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What is Considered Domestic Violence in New Jersey

Statistics compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reveal that one in three women and one in seven men have experienced domestic violence (DV) during their lifetime. Every state has laws that criminalize acts of domestic violence and that provide legal methods of seeking protection. The problem of domestic violence in New Jersey has been a special focus of legislative and law enforcement efforts for nearly three decades.

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) was enacted in 1991. Declaring that domestic violence was a serious crime against society, the legislature found that thousands of people in New Jersey were regularly assaulted and sometimes killed by a spouse or cohabitant. Lawmakers specifically noted that elderly and disabled persons often became domestic violence victims and that children could be traumatized and experience long-lasting emotional effects from witnessing acts of domestic violence.

The term "domestic violence" does not describe a specific crime. Domestic violence is generally defined as a pattern of physical, verbal, economic, psychological or sexual abuse that may include threats, intimidation, isolation, financial control or humiliation. The abusive behavior is intended to gain or maintain power and control over the victim.

The New Jersey PDVA protects emancipated minors and persons over the age of 18 who have been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse or any current or former household member. The law also applies to persons of any age if they have had a dating relationship with the alleged perpetrator or have a child or are expecting to have a child in common with the perpetrator.

Because the victim and offender often share the same household or are frequently in contact with each other, the frequency and severity of violent acts are likely to increase. Domestic violence is cyclical. Tensions build between people, a violent act occurs, the offender often expresses remorse and the cycle repeats.

Under New Jersey law, 19 specific crimes may be designated as domestic violence offenses depending on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. If two strangers meet in a bar, get into an argument and one person punches the other, an assault has occurred. If the same events occur and the two people involved are dating, the incident will be designated as a DV-assault.

In addition to assault, crimes that may be designated as domestic violence include robbery, criminal coercion or restraint, harassment, burglary, kidnapping and criminal mischief. Sexual contact or assault, lewdness, false imprisonment, stalking, cyber harassment and homicide can also be deemed to be domestic violence. When the required relationship exists and an act involves a risk of death or serious bodily injury, the resulting crime may be designated as domestic violence.

Law Enforcement Duties

New Jersey law requires law enforcement officials to arrest a suspect and sign a criminal complaint when a person claims to be a victim of domestic violence inflicted by the suspect, the officer has sufficient evidence to believe the event occurred and either (a) the victim shows signs of injury, (b) there is a current arrest warrant for the suspect or (c) the officer has sufficient cause to believe a weapon was involved in the crime.

If there is sufficient evidence to believe that an act of domestic violence occurred but none of the specific conditions exist, an officer may make an arrest but is not required to do so. If two people display injuries and each person claims to be a victim of the other, an officer must try to identify who was the aggressor based on injuries, DV history between the persons and other factors.

Restraining Orders

A victim of domestic violence in New Jersey can seek a restraining order from a court to prohibit contact by the alleged offender. A temporary order can be obtained based solely on the victim's statement and without giving notice to the other person. To obtain a temporary order, a person must establish that an act constituting domestic violence occurred and that, as a result, the person feared for his or her safety and welfare.

If a court grants a temporary order, it will be served on the defendant by law enforcement officials. Within 10 days of issuance of the temporary order, the court will hold a hearing at which the defendant can respond and argue against the issuance of a permanent restraining order.

At the hearing, the court will consider a variety of factors including any history of domestic violence between the parties, the existence of immediate danger to a person or property, the financial situation of the parties and the best interests of the victim and any children.

Both the temporary and permanent orders may place significant restrictions on the alleged abuser including prohibiting contact by any means with the victim and children in common. The alleged abuser may be required to vacate a family home, pay support, relinquish possession of firearms, attend counseling and reimburse the victim's financial losses.

Both parties have the right to be represented by an attorney at the court hearing. If the court issues a Final Restraining Order, the defendant will be fingerprinted and will have a record of having committed an act of domestic violence. This may impact the ability to obtain certain professional licenses and employment.

Under federal law, if a person has a restraining order issued in one state and moves to another state to avoid further abuse, that person may seek enforcement of the order in the new state. New Jersey law makes violating a restraining order a crime that can result in up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Domestic violence occurs in opposite and same-sex relationships and can impact anyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion or socio-economic status. Over the years, a network of services has been developed to provide DV victims with shelter, food, clothing and financial assistance. By providing this critical assistance, the ongoing goal remains to significantly reduce the incidence of domestic violence in New Jersey. If you have a domestic violence issue in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a consultation.

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