A victim of domestic violence is often subjected to a life of terror and fear that her abuser will be around the next corner. The New Jersey Appellate Division has recently taken an important step in efforts to protect the future of victims of domestic violence. In a case only referred to by its initials, the court relaxed the rule providing for the publication of an official name change. Usually, when an individual in New Jersey wishes to change his or her name, a notice must be published in a newspaper to put the "world" on notice. The reasoning behind this is that creditors and others will aware of a change as it is unlawful for an individual to change their name for the purpose of avoiding creditors, to avoid criminal prosecution, or for fraudulent reasons. The records of a name change application are generally available to the public.
In the case of The Application of E.F.G. to Assume a New Name , the Plaintiff had been a victim of long term, vicious domestic violence. Court records, police records and her medical records including photographs demonstrated that her abuser had subjected her to life threatening violence and that there was a significant risk that he would cause additional harm in the future.
Wishing to begin a new life of safety away from her abuser, the Plaintiff sought to take a new name. However, she asked that she not be subject to the usual publication requirement and that the record of her application be sealed. She made this request in an effort to prevent her abuser from determining her new name and address. The Court noted the stated public policy of the New Jersey Legislature that “it is the responsibility of the courts to protect victims of domestic violence…by providing long term civil and criminal remedies…that are available to assure the safety of the victims and the public” Also, the Court echoed the words of the New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of Brennan v. Orban, 145 N.J. 282 (1996) when it said that “we believe that there is no such thing as an act of domestic violence that is not serious.”
The Court found that when faced with such a request, a judge must undertake an analysis of the facts and when an applicant has demonstrated a true and justifiable concern for her (or his) personal safety as a result of a history of abuse, that judge may relax the rules as necessary. In this case, the court determined that if it did not relax the rules, and if it forced the victim to publish her application, she would be denied “the one avenue to obtain peace in her life, and the opportunity to live without fear.”