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How does New Jersey treat victims of domestic violence?

Wife beating had been a fact of life for centuries. Marital abuse was traditionally acceptable and early common law recognized a husband’s right to beat his wife. Domestic violence was considered proper discipline. An old English proverb “A woman, a horse, a hickory tree, the more you beat ‘em the better they be” was the sentiment many years ago. This anecdote was further developed into a “rule of thumb” giving husbands the right to beat their wives with a stick “no thicker than his thumb.”

By the late 1800’s, the law began to shift away from permitting this behavior. Today, domestic violence is a crime in New Jersey. It is illegal to assault, rape, stalk or harass one’s spouse. In addition, the New Jersey Legislature has provided civil protection for victims (male or female) of violence who are in a “domestic” relationship with their abusers.  These civil protections came to life by the 1982 enactment of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

By adopting the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, the Legislature declared that domestic violence is a serious crime against society. It also recognized that there are thousands of persons in New Jersey who are regularly beaten, tortured and even killed by their spouses or person they live with.

Restraining Orders

In New Jersey, a domestic violence victim can immediately petition the Court on an emergent basis for a Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”).  If violence occurs in the evening hours, the police department contacts the local municipal court Judge.  The Judge can issue a TRO.

TROs are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and can:

  • Provide that the abuser not return to the scene of the violence
  • Restrain the abuser from having any contact or communication whatsoever with the victim
  • Can also forbid the abuser from possessing any firearms

Within 10 days of the issuance of the TRO, a hearing is held to determine if the TRO should be made permanent.  Once permanent, a Final Restraining Order is entered. The victim must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) that an act of domestic violence has occurred. If that burden is not met, the TRO is dismissed. When the burden is met, the Final Restraining Order is entered. This Order is powerful because the abuser is restrained from having any contact or communication with the victim. If there are children involved, a presumption arises in favor of the victim having custody of the children. The victim is generally awarded exclusive use and occupancy of the residence. Financial remedies and relief are also available to the victim.

Criminal Implications

It is considered contempt of court when an abuser violates the Restraining Order.  Therefore, the abuser is arrested. The Prosecutor’s office prosecutes the abuser under the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. If found guilty of contempt, the abuser faces significant consequences including potential jail time, fines and costs.

The abuser is sentenced to a mandatory 30 day jail sentence when found guilty of violating a Restraining Order for the second time.

New Jersey takes domestic violence very seriously and has attempted to reach victims suffering from domestic violence.

If you have questions about this post or any other family law matter, please contact me at jlawrence@lawlawfirm.com.

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