Domestic violence can affect people from all races, religions, and walks of life. This podcast examines how domestic violence is defined by law in the state of New Jersey, and the many ways victims can protect themselves, their children, and their financial assets. New Jersey family lawyer Bari Zell Weinberger explains the ways victims can utilize the law to ensure their well-being is maintained in the event of domestic violence.
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Hosted by: Diana Shepherd, Editorial Director, Divorce Magazine
Guest speaker: Bari Zell Weinberger, Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney
Bari Zell Weinberger is a renowned family law expert and the founder of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, a family law firm with offices throughout New Jersey. She is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, a certification achieved by only 2% of the attorneys in New Jersey. Bari is also an experienced family law mediator, a published author, and a frequent media contributor on divorce and family law for both local and national audiences.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
You’ve been quoted as saying, “Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate.” What do you mean by this?
When we look at statistics for domestic violence, we can clearly see how spousal or partner abuse is something that affects people from all races, religions, and walks of life. One in four women, one in five men, and one in three partners in LGBTQ relationships will become victims of domestic abuse at some point over their lifetime.
These are frightening and tragic statistics, but they’re also a call to action that we need to make sure all victims know that help and protection are available to them.
What qualifies as domestic violence in New Jersey? How is it defined by the law?
Generally speaking, domestic violence is an umbrella term used to describe abusive acts of physical violence, verbal and/or physical aggression, and/or other controlling behaviors directed toward a current or a former intimate partner or adult household member. In New Jersey, domestic violence is specifically defined to include any of 15 different criminal offences, including physical assault, sexual assault, harassment, stalking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, criminal restraint, criminal trespassing, criminal sexual contact, making terroristic threats such as threats of violence or threats to kill, rudeness, criminal mischief, burglary, and even homicide.
Behavior that does not fit neatly into one of the above listed crimes may still constitute domestic abuse and may violate other laws. For an example, a financially abusive spouse may still commit identity theft, for instance by taking out credit cards in the victim’s name and using them. Any form of domestic violence or abuse can be grounds for a restraining order and possible further criminal action against the abuser.
Now let’s turn to the five important ways victims can take action and protect themselves. What’s the first step?
The primary way the law offers protection to victims of domestic violence is through a temporary restraining order (TRO). The objective of a TRO is to eliminate contact between the victim and the abuser. Depending on the party’s situation, the restraining order can include provisions similar to an order requiring the person who committed the domestic violence to stay away from a person, home, workplace, school, or other location; an order to maintain a certain distance from the person who is being protected; an order not to call or otherwise contact the protected individual whether by email, text, or mail, for instance, whether it be at home, work, or any other type of location.
Victims can actually file for a temporary restraining order at their local family court, municipal court, or even after hours through their local police station. Filing for a temporary restraining order requires the victim to provide details about why a restraining order is needed for their safety. We have actual forms that would be needed to be filled out as well as the steps needed to be filed on our website.
I welcome people to check out the website that we have, WeinbergerLawGroup.com, to observe these documents, look at them, and become familiar with them. When a judge grants a temporary restraining order, a police officer has the authority to remove the abuser from a home in order to protect the victim from further abuse.
Then approximately 10 days after the TRO is issued, the victim will then participate with the abuser, if you will, in a hearing where a judge hears testimony to decide whether the temporary restraining order should be converted into a final restraining order. It’s advisable to work with an attorney, naturally, through this process to present the strongest case possible.
Does a temporary restraining order cover the victim’s children? What happens to the kids in the aftermath of domestic violence?
This is a second way to protect your safety and the safety of your kids. Depending on the family situation, the TRO can absolutely include a temporary visitation or parenting time schedule to see the children with designated locations for pick-up and drop-offs. However, you can request a temporary order of sole custody and even a risk assessment to evaluate the risk of harm or potential for harm to the children from the alleged abuser.
Depending on the circumstances, the court can prevent all contact between the alleged abuser and a child or can allow even supervised visitation, at least pending the outcome of the risk assessment or further investigation, of course. Regardless of what the court initially orders, you may also want to file a separate motion – other type of application, that is – in family court for custody.
You don’t have to be married, keep in mind, to the other parent or seek a divorce in order to do this. Your attorney can advise you how to best proceed.
What about child support? Are there any special issues to be aware of when there’s been domestic violence?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes people think that child support is something that is only part of a divorce. However, like seeking temporary child custody, victims in a domestic violence matter have the ability to request temporary child support as part of the TRO. You can also file a separate motion for child support should you and the abusive parent separate without a TRO in place.
Child support can even be managed through electronic bank transfers, and no contact with the abusive parent is even needed to collect it. Children have the right to be financially supported by both of their parents even if the parent paying has limited or no contact with the child as a result of the domestic violence.
If the abusive parent refuses to pay support, New Jersey has a number of enforcement options available, including even wage garnishment.
Victims can be very fearful about how they’re going to support themselves after leaving their spouse. Can you talk to us about how these victims can obtain money to live?
This is a huge issue and is probably the number one reason why victims even stay with their abuser, because they’re scared about where they will go, where they will live, and how they will support themselves. Filing for temporary spousal support as part of the TRO or as a separate motion can provide victims money to apply toward rent and food, and other necessaries, and be the funding that they need to create a safe new life.
Understanding that you can actually file for alimony or other support remedies, even if you have not filed for divorce, is a crucial piece of information for victims. This is also a reason why working with a family law attorney is so important. A family law attorney will be able to guide you through the process so that custody, child support, and spousal support are properly addressed and can help you present a strong case so you can land in a safe place with your children.
What about securing access to other money and assets the victim’s spouse may have been cut off from if financial abuse was taking place in the relationship?
It’s a staggering statistic that financial abuse is present in 98% of abusive relationships. Financial abuse can range from someone who is over-controlling with how money is spent at the grocery store to an abuser who demands the victim’s paycheck and/or does not allow access to even joint bank accounts. If you don’t have access to money that you know is rightfully yours, let your attorney know. The courts can order that you have access to your funds.
What about victims who decide to file for divorce? What happens to these protections?
Temporary custody and support orders generally stay in place until a divorce is finalized unless requests for modifications are made. The temporary orders may be made final in the divorce settlement or new terms agreed to as part of the divorce process.
How can listeners learn more about resources for domestic violence victims in New Jersey?
I encourage listeners to download our free domestic violence safety plan for more details on everything we’ve discussed today, plus important domestic violence resources and more tips for taking the first steps to safety. You can find it at wlg.com/downloads.
What special help can your firm provide to victims of domestic violence?
Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group offers compassionate, discreet, and highly skilled legal care to the many survivors of domestic violence we care for as clients. You do not need to live in fear. Domestic violence laws strive to protect you from your abuser and ensure your safety.