Domestic violence is a horrible problem in our communities. Regardless of whether you can leave your home or not, those subjected to domestic violence need the help of friends, family, law enforcement, and the courts. Ensuring that a victim of domestic violence has access to the courts at all times is particularly tricky now. This blog will attempt to explain how you can protect yourself from further acts of domestic violence while the courts are effectively closed, and while we are all subject to stay-at-home orders.
In New Jersey, it is the policy that law enforcement and court staff must never turn away a victim of domestic violence because of the inconvenience of arranging relief when the courts are closed. When a law enforcement officer responds to a domestic violence incident, he or she must help the victim in filing for a temporary restraining order, as well as a criminal complaint (if appropriate). Law enforcement officers must never prevent or discourage a victim from seeking relief merely because domestic violence occurs after regular business hours or when the court is closed.
Given that courts are closed to the public, all temporary restraining orders are processed by the local police departments and the presiding municipal court judge. Either the police officer who comes to your home, or another scene of domestic violence, or whom you speak with when you come to a police station will assist you in filling out a request for a temporary restraining order. You must provide details about what occurred, as well as any prior incidents of domestic violence between you and the other party, even those that were unreported. You will ask for specific relief, like who stays in the house, what happens with any minor children, and how bills are temporarily handled.
Once you apply, the municipal court judge reviews the application, and either grants or denies your request. If it is granted, the other party will be served with the temporary restraining order by a law enforcement officer and typically escorted from the house. He or she is prohibited from having any contact with you until the Superior Court has a final restraining order hearing. At present, those hearings are significantly delayed, but we are seeing some conducted through video conferencing. If the municipal denies your application, you can reapply to the Superior Court. At this point, you would call the Family court in your county to find out their current procedure for filing the appeal of your temporary restraining order denial. If you need help at this part of the process, you should call us!
Once the temporary restraining order is granted, it will be scheduled for a final restraining order as soon as possible. As previously noted, these hearings have started to be conducted over video. Given that we are likely to be closed for many more weeks, you can anticipate your final restraining order hearing to be you sitting in front of a computer being asked questions.
Importantly, if you are on the receiving end of a temporary restraining order, you can appeal to the Superior Court immediately to dismiss the order. Typically, the courts do not entertain these appeals because the final hearing happens so quickly. Still, given the delays currently in play, this is something that may be happening more often. If you are a victim, please keep in mind that the other party may try to dismiss the restraining order reasonably quickly.
If you have any questions about how to file for a temporary restraining order, please give our office a call. If this is an emergency, dial 911 and get the help of your local law enforcement community.
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