As a certified criminal trial attorney with close to 18 years of experience defending the criminally-accused, I am often called upon to prosecute or uphold restraining orders. The outcome of a restraining order hearing can have a monumental impact on the lives of both the alleged victim and the accused. For the alleged victim of domestic violence, a Final Restraining Order (FRO) can provide legal protections, the possibility of court intervention, and even peace of mind. However, if you’re the accused, being saddled with a FRO can affect your employment opportunities and constitutional rights, including your right to bear and purchase a firearm. You could also face serious criminal accusations if the victim claims you violated the FRO at any time.
How Can I Obtain a Final Restraining Order?
To obtain a Final Restraining Order in New Jersey, one must satisfy the two-prong standard outlined in Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. (App. Div. 2006). First, “the judge must determine whether the plaintiff has proven, by a preponderance of the credible evidence” that one or more of the predicate acts of domestic violence as enumerated in the statute has occurred, including, but not limited to: assault, harassment, terroristic threats, damage to property, and stalking.
Secondly, the court must assess whether a restraining order is necessary to protect the victim “from an immediate danger or to prevent further abuse.” However, before even getting to that point, the court must establish “jurisdiction” over the matter. In other words, one must be a “victim” as defined by the statute.
What Constitutes a “Domestic Relationship?”
Most would assume that “domestic violence” is just that – violence perpetrated by members of the same household. Usually, this means violence committed by spouses, siblings, parents, or those cohabitating or in a “dating relationship.” But that should not end the inquiry as to the existence of a domestic relationship, thereby establishing jurisdiction in the Family Part of the State Superior Court in New Jersey.
Recently, our firm was successful in establishing jurisdiction and obtaining a Final Restraining Order for a young man who was harassed, assaulted, and had his automobile severely damaged by a former college roommate. The two lived together for only one year nearly a decade ago. In this case, the court properly decided, per the state of current case law in New Jersey, that a domestic relationship had been established and found jurisdiction before finally determining that a Final Restraining Order for the victim and his family was necessary. The court also mandated a mental health evaluation and counseling for the defendant.
In establishing jurisdiction in cases such as this, a review of how the New Jersey Legislature amended the Domestic Violence Act in 2015 needs to be evaluated and considered. In 2015, the Act was amended to define a victim of domestic violence from “any person who is a present or former household member” to any person who was “at any time a household member” (see N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d)).
In R.G. v. R.G., 499 N.J. Super. 208 (App. Div. 2017), the court held that the inquiry to determine a domestic relationship should be, “whether the perpetrator’s past domestic relationship with the alleged victim provides a special opportunity for abuse and controlling behavior.”
The following factors can determine if a domestic relationship constitutes a “special opportunity for abusive and controlling behavior” (see N.G. v. J.P., 426 N.J. Super. 398 (App. Div. 2012)):
- The nature and duration of the relationship;
- The passage of time since the end of that relationship;
- The nature and extent of any contact between the parties since they ceased living together and now;
- The nature of the precipitating incident; and
- The likelihood of ongoing contact or a continuing relationship.
As you can see, jurisdiction can be found in cases involving various interpersonal relationships – not just current and former paramours. An attorney can utilize these factors to establish a domestic relationship and prove there is a special opportunity for abusive and controlling behavior. As demonstrated by our firm’s recent success, this policy can even extend to former college roommates.
Victims of domestic violence need to realize that they can pursue the benefits and protections of a Final Restraining Order even if they do not reside with their tormentors. Likewise, those wrongfully accused of perpetrating domestic violence should not assume that they’re safe from the repercussions associated with a FRO just because they no longer – or never did – cohabitate with the alleged victim. In either event, hiring an experienced attorney is your best guarantee of obtaining a fair hearing and resolution.
Discuss Your Case with a Qualified Legal Professional
Contact the domestic violence lawyers at Ziegler, Resnick & Epstein if your circumstances necessitate a Final Restraining Order or if you require legal representation during a restraining order hearing. Our experienced legal team can represent your interests in court and help you obtain a favorable verdict that reflects your personal needs and legal objectives.
Call Ziegler, Resnick & Epsteinat (973) 878-4373 to arrange a consultation with our legal team.