Domestic Violence is a serious and widespread problem in the United States. New Jersey has enacted a set of laws that help protect victims of abuse. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, please contact your local police department as soon as possible for help.
The first step in getting a formal order of protection is to file a complaint for domestic violence. Once the complaint has been filed, a hearing will be held in the Family Part of Chancery Division of the Superior Court within ten days from the filing of the complaint.
At the hearing, the victim who filed the domestic violence complaint (the plaintiff) must prove by preponderance of the evidence that the other party (the defendant) committed the allegations of domestic violence as stated in the complaint. For example, if the victim alleges they were beaten, the victim will need to prove this to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence of violence can include video surveillance, photographs of bruises, cuts, scratches and admissible witness statements and/or police reports.
If you plan to pursue a domestic violence complaint, you should contact an experienced, local family law attorney to help you prepare for the hearing.
Before issuing a domestic violence restraining order, the court must consider several factors, including but not limited to:
- The previous history of domestic violence between the plaintiff and defendant, including threats, harassment and physical abuse.
- The existence of immediate danger to person or property.
- The financial circumstances of the plaintiff and defendant.
- The best interests of the victim and any children.
- In determining custody and parenting time, the protection of the victim’s safety.
- The existence of a verifiable order of protection from another jurisdiction.
If the court finds that a restraining order should be issued, after the consideration of these factors, it can only restrain the defendant, and only after finding that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence.
Included in a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
Courts have quite a bit of discretion in terms of what they can include in a restraining order. In fact, a judge can prohibit the defendant from engaging in a wide variety of activities, if the activity will threaten the safety of the victim. For example, the restraining order can include any of the following orders:
- The defendant is prohibited from subjecting the victim to domestic violence.
- The victim have exclusive possession of the family residence regardless of whether it is solely owned or jointly owned by the parties.
- If it’s not possible for the victim to remain in the family home, the court may order the defendant to pay the victim’s rent (if the defendant has a duty to support the victim).
- An order providing for parenting time, which must protect the safety and well-being of the victim and any children (the order will specify the place and frequency of parenting time).
- An investigation or evaluation be completed to determine whether any parenting time with the abusive parent is safe or poses any risk of harm to the children.
- That the defendant is prohibited from entering the victim’s residence, property, school or place of employment.
- That the defendant stay away from any other places named in the order. Places where the victim or their family frequents.
- That the defendant not make any contact with the plaintiff, including through phone or email.
- An order awarding temporary custody of a minor child to the victim.
Violations of a New Jersey Domestic Violence Restraining Order
If the defendant disobeys any portion of a domestic violence restraining order, that violation constitutes the offense of contempt.
A hearing on the violation or contempt charge usually amounts to a “disorderly person offense” and is heard by the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. But if the violation is more severe, such as an assault, then the contempt charge is considered a fourth degree offense, and the matter will be heard in the Criminal Part, Law Division of the Superior Court.
The standard of proof on a contempt charge is “beyond a reasonable doubt” rather than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard discussed previously. The State must also prove that the defendant “knowingly and purposefully” intended to violate the restraining order.
Penalties for a Second Contempt Offense
There is an enhanced penalty for a second domestic violence contempt offense. A person found guilty of a second charge must serve a mandatory, 30-day jail term.