The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us with orders to stay at home, self-isolate and social distance. This presents a number of unique challenges for family law practitioners. One of the most serious challenges is that for some of our clients, that mandate means that it leaves them home with their abusers.
Domestic violence is never acceptable, at any time. But now that Governor Murphy has issued a “stay at home” order, there has been an increase in domestic violence situations reported. This is unsurprising as victims are forced to remain home with abusers on a continuing basis and the situation is becoming stressful, even for the most calm among us. The opportunity for the abuse to continue or to occur for the first has therefore grown dramatically. The Department of Children and Families has been trying to raise awareness regarding this issue, even tweeting about it, and on April 2, Governor Murphy spoke about it during his daily press conference.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to remember there is help out there for you, even now:
- Your first line of defense is your local police department. The police are still working to ensure you are safe and if someone commits an act of domestic violence against you, you should call 9-1-1 or go to your police station. (The County courts are closed to the public at the moment and are not taking complaints for a temporary restraining order.) Complaints for a Temporary Restraining Order are being taken and processed at the police stations with municipal court judges. Remember that many police departments have specific policies for domestic violence cases, including removing an abuser from the home if there are signs of physical abuse. The police can also put you in touch with a member of their Crisis Response Team to connect you with resources and help you in applying for a temporary restraining order.
- Remember that as part of a temporary restraining order, you can ask a judge to grant you a number of things, including temporary possession of the house, temporary custody of minor children, temporary possession of your car, and/or emergent monetary relief so that you have money to pay bills and buy groceries and other necessities. Thus, no victim should be afraid that by filing for a TRO, they risk being homeless, penniless, or leaving their kids with an abuser.
- The courts may be physically closed, but they are still working virtually. If the court closure does not allow your matter to proceed to a final hearing, your temporary restraining order will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
- The courts are trying to find ways to have virtual final hearings to grant or deny Final Restraining Orders and move these matters forward. They are trying to address amendments to Temporary Restraining Order, voluntary dismissals by the victim and other issues such as support, parenting time and access to the home by the accused in order to obtain personal items if not addressed in the initial Temporary Restraining Order. In Morris County, at least, they are now taking amendments via email. Anyone seeking to amend a temporary restraining order should email the request to email@example.com Be sure to include all contact information when you send the request. Then, if an amendment requires a change to predicate act or reliefs, the court will be in contact with you to schedule a teleconference with a Judge.
- If you need additional help, there are a number of other organizations working tirelessly to help you, including:
- JBWS, whose Morris County Helpline Number is (973) 267-4763. JBWS is still operating their legal advocacy services telephonically, as well as remote counseling services and an emergency shelter;
- Local police departments will give you the opportunity to speak to a crisis response team member if you call them;
- The New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, whose 24 hour helpline is (800) 572-7233 or visit https://njcedv.org/covid19/ for resources.
- The National domestic violence hotline (1-877-R.U.ABUSED; 1-877-782-2873) or visit https://thehotline.org
- If all you have is a phone text LOVEIS to 22522.
If you are afraid to pursue these avenues while in the home, remember there are still a number of legitimate reasons to leave the house. You can still go grocery shopping, order curbside takeout at many restaurants for pick up, leave to get something at your local drug store, etc. Once you are out of the home, and the eyes of your abuser, you can make the necessary calls or go to the police station to seek assistance.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these issues or other family law, domestic violence, municipal court, or criminal law issues, we encourage you to reach out to Daly & Associates at (973) 292-9222. We are working remotely but we remain fully available to help you and your family in this difficult time.