The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, NJSA 2C:25-17 to 35, is the law that governs domestic violence issues in New Jersey, including the issuance of Temporary Restraining Orders (“TROs”) and Final Restraining Orders (“FROs”). The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was enacted to protect victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, some individuals abuse the protections offered by the Domestic Violence Act and use it as a weapon in divorce proceedings. While many times the issuance of an FRO is appropriate, there are other times when it is clear that the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act has been abused.
If a person is a victim of domestic violence, they can obtain a TRO by contacting the local police (at anytime) or going to the county courthouse (during business hours) and explaining the circumstances by which they have been abused. At that time a judge will determine if the facts warrant the issuance of the TRO. If the judge decides that the conduct is sufficient to warrant the TRO, the accused alleged abuser will be served with the TRO, which will order the individual not to contact the victim or anyone else that needs protecting, which may include children, family members, friends, etc. Once the TRO is issued, an FRO hearing is scheduled shortly thereafter. The FRO hearing is before a Superior Court Judge and will be conducted at the county courthouse. At the FRO hearing, a judge will determine if an FRO is necessary to protect the alleged victim of the domestic violence or if the TRO was incorrectly issued and no FRO is necessary. While the TRO is usually issued ex parte or without any input from the alleged abuser, at the FRO hearing the alleged abuser has the opportunity to testify, call witnesses, present evidence, and most importantly be represented by an attorney.
In a recent unpublished decision, M.C.B. v. Victoria Vartanian, decided February 5, 2010, Appellate Division, Victoria Vartanian allegedly harassed and threatened her ex-boyfriend M.C.B. M.C.B. contacted the police and had a judge issue a TRO. The TRO was served upon Ms. Vartanian, but only one day before the FRO hearing. The following day, at the FRO hearing the judge failed to advise Ms. Vartanian that: (1) there were consequences associated with the issuance of the FRO; (2) she had the right to counsel; (3) had the right to seek an adjournment to find counsel; and (4) had the right to subpoena witnesses and generally prepare for the hearing. As a result, notwithstanding the trial judge granted the FRO, the Appellate Division ordered a new hearing because Ms. Vartanian was not afforded the minimum requirements of due process (a right guaranteed by the Constitution).
Every individual has a right to protect their Constitutional rights, even when they are accused of domestic violence. While I am a staunch opponent of domestic violence, the issuance of an FRO can have long-lasting implications on the alleged abuser. If going to be issued, it should be after due process is granted.