Straight Talk on Domestic Violence

Incidents of domestic violence are more prevalent than any of us would like to think. Fortunately, this once taboo subject is receiving more public attention and increasingly open discussion. Perhaps the most important step any of us can take towards identifying and possibly preventing domestic violence is to become more knowledgeable on the subject.

WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE? The most common forms of domestic violence are assault, terroristic threats, as well as sexual harassment. Harassment need not be physical. It can be any behavior that causes the victim extreme annoyance or to fear for his or her safety. It can include offensive language or the verbal threat to strike, shove, kick or sexually assault the victim. Other forms of domestic violence include homicide, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary and trespassing.

WHO CAN FILE A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COMPLAINT? In New Jersey, the victim must meet certain criteria in order to file a domestic violence complaint. The victim must be 18 years old or older or must be an emancipated minor (married, serving in the military, pregnant with or has a child in common with the accused, or declared emancipated by the Court.) The victim must have been abused by either his or her spouse, former spouse, present or former household member or a person with whom the victim has a child in common. The Court does not distinguish between victims based on physical or psychological condition or by sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians may file a complaint against each other. So can grandparents or live-in relatives.

WHAT IS A DOMESTIC COMPLAINT? A Domestic Violence Complaint is a document filed by the victim which gives the name of the person who allegedly committed the act of domestic violence and describes the act. The complaint asks the Court for assistance in preventing further violence by seeking a Temporary Restraining Order.

The complaint can be filed during normal Court hours (8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., Mon. – Fri.). The victim may file the complaint with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part. The victim will appear before a judge that same day. On weekends, evenings or holidays, the victim may file a complaint with a judge on emergency duty – either a Municipal or Superior Court Judge. The complaint can be filed in the municipality where the domestic violence took place, where the assailant resides or where the victim resides or is sheltered.

After the domestic violence complaint has been filed the victim will appear before a judge. The judge will question the victim and, based on that testimony and the consideration of prior acts, will grant or deny a Temporary Restraining Order.

WHAT IS A TEMPORARY RETRAINING ORDER? A Temporary Restraining Order offers the victim relief from the person who committed the domestic violence by preventing the person from returning to the scene of the violent act, preventing contact with the victim or the victim’s relatives, and preventing contact with the victim at work. The accused may be required to pay child support or support for the victim and may be required to reimburse the victim for medical treatment or property repair that resulted from the violence. Additionally, temporary custody of any children will be granted to the victim. At this time, there may be an order entered preventing or requiring supervised visitation pending a determination of whether the accused poses any threat to the children.

If the order is granted, a return date will be set for a final hearing within 10 days. Once the judge signs the order, the victim gets a copy and the sheriff or police serves the accused a copy. In response, the accused has the right to ask for a hearing within 24 hours. On 24 hours notice or at the time of final hearing, and the restraints may be dissolved, modified or finalized.

Victims of domestic violence should consider contacting an attorney or a local domestic violence shelter organization where there is access not only to a shelter, but to valuable counseling and legal advice. In Burlington County call Providence House at 609-871-7551 and in Mercer County call Woman Space at 1-800-572-SAFE.

Learn more about: Domestic Violence

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