Under New Jersey laws, domestic violence is defined as abuse against a current or former intimate partner, or members of the same household who are at least 18 years old. Abuse against anyone under 18 is defined as child abuse, but this guideline only refers to children who are already born. For many years, mothers who were victims of domestic violence struggled to obtain protection for their unborn children through their restraining orders. However, the laws regarding protection for children did not include babies in utero, hence the courts repeatedly forced women to wait until they had given birth. The problem is that many abusers won't stop harassing, threatening or physically assaulting their victim just because they're pregnant. In some cases, the abuser may not want the child to be born, or want to deprive the woman of the child as a matter of control.
Thankfully, women today can have their unborn children included on an existing restraining order without having to file for a whole new order, or wait until the baby is born. The change in the laws came about in 2013 when a pregnant 17 year old in Lakewood was severely beaten by the 18 year old father of her baby. After she refused to abort the baby at his insistence, he and 4 other females ambushed the girl, thereby bringing to light the harsh reality of how a fetus can indeed, become the victim of domestic violence. Her case resulted in the landmark decision, B.C. v. T.G., in which the court recommended that domestic violence victims be allowed to immediately add their unborn children to a restraining order.
While the law seems fair and sensible, it does bring up a couple of interesting legal dilemmas. For example, is the father barred from having any contact with the child once it's born? After all, the majority of restraining orders do not include existing children, therefore fathers still have parenting time with their children. Thus, listing an unborn child on an existing order can have ramifications for the father's custody rights. The other issue is what such an order would mean when the pregnant mother is the abuser. It's not as if the father could take out a restraining order to ban contact between the mother and child while she's carrying the child. But afterwards, would he be able to seek primary custody and ban her from seeing the child? Would that truly be of benefit to the child, considering the importance of the mother-child bond in the first few months? This may seem far-fetched, but it's possible that such issues will come up as New Jersey continues to amend and broaden protections for domestic violence victims. In the meanwhile, it's important for victims to know their rights and the available protections. These protections included filing criminal charges, which is ultimately a victim's choice. For more information on New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.