It goes on all around us, yet it's the topic nobody really likes to talk about. It affects husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, and of course, children. And it's the affliction that paralyzes many individuals from moving on with their lives in a healthy, happy and productive manner.
It is not a biological disease with an unknown cure. It is domestic violence. Each year it affects millions of people from all walks of life across the entire country.
Fortunately, there are laws and procedures designed to protect the individual from domestic violence. And there are ways to be sure you or a loved one does not suffer from further harm.
WHAT REALLY IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
The law defines Domestic Violence as any act which endangers the welfare of another through physical or severe emotional abuse or places a person in reasonable fear for their safety. It includes physical assaults, threats of violence, actions that cause an individual to fear for his or her safety, forced sexual contact, any abuse conducted against a child, or harassment – behavior intended to seriously annoy or interfere with another person.
THE PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The objective of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act is simple. To protect cohabitants of the home from being victims of violence in any of a number of forms. It exists to protect the individual. It should never be used for a tactical advantage (e.g., to get someone to move out of the house simply because he or she is no longer wanted there).
HOW CAN THIS LAW HELP ME?
The Act is designed to immediately remove the offender and provide protection for the victim. If you are the victim of Domestic Violence, the following steps should immediately be taken:
- If the act occurs between 8 AM and 5 PM, leave the premises and go directly to the County Court (Family Division). File a complaint with the Domestic Violence Unit requesting a temporary restraining order. This order gives local police the authority to remove the abuser from the home.
- If the act occurs at some other time, call or go to the police department and file a complaint asking for a temporary restraining order.
- Always be sure to include a notation of any prior acts of domestic violence.
- Meet with an attorney as soon as possible after filing for a restraining order or as soon as you suspect that you are or may become a victim of Domestic Violence.
A temporary restraining order is valid for approximately ten days. The court will then hold a hearing to determine whether to make this order permanent. At the hearing, the judge will take testimony from all parties. If the judge grants the permanent restraining order, the abuser is not allowed back into the home.
In addition, issues of visitation, child support, and the extent of any contact between the parties may also be addressed at this time.
The judge may also order the abuser to contribute to your attorney's fees. While having an attorney present is not mandatory at this hearing, it is critical to be aggressively represented. If you do not prevail, the abuser may be allowed to return to your home.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR ATTORNEY
An experienced matrimonial attorney should assist you in preparing your testimony. In addition, your counsel should discuss whether you are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the abuse. Support needs for you and your children, as well as custody issues should be reviewed. You should consider and expect your attorney to be your advocate in gaining protection for yourself.
Enforcement of the restraining order is critical to the protection of the victim. In those cases where the order is violated, abusers may be charged with a violation of a court order, contempt of court, and face possible incarceration.
The most important thing to understand however, is that no one should be a victim of any type of Domestic Violence, whether it be physical or threatening in scope. There are ways to seek protection for yourself and your loved ones.