New Jersey Domestic Violence Laws

In New Jersey, the commission of a domestic violence crime can result in imprisonment and fines for the offender. Punishment for conviction of a domestic violence offense depends on the grade of the crime, as set by law. The commission of domestic violence can also trigger the issuance of a restraining order issued by a court.

Getting Help

If you are being abused by your partner, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

When looking for help as a victim of abuse, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you’re doing research or seeking help.

Defining the Underlying Crime

New Jersey defines domestic violence as the commission of one or more of the following criminal offenses, when committed by an adult or emancipated minor against a person who falls within the state’s definition of a domestic violence victim:

  • homicide
  • assault
  • terroristic threats
  • kidnapping
  • criminal restraint
  • false imprisonment
  • sexual assault
  • criminal sexual contact
  • lewdness
  • criminal mischief
  • burglary
  • criminal trespass
  • harassment, and
  • stalking.

An emancipated minor is a person who is under 18 years of age but who has been married, has entered military service, has had a child or is pregnant, or has been declared by a court or administrative agency to be emancipated. New Jersey’s definition of domestic violence does not include instances where any of the above criminal offenses are committed by an unemancipated minor; however, such instances may serve as the basis for a court-issued restraining order.

Domestic Violence Victim

To meet New Jersey’s definition of domestic violence, one of the above criminal offenses must be committed by an adult or emancipated minor against a person who is:

  • a current or former spouse who is 18 or older or is an emancipated minor
  • a current or former household member who is 18 or older or is an emancipated minor
  • a person with whom the perpetrator has a child or is expecting a child, regardless of the victim’s age, or
  • a person with whom the perpetrator has had a dating relationship.

(N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C: 25-19)

Law Enforcement Duties

Under New Jersey law, a law enforcement officer must arrest a suspect and sign a criminal complaint where (1) a person claims to have been the victim of domestic violence inflicted by the suspect, (2) the officer has sufficient evidence to believe that such violence occurred, and (3) one of the following circumstances applies:

  • the victim shows signs of injury
  • an arrest warrant exists
  • the suspect has violated a domestic violence restraining order, or
  • the officer has sufficient cause to believe that a weapon was used in committing a domestic violence crime.

An officer may make an arrest, sign a criminal complaint, or both where there is sufficient evidence to believe that a suspect committed domestic violence but none of the other conditions listed above exist; however, an officer is not required to make an arrest under such circumstances.

If two people show signs of physical injury and both claim to be the victim in a domestic violence incident, the officer must identify which person is the aggressor, by considering the injuries of each person relative to the other person’s injuries, the history of domestic violence between the persons, and any other relevant factors.

(N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C: 25-21)

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

A victim of domestic violence may file a complaint seeking protection from the offender. A court may grant an ex parte domestic violence restraining order where it determines the order is necessary to protect the victim’s life, health, or well-being. (An ex parte order is one issued without the other side being present.) The judge may grant the ex parte order based on sworn testimony or based upon the applicant’s complaint; under emergency circumstances, the ex parte order may be granted when even the applicant is not present. The defendant is not required to be notified prior the issuance of an ex parte domestic violence restraining order.

An emergency order can include but is not limited to provisions that:

  • prohibit the defendant from returning to the scene of the domestic violence
  • require the search for and seizure of weapons from any place where the judge has reason to believe a weapon is located
  • bar the defendant from possessing a firearm or other deadly weapon specified under law, and
  • award possession of an animal held by either party or a minor child.

Upon the court granting an ex parte order, law enforcement serves the defendant with a copy of the order. A full hearing with the plaintiff and the defendant is held within ten days of the filing of the complaint seeking the restraining order. If the court determines that the plaintiff proved the allegations in the complaint, it may issue an order containing provisions that:

  • prohibit the defendant from abusing the victim
  • grant exclusive possession of the residence to the plaintiff
  • provide for temporary child custody and parenting time
  • require the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant
  • require the defendant to receive counseling or a psychiatric evaluation
  • prohibit the defendant from entering the plaintiff’s residence, workplace, or school
  • prohibit the defendant from contacting the plaintiff
  • require the defendant to pay the rent or mortgage on the plaintiff’s residence
  • provide for the temporary possession of specified property, and
  • and prohibit the defendant from possessing a firearm.

(N.J. Rev. Stat. § § 2C: 25-28, 2C: 25-29, 2C: 25-30)

If the judge determines at the conclusion of the hearing that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence, the judge must order the defendant to pay a civil penalty of at least $50 but no more than $500. The judge must assess this penalty unless doing so would cause the defendant extreme financial hardship.

(N.J. Rev. Stat. § 2C:25-29.1)

Violations of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order

A person who knowingly violates a term of a domestic violence restraining order is guilty of criminal contempt, a crime in the fourth degree, unless the violated provision pertains to parenting time, monetary compensation to the victim, counseling, rent or mortgage payments, or the surrendering of specified property to the victim.

A crime in the fourth degree can carry up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine, although prison time is not mandatory for a first conviction for criminal contempt of a domestic violence restraining order. A person convicted of a second or subsequent contempt offense for violating a domestic violence order must serve a minimum of 30 days in jail.

(N.J. Rev. Stat. § § 2C: 25-30, 2C:25-31, 2C: 29-9)

Consult With An Attorney

An allegation of domestic violence can result in the filing of criminal charges, the filing of a petition for a domestic violence restraining order, or both. A conviction for a domestic violence offense can carry severe consequences, including time in prison, and the issuance of a restraining order can result in limits on your freedom of movement and rights as a parent and property owner. If you are accused of domestic violence, you should speak with an attorney right away. An experienced attorney will provide valuable guidance throughout the pendency of your case while protecting your fundamental rights.

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