Domestic violence (DV) occurs far too frequently in marriages, among family members and between people in dating relationships. Lawmakers in many states have increased criminal penalties for DV offenses. Special courts have been established to handle DV-related cases. Judges often receive specialized training to better understand the dynamics of domestic violence and to learn about sentencing options that may prove most effective to reduce the chance of recurrence.
The term “domestic violence” by itself does not describe a crime. The term is a designation attached to a variety of crimes indicating that the relationship between the alleged victim and perpetrator is such that a repeat incident is far more likely to occur than a similar incident between strangers. Relationships which trigger the DV label include spouses, people in dating relationships, family members, relatives, roommates and civil union partners. Even if the incident involves a relationship that no longer exists, such as an incident involving former spouses, the DV tag may apply.
DV crimes include a broad spectrum of behavior that results in physical or emotional harm. Actions that can be labeled as domestic violence range from assaults, stalking and harassment to making threats, intimidation and sexual assault. One of the tools available for victims of domestic violence in every state is a protection or restraining order. Some may question how a piece of paper will make them safer, as there have been news reports of people being hurt or killed by a restrained person after a protection order was obtained. However, in the vast majority of cases protection orders serve their purpose and can help to reduce the fear of possibly experiencing a repeat occurrence.
Getting a Temporary Order
The person seeking the restraining order is usually called the petitioner. The person who may be restrained is called the respondent, as that person will be responding to the petition. The process is commonly designed to let individuals quickly obtain a temporary order with minimal paperwork. Forms to be completed and instructions can often be obtained from the county court or online. Many courts have advocates available who cannot provide legal advice but can provide assistance to complete paperwork.
As the person petitioning the court to grant a restraining order, you initially only need to provide a statement outlining what occurred and why you want the order. Keep your statement short, clear and on point, but provide enough detail to justify why the court should approve your request. In New Jersey make sure you list all prior acts of domestic violence. Some additional basic information is usually required regarding the names and address of the parties and children, if any. Information about the existence and location of any weapons in the home or available to the respondent may be requested.
In the petition you can generally ask to restrain the intended respondent from coming near or having contact with you and your children in any manner, including communication through third parties. You may request that the respondent be restrained from following, stalking, intimidating, surveilling or coming within a specific distance of you and that the respondent be excluded from a separate or shared residence and the school, daycare or residence of any involved minor children.
Petitions typically also allow you to ask the court to grant you custody and care of minor children, to obtain possession of your personal property, including pets, and to be granted use of vehicles and other specified property. You may also be able request that the respondent surrender any weapons in his or her possession, obtain DV counseling and pay for your costs to obtain the protection order.
The intended respondent does not need to be notified before you ask for a protection order. Once you have completed the paperwork, either you or court staff will present the petition to a judge who will, in most cases, issue a temporary order granting at least some of your requests and set a date for a formal hearing to be held within 10-14 days. The temporary order is usually served on the respondent by a law enforcement officer within 24 hours. Once the respondent has been served, any violation of the restraining order may constitute a crime. Repeat offenses are often treated as felonies carrying even heavier penalties in some jurisdictions.
The Court Hearing
At the formal hearing both parties and their attorneys, if any, must appear. You should be prepared to provide additional specific evidence supporting your claims. Evidence may include police and medical reports, photos of injuries, copies of text messages, phone calls and e-mails. If requested by either party, the court might extend the temporary order and set a new hearing date to allow a further response and filing of additional information. Otherwise, the court will either deny the request for a protection order or grant it and address the specific requests made in the petition. The new order takes effect immediately, and any proven violation may bring fines and jail time. If you have a domestic violence case in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a consultation.