In a recent decision approved for publication, the New Jersey Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s findings that the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-13 to -21 (SASPA), could afford protection to victims of sexual assault whose attacks took place prior to the effective date of the Act in 2015.  In so holding, the

In August 2015, the New Jersey Legislature formally amended the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(a)) to include the predicate act of criminal coercion as a fifteenth form of domestic violence (in addition to: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal

We have written before on the topics of the use and misuse of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, and representing a litigant in a domestic violence matter.  Within the past few weeks, a few experiences have brought this topic back to the forefront, and I thought that now was a good time to address the issues, especially in the context of “resolving” such matters.  As a family law attorneys, we frequently encounter domestic violence as a component of our practice.  Whether it happens in the context of an ongoing divorce, entirely independent of a marital relationship, or something different altogether, each case is certainly different from the next, and each case resides on its own motivations, so to speak.

What I mean by that is, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act is a vital piece of legislation designed to protect actual victims of domestic violence.  Countless matters come across our desks involving legitimate, truthful victims in need of the law’s immediate protection from an abusive defendant.  Some of the most difficult matters involve those where we represent real victims with tragic fears of harm, including those who are immersed in the cycle of violence looking for a way out.  Considering the risk to such a victim if a final restraining order is not granted, the import of the litigation is vital.

On the other hand, many cases – typically in the context of an ongoing divorce matter – involve a litigation-minded spouse simply looking to get the proverbial “leg up” over the other spouse in that separate, but related matter.  Since the law is liberal in its protection of victims, it is often quite easy to procure a temporary restraining order, where the alleged victim can seemingly state whatever allegation he or she deems appropriate so long as it results in procuring a TRO.  There are several well known cases addressing the judiciary’s obligation to look out for those litigants who are trying to use the law to his or her advantage, as such an occurrence is unfortunately all too common.


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This post was written by Melissa M. Ruvolo, a new Family Law associate, in our Roseland office, and soon to be an official contributior to this blog.

Our blog frequently features discussions regarding what constitutes domestic violence to warrant the issuance of a Final Restraining Order (FRO). Perhaps the most frequently alleged “predicate act of domestic violence” is harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. What may constitute “harassment” was recently raised in the unpublished Appellate Division decision of A.B. v. L.S.M. decided on May 6, 2011.

The parties were unmarried but had been living together for almost four years. They had two daughters – a 3-year old and a 22-month old. During an argument, the defendant called the plaintiff a “b-tch” and the plaintiff admitted she may also have cursed and yelled at him. The defendant attempted to leave the home but while doing so, got a flat tire. When he tried to fix it with a car jack, the plaintiff twice tried to remove the jack from under the car and the defendant pushed her shoulders each time. She threw the daughter’s sippy cup at his face and broke his nose. Both parties applied for temporary restraining orders, which were dismissed. The defendant eventually moved out of the home and parenting time was ordered by the Court.

Two months later, the defendant went to the plaintiff’s home and knocked on her bathroom window, pleading to speak with her. The plaintiff refused. On the way home from plaintiff’s house, the defendant sent her an apologetic text message stating that he had no idea how much he had hurt her and would leave her alone.

Several days later, when the defendant went to the plaintiff’s home to pick up the children for parenting time, he asked to speak with her. He told her he “really missed her” and wanted to “hug and kiss her.” She responded that she didn’t want to talk to him or “have him touch her.” Later that evening, the defendant sent a text message to the plaintiff claiming the children forgot a teddy bear and blanket. She offered to bring them to his home and he agreed. When the plaintiff arrived at the defendant’s front door, he told her the children were already asleep, leading her to believe that the entire incident was a ploy to get her there. According to the plaintiff, the defendant grabbed her to prevent her from leaving and she told him not to touch her. The plaintiff’s friend, who was waiting in the car, witnessed the defendant give the plaintiff an unwanted “bear hug.”


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At the time of a break-up of a relationship, clearly emotions are high, it is contentious and people often do or say things that they normally would not. Unfortunately, during this time period where many feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster, the tension escalates to the point where one party has filed a Complaint for Domestic Violence as a result of the actions and/or comments of the other party and the Court enters a Final Restraining Order. Once the emotional roller coaster ride stops, does the defendant have the ability to ask that the Restraining Order be dismissed? The answer is yes but the more important inquiry is whether or not such request will be granted. 

In New Jersey, either party to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order may request dismissal of the Restraining Order by way of Motion filed with the Court. The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act states that “Upon good cause shown, any final restraining order may be dissolved or modified upon application to the Family Part…” N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29d. In other words, simply asking for a dismissal– even if you are the plaintiff or the victim– does not automatically warrant a dismissal of the Restraining Order. 

 

If the Defendant files the Motion to dismiss the Restraining Order, there are eleven factors for the Court to consider when determining whether or not “good cause” exists to dismiss a Restraining Order: the victim’s consent; current relationship of the parties; number of contempt convictions; use of drugs or alcohol; whether defendant is violent with others; whether the aggressor attends counseling; age and health of the aggressor; whether the victim is acting in “good faith” when opposing the dismissal; whether there are any other domestic violence restraining orders between the parties in other jurisdictions; and any other relevant considerations relevant to dismissal of the Restraining Order.

 

If the Plaintiff is the party making a request for dismissal, before any dismissal is entered, the Court must discern whether the plaintiff is seeking the dismissal voluntarily, without coercion or duress; if the plaintiff understands the cycle of violence that occurs in the domestic violence setting; and if the plaintiff understands the loss of protection if the Restraining Order is dismissed.

Notably, regardless of whether or not Plaintiff consents to, wants to have and does have communication with a defendant to a Restraining order, unless the Court has dismissed the Restraining Order, it remains in full force and effect.


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Can an act of domestic violence by one parent against the other constitute sufficient “changed circumstance” to warrant a Court’s re-examination of an existing custodial arrangement? New Jersey law requires that a party seeking to modify a custody arrangement first establish the existence of such “changed circumstance” that affect the welfare of the child involved. Only after