When domestic violence arises in any context, these issues can be traumatic and life-altering. Incidents of domestic violence often act as precursors for divorce, while they also occur among former spouses and during highly contentious divorce proceedings. When allegations of domestic violence are levied, the legal implications can be extensive, manifesting in criminal charges, restraining order hearings, and even affecting issues of child custody during divorce. In order to thoroughly protect and advocate for yourself as the victim or the accused, it is critical to understand New Jersey law with regard to domestic violence, including its potential impact on divorce and child custody determinations.
Who are Victims of Domestic Violence in New Jersey?
New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was enacted in 1991 to provide the utmost protection to victims and multiple legal avenues to pursue against their alleged abusers. In order to qualify as a victim of domestic violence, you must meet one of the following criteria:
- You have been subject to an act of domestic violence by a person to whom you are married, to whom you were formerly married, or with whom you currently share or previously shared a home (including a roommate)
- You have been subject to an act of domestic violence by a person with whom you share a child or will share a child
- You have been subject to an act of domestic violence by a person whom you are dating or with whom you previously had a romantic relationship
Note, the legal term “domestic violence victim” may apply to any person who is 18 or older, or who is an emancipated minor (a person under the age of 18 who has married, served in the military, had a child, been pregnant, or been declared legally independent by a court or administrative agency).
What Acts are Considered Domestic Violence in New Jersey?
If you suspect that you may be a victim of domestic violence, consider that any of the following acts may constitute domestic violence under New Jersey law:
- Violent Crimes: Homicide, Assault, Terroristic Threats
- Coercive Crimes: Kidnapping, Criminal Restraint, False Imprisonment
- Sex Crimes: Sexual Assault, Criminal Sexual Contact, Lewdness
- Property Crimes: Criminal Mischief, Burglary, Criminal Trespass
- Crimes that Instill Fear: Harassment, Stalking, Criminal Coercion
What are Your Options as a Domestic Violence Victim in New Jersey?
If you are the victim of domestic violence, you have the opportunity to file both civil and criminal complaints. These cases will be adjudicated in separate venues. Specifically, the criminal charges will be filed and decided in criminal court (i.e. Municipal Court for a disorderly persons offense such as simple assault and Superior Court for an indictable offense such as terroristic threats), and the civil complaint, which is if filed in the form of a Temporary Restraining Order, will be decided at a Final Restraining Order hearing in the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county in which the alleged offense occurred.
How Might Domestic Violence Affect Child Custody in Your New Jersey Divorce?
First and foremost, it is important to note that accusations of domestic violence do not carry the same weight as a Final Restraining Order or a conviction for domestic violence criminal charges. However, if a domestic violence victim files a Temporary Restraining Order, the court may consider evidence of domestic violence in order to justify a temporary award of child custody to the allegedly non-abusive parent until an investigation is completed and a final child custody determination can be made. Provided that one parent is convicted of a criminal act of domestic violence, or subject to a restraining order, the court will evaluate the following factors, among others, while deciding what is in the child’s best interests:
- The history of domestic violence, if any
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent
If child custody is awarded to one parent, the court may order supervised visitation or parenting time for the other parent. The allegedly abusive parent may also be required to undergo therapy, anger management, or parenting classes before regaining access to his or her child.
Ultimately, whether you are the victim or the accused in a domestic violence case, the outcome can spell long-term implications for your life. It is essential to have an aggressive advocate on your side to protect your rights and interests. At Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, L.L.C., our skilled family law attorneys assist clients across New Jersey with cases involving domestic violence, divorce, and child custody. Contact us today at 973-828-0829 for a cost-free consultation.