Domestic Violence

A victim of domestic violence is anyone over the age of 18 (or an emancipated minor under the age of 18) and who has been subjected to domestic violence by: a spouse, a former spouse, any other person who is at present or was previously a household member, a person of any age subjected to domestic violence by someone with whom the victim has a child in common or will be having a child in common or a person subjected to domestic violence by someone with whom the victim has had a dating relationship.

An act of domestic violence includes among other acts: assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, sexual assault, criminal trespass, harassment and stalking. “Harassment” is probably the most commonly cited act of domestic violence and is the subject of many published cases with subtle variables dictating different outcomes. If you are either the victim of harassment or the person alleged to be harassing another, and a domestic violence complaint is filed by or against you, you should consult with an attorney as to how Judges differentiate between acts of “harassment” and domestic arguments as it is an area of the law fraught with complications and permutations.

A domestic violence case unfolds in three ways: first, a person who believes themselves to be a victim of an act of domestic violence testifies (either telephonically or in person) as to the act or acts and may receive a Temporary Restraining Order. This is initiated by the victim calling the police, going to the police station or going to the Courthouse during regular business hours. A Temporary Restraining Order is unilateral; the alleged perpetrator is not present at the hearing. If the TRO is granted, the police will escort the perpetrator from the scene of the act and instruct them not to communicate with the victim. They are generally barred from returning to the scene or communicating with the victim (and sometimes with their children and/or third parties) until the final hearing. In some cases, temporary support orders are entered and/or parenting time is suspended until the final hearing. The second step is the hearing for the Final Restraining Order which now includes the perpetrator and usually his or her attorney. At this hearing, either the case is tried to a conclusion or, often, the restraints are converted to civil restraints which basically keep the parties apart in separate residences but avoid the consequences of a finding of an act of domestic violence. The third step is at the township municipal court which is more of an adjunct proceeding than an actual third step. In municipal court, the victim is a witness for the prosecution while the alleged perpetrator is represented by private counsel.

It is important to note that if an alleged perpetrator of an act of domestic violence is found guilty of an act of domestic violence at the final hearing and the parties have a child or children together, then the victim will be presumed to be the custodial parent in any future proceedings. It is also important to note that violations of Orders under the Domestic Violence Act may, in certain circumstances, result in mandatory incarceration. For all of these reasons, domestic violence matters are not matters which should be taken lightly nor should they be attempted without an attorney.