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Final Restraining Orders (“FRO”) in New Jersey

The New Jersey Court’s and Legislature have found Domestic Violence to be a serious problem in our society.  In an effort to eliminate acts of Domestic Violence and to help victims of Domestic Violence, the Legislature enacted the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Sperling v. Teplitsky, 294 N.J. Super. 312, 320 (Ch. Div. 1996) (finding that Legislature, in adopting the Act, “sought to redress a perceived wrong”).  While the Domestic Violence Act protects both women and men from acts of Domestic Violence, the Domestic Violence Act was enacted with an eye toward protecting women in particular.   This is clearly evidenced by New Jersey’s case law.

Described as a “pattern of abusive and controlling behavior injurious to its victims,” Peranio v. Peranio, 280 N.J. Super. 47, 52 (App. Div. 1995), domestic violence “persists as a grave threat to the family, particularly to women and children.” State v. Chenique-Puey, 145 N.J. 334, 340 (1996).   In enacting the Domestic Violence Act the Legislature declared:

[T]here are thousands of persons in this State who are regularly beaten, tortured and in some cases even killed by their spouses or cohabitants; that a significant number of women who are assaulted are pregnant; that victims of domestic violence come from all social and economic backgrounds and ethnic groups; that there is a positive correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse; and that children, even when they are not themselves physically assaulted, suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence.  [N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18.]

The Domestic Violence Act was intended “to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.” N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18 (emphasis added). The Legislature attempted to address the problem comprehensively by requiring an immediate response when an offense is suspected, by mandating training for judges as well as court and law enforcement personnel, and by demanding uniformity in the prosecution and adjudication of claims.  See N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18; D.C. v. F.R., 286 N.J. Super. 589, 597 (App. Div. 1996); N.J.S.A. 2C:25-20. The legislative findings underlying the Domestic Violence Act assert:

It is the intent of the Legislature to stress that the primary duty of a law enforcement officer when responding to a domestic violence call is to enforce the laws allegedly violated and to protect the victim. . . . It is further intended that the official response to domestic violence shall communicate the attitude that violent behavior will not be excused or tolerated, and shall make clear the fact that the . . . [A]ct will be enforced without regard to the fact that the violence grows out of a domestic situation.  [N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18.]

To reach those goals, the Domestic Violence Act provides both emergency and long-term civil and criminal remedies and sanctions and encourages the “broad application” of those remedies in the courts of this State.  N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18.

In the criminal context, an abuser may be subject to arrest upon probable cause and, depending on the existence of various conditions, the seizure of any dangerous weapons he possesses and the revocation of any licenses or  permits for the use, possession, or ownership of those weapons.  N.J.S.A. 2C:25-21.

In the civil context at issue here, the Domestic Violence Act permits victims to file a complaint, known as a Temporary Restraining Order or “TRO”, alleging the commission of an act of domestic violence and to seek emergency ex parte relief.  N.J.S.A. 2C:25-28.  A hearing is then required to be held within ten (10) days.  At that hearing, the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff to prove three (3) elements by a preponderance of the evidence.   Crespo v. Crespo, 408 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2009).  Those (3) elements are: (1) Jurisdiction, i.e., the plaintiff qualifies as a “victim” under the Act (a spouse, former spouse or present or former household member), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19d; (2) the defendant committed an act of “Domestic Violence”, i.e., a predicate act, such as harassment, terroristic threats, criminal mischief or simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19a, Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394 (1998); and (3) a need to protect plaintiff against a future act of domestic violence.  Where a plaintiff establishes this by a preponderance of the evidence the court may then “grant any relief necessary to prevent further abuse” in the form of a Final Restraining Order or “FRO”. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29.

Among the remedies provided are:

      1. the exclusion of the defendant from the marital premises;
      2. visitation orders or suspension of visitation;
      3. monetary compensation for losses suffered payable by the defendant; mandatory counseling for defendant;
      4. a grant of temporary custody;
      5. an order restraining the defendant from making contact with the plaintiff; and
      6. the prohibition of defendant from possessing any firearms or certain other weapons. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29.

Because the Domestic Violence Act is remedial in nature, it is to be liberally construed to achieve its salutary purposes. See Young v. Schering Corp., 141 N.J. 16, 25 (1995).

Mark W. Catanzaro and Daniel M. Rosenberg are litigation attorneys who practice criminal and civil law in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.  Both Mr. Rosenberg and Mr. Catanzaro prosecute and defend clients in FRO hearings throughout New Jersey.  For legal assistance or representation, Mr. Catanzaro and Mr. Rosenberg can be contacted at (609) 261-3400.

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