Over my 37-year career as a divorce & family law attorney, I have regularly appeared before the New Jersey family courts, representing both victims of domestic violence and those accused of having committed domestic violence. Unfortunately, most people do not know what constitutes domestic violence and think that it requires a physical assault or the threat of a physical assault. Not true. In fact, about 92% of all domestic violence Complaints filed in New Jersey are based on harassment, cyber-stalking, stalking, and terroristic threats. Yet, most people do not know what the legal definitions for these terms are nor do they know what is legally needed to prove/defend against those claims.
In the initial domestic violence consultation, we discuss what constitutes domestic violence in New Jersey and whether the information contained in the Complaint constitutes domestic violence vs. marital contretemps (legal term to describe ordinary marital type verbal dispute). We also discuss whether it makes sense to pursue or defend against the allegations of the Complaint, and/or whether a consent Order for civil restraints is available and a more advantageous solution.
When a lawyer looks at the domestic violence complaint, his/her focus is on the sections referred to as the “predicate act[s]” giving rise to the filing of the Complaint and the information listed in the “prior history” of domestic violence. These 2 sections (the “predicate act[s]” and “prior history” sections), lay out the details of the abuse alleged and are the most important items in a domestic violence Complaint because they define and limit the scope of what the victim can testify to at trial.
In a domestic violence trial, the victim’s testimony is limited to the information identified in the predicate act and in the prior history sections of the Complaint because the person accused of domestic violence has the right to know what the allegations are against them so that they can properly prepare a defense to those claims – meaning that the victim cannot testify at trial as to other things (not identified in the Complaint) that occurred in order to justify the issuance of a final restraining order (FRO) because it would be unfair for the court to permit a victim to testify at the trial to claims, where the Complaint failed to give the other party notice of the additional allegations.
Every day, people will fill out domestic violence Complaint forms and fail to include essential additional information needed in the predicate act and in the prior history sections, thinking that the judge will give them the opportunity to expand upon the information provided at time of trial. WRONG! Alternatively, they meet with an intake officer to prepare the domestic violence Complaint and the intake officer fails to explain the legal significance of not including the additional information or tells them it's unnecessary to include the additional information. Again, WRONG!
If you are a victim of domestic violence or if you are charged with a claim of domestic violence, don’t risk walking into court on the trial date as a pro se litigant thinking that you will simply explain the setting to the judge and either get an order of protection or walk out with the temporary order dismissed.
The consequences of having a final restraining order issued against you or failing to obtain a final restraining order are significant. Once the process starts, it needs to be done right or there is a risk of significant consequences. If you need an order of protection or are charged with domestic violence, don’t try to represent yourself. The risks grossly outweigh the rewards.
Take the extra step and meet with a qualified divorce and family law attorney experienced in handling domestic violence matters to review the details of the complaint/defense to determine if you need an experienced family law attorney to represent you. You might not. However, if you do need an experienced family law attorney, it’s better to figure that out before you find yourself in over your head.
If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced domestic violence lawyers at Diamond & Diamond to discuss your matter or to review a temporary restraining order already in place, please call Angela at 973-379-9292 (Short Hills office) or 609-248-9595 (Ocean County office) to arrange it. We have evening and weekend appointments available.