Unfortunately, the reality is that every person who is reading this article knows someone who has been a victim of domestic violence. It is a sad reality. And yet, the vast majority of incidents go unreported. Sometimes it is because the victim is too afraid to say something. Sometimes there are family or financial pressures preventing a victim from coming forward. And, sometimes, it is because the victim simply does not understand the process for coming forward. This article will attempt to give you a better understanding of what a person expect if she chooses to come forward.
The first step in this process is reporting the domestic violence. This can be done either by going to the local police department or by going to the County Courthouse. If it is a week day between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, you should go to the County Courthouse and ask to speak to someone about getting a “Temporary Restraining Order” (TRO). A staff member will then sit down with you to complete an application and bring you to a Superior Court Judge who will hear your story. If it is on a weekend or after 3:00 pm you can go to the local police department and speak to an officer. That officer will then take your statement and contact the Municipal Court Judge. You will then speak to the Municipal Court Judge on the phone.
In all likelihood after speaking to the Judge you will be given a TRO. On the last page of the TRO there will be a notice of a court date and time for you to return to Superior Court at the County Courthouse. The date will be within 10 days of when you get the TRO. If after receiving the TRO you realize that the description of the incident in the TRO is incomplete, or that information given about prior incidents was not included, it is important that you amend the TRO. This can be done by going to the County Courthouse and asking to amend your TRO. The staff will sit down with you again in order to add any missing information. Because of the emergent nature of the application process, it is not uncommon for someone to need to go back to supplement their statement later on. No negative conclusions will be drawn if you need to amend the TRO.
On the date of your first appearance, the court may or may not hold a hearing. Either party can request an adjournment of the proceeding at the first appearance. If both parties appear, and both are ready to proceed, the Court will conduct a hearing at that time. If either party requests a postponement, or if the Defendant was unable to be served with the TRO, the matter will be postponed and a new date will be issued.
When both sides appear, and are ready to proceed, the court will hold a hearing. At the hearing you will be asked to testify about the allegations in your TRO. If there are witnesses or evidence that back up your statements you should make sure to bring them with you to court. You should be prepared for the fact that you will be in an open courtroom and other people may be present when you testify. You should also be prepared to tell the court exactly what happened. While it might be uncomfortable to use certain language in front of others, or to describe events to the Judge, it is necessary. Ultimately, it is the victim’s burden to convince the Judge that an act of domestic violence took place and that protections are needed to prevent future acts of violence. However, the burden is by what is called a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, the court must believe that it is more likely than not that the incident happened and that the protections are needed.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge can either convert that TRO into a Final Restraining Order, or the TRO will be dismissed. If a Final Restraining Order is granted, in addition to granting protection from the defendant, the Order can also address issues of custody, parenting time, child support, paying for household bills, and even damages.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, I encourage you to reach out to the local support services. In Morris County, this organization is called JBWS and can be reached by calling 973-267-4763.