If you are experiencing domestic abuse at the hands of your spouse, you may be wondering what measures you can take to protect yourself. The question is easy to answer when the person is a stranger, but it's complicated when your abuser is a spouse with whom you share a household. After all, the law goes great lengths to uphold spousal privilege, which protects spouses from being forced to testify against each other in court. However, the courts recognize that spousal privilege must be overridden at times in order to prevent certain criminals from getting away with heinous acts. The courts also place an individual's right to be free from harm above that of his or her abuser, even if that abuser is their spouse.
In New Jersey, domestic abuse victims can file criminal charges against their attacker, although it's not mandatory. You should, however, immediately apply for a restraining order, which will legally prohibit your attacker from contacting or approaching you under any circumstance. A final restraining order is only issued after a formal hearing, but you can be granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) in the meantime. In order to apply for a temporary restraining order, you will need to file a complaint for domestic violence at your county superior court, the superior court in the county of your abuser, or the superior court of the county in which the abuse occurred. You can also file at the superior court of the county where you have fled to in order to escape your abuser. This is generally not recommended, because it may give away your location to your abuser, thereby defeating the purpose of fleeing in the first place.
A judge or Domestic Violence Hearing Officer will review your complaint, and issue you a TRO if your incident falls within the state's domestic violence guidelines. It's important to note that you can get help even on the weekends, or when the courts are closed. In this case, you will need to call the local police, who will send out an officer to take your statement. The officer will contact an on-call judge, who will grant you an emergency order if it appears that you are in imminent danger from your attacker. Keep in mind, however, that emergency orders only last until the court reopens. This means that you will need to go to the superior court as soon as it opens so that you can apply for a TRO. As mentioned before, this order will protect you until your court date, at which time both you and your attacker can plead your case before a judge. If the judge determines that you were the victim of domestic violence, you will be granted permanent protection in the form of a final restraining order (FRO).
For more information on how to protect yourself and your children from an abusive spouse, please speak with the experienced family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.