Domestic violence is a sensitive, yet prevalent issue that continues to affect families regardless of race, region or economic class. In 2008, more than 70,000 domestic violence incidents were reported to police, resulting in over 21,000 arrests. Aside from police protection, domestic violence victims in New Jersey have a number of resources available to them through legal remedies, advocacy agencies and community organizations. This article highlights the steps victims can take to protect themselves and assert their legal rights.

At the outset, it must be understood that domestic violence can come in many forms, including harassment, assault, sexual assault, terroristic threats, battery and stalking. As a matter of law, such actions fall under the definition of domestic violence if the victim is a spouse, has a romantic relationship or has a child in common with the alleged abuser.

Victims of domestic violence may seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) by entering a petition to be heard by a Domestic Violence Hearing Officer. The officer will consider the initial request and make recommendations regarding emergent support, possession of the family residence and temporary custody of children. A Superior Court Judge reviews the petition and upon approval, incorporates the hearing officer’s recommendations. If a TRO is sought after 3:30 p.m. during the week, or on weekends, a Municipal Court Judge may review the petition and grant the order.

A temporary restraining order essentially stops all communication between the victim and the alleged abuser. It prohibits a named defendant from coming to the victim’s home and/or workplace, having third parties harass or threaten the victim and committing future acts of domestic abuse. A TRO is a civil court order, which carries civil sanctions for violations. Defendants may also be subject to criminal penalties for knowingly violating a court order.

Each county in New Jersey has Victim Advocacy Centers and domestic violence programs where victims may obtain information through 24-hour hotlines and toll-free numbers. Victims may also find support through community groups such as the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women.

Domestic violence cases invariably create family law issues. If you are seeking a restraining order and have questions about future custody and child support, contact an experienced family law attorney.