Posted September 2, 2020
As stay-at-home orders became widespread across the country as a result of COVID-19 earlier this year, there was extensive speculation that an increase in incidents of domestic violence would soon follow. Many based this theory on the reality that individuals would be occupying the same limited space within the home, with nowhere else to go, for prolonged periods of time. Recent reports appear to confirm fears that domestic violence is on the rise since COVID-19 related lockdowns began and many people remain confined to their homes.
In New Jersey, victims of domestic violence are provided statutory protections under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (hereinafter the “Act”). In order for victims to pursue protection under the Act, they must share a specific relationship with the aggressor. These relationships include (1) spouses, former spouses, household members, or former household members, (2) those who have or will be having a child together, and/or (3) those within a dating relationship.
In order to obtain a Final Restraining Order Act, once a Court establishes that a victim has a relationship with the aggressor necessary to qualify under the Act, Judges of the Superior Court apply a two-pronged test.
First, a victim must prove by a preponderance of the evidence (meaning more likely than not) that a predicate act of domestic violence has occurred. While the Act sets forth a list of “predicate acts,” some of the most common include harassment, assault, terroristic threats, and cyber harassment. Victims frequently prove that a predicate act occurred through their own testimony in addition to photographs, text messages, and social media posts.
Second, even after a victim successfully proves that an aggressor committed a “predicate act,” the Court’s inquiry is still not complete. A victim must also show that it is necessary for the Court to enter a Final Restraining Order to prevent further abuse. In making this determination, Courts will look at any previous history of domestic violence, the existence of immediate danger to the person or property, the financial circumstances of the parties, the best interests of the victim and any children, among other factors.
When domestic violence matters come before the Court, Superior Court Judges evaluate the specific facts and circumstances unique to each case in determining whether a Final Restraining Order is appropriate.
If you have any questions in pursuing, or defending against, a Final Restraining Order in New Jersey, please contact my office.
Our offices are strategically located throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.