One does not need to have broken bones and bruises to be a victim of domestic violence. Any unwanted touching or shoving constitutes physical abuse. Domestic violence, however, is not limited to physical violence. Emotional abuse, false imprisonment, intimidation, threats, blackmail, and sexual cruelty are all forms of abuse. These types of negative behavior can and frequently do escalate to acts of physical violence. Nevertheless, a distinction must be made between a person who is inconsiderate and insensitive, and a person who is deliberately cruel (be it mental or emotional cruelty).
Abuse should not be tolerated in an effort to preserve the marriage or as a sacrifice for the children, as long-term harm to children who have witnessed parent’s abuse outweighs any benefit derived from staying in an abusive relationship.
Spouses who prevent their partners from seeking help, or simply from getting out of harm’s way are abusers. Locking the door, confiscating car keys, or hiding wallets, purses, or clothing are all acts that prevent a victim from escaping potential act of domestic violence.
Domestic violence rarely occurs as just one isolated incident. Rather, domestic violence is a cycle of repeated abusive conduct against a victim. While it is often incredibly difficult to escape this cycle of violence, there are steps a victim can take to stop this ongoing crime.
In New Jersey, the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act” (Act) gives a victim of domestic violence the right to file for a “Temporary Restraining Order” (“TRO”), which is a first step in protecting a victim from being abused again.
Physical violence should be immediately reported to the police, or to a Superior Court Judge or Hearing Officer, and a restraining order applied for to prohibit the abuser from returning and from committing any additional acts of domestic violence. Initially, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) will be issued, if the Judge, Magistrate or Hearing Officer believes TRO is necessary to prevent further acts of domestic violence.
To apply for a TRO, a victim can go to the courthouse where a court clerk will explain the procedure and may assist the victim in filling out the needed paperwork. Even if the courthouse is closed, a victim can still apply for a TRO by going to the local police department, where an officer can assist the victim in contacting an emergency judge who can issue a TRO.
Some of the protections that can be ordered in a TRO may include, but are not limited to:
- the attacker is temporarily forbidden from entering the home the victim lives in;
- the attacker is temporarily forbidden from having contact with the victim or the victim’s relatives;
- the attacker is temporarily forbidden from bothering the victim at work;
- the victim is given temporary custody of the children (even if the attacker is a parent), as well as child support;
- the attacker must pay the victim back any money the victim spent for medical treatment or repairs because of the attacker’s violence.
The court may also order other things depending on a victim’s situation. Once the TRO is granted, a court officer serves a copy of the TRO on the attacker.
The TRO is the first step. The next step involves a hearing where a judge may grant a “Final Restraining Order” (“FRO”). The date for this hearing is listed on the TRO. At the time of the hearing, both the victim and the attacker must be there. The victim will need to tell the judge what happened on the day of the last act of violence as well as the history of other such acts, and bring any evidence to prove that the domestic violence took place. The attacker has the right to defend himself/herself against the victim’s statements. If the judge finds that the facts support a finding that an act of domestic violence has been committed, a FRO will be granted.
Unfortunately many groundless domestic violence complaints are filed every year. There appears to be three leading motivations for abusing the system in this fashion:
- the “victim” wants to remove the estranged spouse or lover from the home;
- the “victim” wants to achieve a perceived advantage in the context of a contested child custody action;
- the “victim” wants to punish the alleged aggressor for things having nothing whatsoever to do with domestic violence.
If an innocent party has been unjustly accused of an act or acts of domestic violence, it is strongly recommended that competent legal counsel be immediately sought. Pro se representation should be avoided if at all possible. It is extremely difficult to get rid of Final Restraining Order “once one has been entered” without the purported victim’s consent.