Sussex County Domestic Violence Attorneys
Domestic violence is one of the most frequently-charged crimes in the state of New Jersey, and in many cases, it is also one of the most difficult ones to define and prosecute. Furthermore, family court judges ruling on divorce cases and other matters must often make important decisions with almost no evidence other than the emotionally-charged testimony of the people involved in the domestic violence dispute. As a result, most judges routinely grant emergency protective orders and closely scrutinize applications for final protective orders in these situations. This procedure protects alleged victims while upholding the rights of alleged abusers until everything can be resolved in a court of law.
The aggressive attorneys at Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. stand up for both sides of the dispute in domestic violence cases. Alleged victims need strong advocates to ensure that their voices are heard, while alleged abusers must offer a tenacious defense against untrue allegations. The system only works when everyone has an assertive and experienced attorney, and that is why we do what we do.
Defining Important Terms
Most restraining orders involve allegations of either assaultive or harassing conduct between family members. Assaultive conduct includes battery, homicide, burglary, sexual assault, and other offenses that involve either bodily injury or the imminent threat of bodily injury. The alleged victim does not need to have a experienced physical injury to obtain a restraining order, but such cases are easier to prove at the second stage.
Harassing conduct includes stalking, criminal trespass, telephone harassment, criminal mischief, and other offenses that are alarming and threatening, but do not include the same immediate threat as an assault or murder. Typically, a judge wants to see a pattern of such conduct from a person before issuing a restraining order against him or her.
New Jersey law defines domestic abuse victims according to family and residential status. The list includes:
- Current or former spouse
- Mother, father, sibling, child, or other current or former household member
- Two people who have at least one child in common
- Current or former dating partner.
Some of these categories, like current or former spouse, are simple and straightforward, especially since there is no common-law marriage in New Jersey. Other categories, such as current or former dating partners, are somewhat more subjective.
The Temporary Restraining Order/Final Protective Order Process
Anyone can make an application for an ex parte temporary restraining order. Since the other side is almost never present in court, the judge almost always grants these orders, which can include a number of provisions, such as:
- Keep-Away Order: Except for returning to the scene at specified times to retrieve personal belongings, a keep-away order is probably the most integral part of a temporary restraining order.
- Firearms/Weapons: Unless the alleged abuser is a peace officer or servicemember, the temporary restraining order can require that person to surrender any firearms in his or her possession. Furthermore, police have the right to search for and seize any weapons in the alleged abuser’s possession, unless an exception applies.
- Property and Parties: In some cases, a temporary restraining order can give an alleged victim exclusive possession of a minor child, a joint residence, or a shared animal.
Alleged victims of domestic violence can give copies of the order to a school or daycare, providing notice that the alleged abusers are not allowed contact with the children. Violation of a temporary restraining order is either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the offense.
Ten days after the temporary restraining order issues, the judge will hold a hearing on a final protective order. At this hearing, alleged victims have the burden of proof to show either assaultive or harassing abuse, as outlined above. A final protective order is more than just a temporary restraining order extension because it can contain some additional provisions, including:
- An expanded keep-away order that includes not only the scene of the abuse, but also the alleged victim’s person, residence, and job
- A no-contact order that forbids any communications made with the intent to harass or annoy the alleged victim
- An order to pay financial support, including child support and some living expenses
- Other orders that the judge deems necessary, such as a directive to attend counseling.
Final protective orders are permanent and remain in effect until someone files a motion to modify or terminate the order, and the judge grants that motion.
What to Expect at a Final Protective Order Hearing
When the judge only hears one side of the story, the outcome is fairly easy to predict. But when both parties are present, and especially if both of them are represented by counsel, the outcome is less certain.
The stakes are high for both parties. Alleged victims often have no other source of protection other than a firm final protective order, and they are greatly at risk for physical harm if no order is forthcoming. On the other side, it is almost impossible for an alleged abuser to obtain a positive outcome at a future child custody or visitation hearing if the person has an adverse final protective order on his or her record.
Evidence sufficiency and legal arguments are key. For example, an alleged victim’s oral testimony may not be enough to prove an assault at a final protective order hearing. Pictures are better and hospital records are better still. Or, while there may be evidence of a harassing visit or phone call, there may not be evidence of a pattern of harassment.
Rely on Experienced Attorneys
Both sides in a domestic violence case need a good lawyer. If you fear that your safety is threatened and would like to request an order of protection against your abuser, contact us. If someone has wrongfully filed for an order of protection against you, contact us. These situations are never easy, but an experienced attorney can help. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Sussex County, contact Hollander, Strelzik, Pasculli, Hinkes, Vandenberg & Hontz, L.L.C. After hours visits are available.