jurisdiction where the plaintiff resides or is temporarily staying. The request must be submitted through the Domestic Violence Unit of the Family Division of the Superior Court in the chosen jurisdiction. If the plaintiff needs to file when the court is closed due to it being outside standard court hours or the holidays, the plaintiff may file with the local police department. In either case, and while not required, it is generally advised to consult with a family law attorney prior to filing if time permits.

Criminal Charges

The plaintiff has the right to file criminal charges in addition to the restraining order request. As with the restraining order, the criminal complaint can be filed in the plaintiff’s choice of applicable jurisdictions. The charges in the complaint must be included in those listed earlier in order to be considered a domestic violence case, and filing a criminal complaint does not necessitate filing for a restraining order.

After a Restraining Order Is Requested

A domestic violence staff member or a judge will hear from the plaintiff about the incident and, if there were any, past incidents. A plaintiff does have the right to have his or her family law attorney or other legal representative present. These hearings occur without notice to the defendant. If the order is granted, the court issues a temporary restraining order. The defendant then receives notice, and within 10 days of the TRO being issued, there will be a final restraining order hearing.

Final Restraining Order Hearing

It is important to have an attorney to advise the plaintiff, as there are a number of items that should be brought to the FRO hearing. These include all of the photos, medical documents and other evidence that the plaintiff wants the judge to consider.

During this hearing, the judge will allow both parties to present their cases and will likely ask specific questions of each. The judge will consider all physical evidence presented in addition to the testimony. Finally, the judge will determine if the FRO should be granted, and if a judge chooses to issue the FRO, the judge will also determine what relief to grant.

Final Restraining Order

Each FRO is unique, and what is included in a particular order is up to the discretion of the judge. However, according to many divorce lawyers, if the judge finds that domestic violence occurred, the FRO will prohibit the defendant from further acts of domestic violence and bar the defendant from the victim’s residence, place of employment and other locations. It will also prohibit certain forms of contact and communication.

A judge can also order the defendant to provide the victim monetary relief, including but not limited to child support. All orders will prohibit the possession of weapons, and an order may require that the defendant undergo various forms of counseling and other evaluations. A judge may issue the plaintiff exclusive possession of the residence, temporary custody of children, and support. The FRO will include that the defendant be photographed and fingerprinted. The defendant will be fined between $50 and $500, and copies of the FRO will be provided to both parties and forwarded to the police department where the defendant resides.

Representation for Domestic Violence Victims in New Jersey

If you or someone you love has been the victim of domestic violence and you need New Jersey legal assistance, Lawrence Law would like to help. Our law firm has extensive experience representing victims of domestic violence and navigating the many legal challenges that they face. We have offices in Red Bank and Watchung, and if you would like to speak with a family lawyer, you can call us at 908-645-1000 or contact us online.

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