Abusive relationships are all too common in our society. The state of New Jersey has taken strong steps to provide a legal framework for victims to secure protection. But that protective legal apparatus can only work if people understand what it is and how to make it work for them. The need for a restraining order against emotional abuse is a perfect example.
On the surface, a victim could be discouraged by the fact that emotional abuse is not specifically listed as one of the 19 types of domestic violence that warrant a restraining order. But those 19 categories are broad enough to cover most any of the specific behaviors that would lead a victim to seek protection. The following six legally recognized areas will encompass a wide range of emotionally abusive behaviors.
Types Of Emotional Abuse
Terroristic threats are domestic violence. This is different from the terrorism you’re used to seeing reported on the evening news. It can be something as simple as one person saying to their ex “I’ll kill you.” The principle of a terroristic threat is that it induces terror, and a credible threat to kill someone certainly qualifies.
Lewdness is another officially recognized form of violence. If you’re leaving the house with your kids and your ex decides now would be a good time to show up spewing profanities or engaging in crude behavior, you’ve been given grounds for a restraining order. It’s a clear attempt to emotionally abuse you and the children, even if the words “emotional abuse” are not actually used.
Stalking: You’ve broken up with your ex and been crystal-clear there is no getting back together. Yet they still keep showing up where you are, enough for you to be convinced it’s not a coincidence. Or, more concerningly, you notice them following you home at night. This is a form of emotional abuse, and it is grounds for a restraining order.
Harassment: Does your ex just not stop calling? No matter how many times you decline the call, no matter how many times you let it go to voicemail, they just keep calling and texting. Presuming they’ve been asked to stop, they are setting you up to successfully get a restraining order against them.
Cyber Harassment: A sign of our social media-driven age is that cyber harassment is now a separate category. If your ex is repeatedly tagging you or mentioning you on your favorite social platforms, they’re clearly trying to stay in your face. This can take a concerning turn if they start to make references to where your kids go to school or anything else hinting that this is more than just someone having a hard time letting go.
Contempt of a restraining order: Maybe you already got a restraining order, and the person just ignores it. Suffice it to say, the state of New Jersey will not take kindly on its legal decrees being blatantly flouted.
None of the above involve any type of direct physical harm to the victim. What they all have in common is a strategy to increase the mental pressure on someone, to make it harder for them to live in their own skin. That’s emotional abuse, and whatever the specific version of it that’s afflicting you, the chances are very good that it’s covered by New Jersey law.
When a Restraining Order Is Necessary
Not every relationship is close enough to merit legal intervention. To get a restraining order against someone, that person must be:
- Your spouse (current or past)
- Your dating partner
- Your roommate
- The other parent of your child(ren)
Presuming your relationship with the person emotionally abusing you qualifies, you then must establish that their behavior is threatening enough to require a restraining order.
The linchpin test will be that of control. All forms of domestic violence, be they physical or emotional, are defined by the United States Department of Justice as “a pattern of abusive behavior...where one partner tries to gain, maintain or control another.” Here in New Jersey, our state courts have further refined that definition to be one of abusive and controlling behavior that injures its victims.
Be aware that you will need to provide evidence that the person you seek protection from is not only engaging in the types of behaviors discussed above, but that they are doing so in a way that can establish a pattern of behavior.
For example, maybe your ex followed you home after Happy Hour on a Friday. This could be something that leads to a restraining order. Particularly if you demonstrate that they also called you 25 times over the last eight days, that you answered none of the calls, that you sent multiple text messages asking to be left alone, and that they had to drive 15 miles to get to the bar where you and your colleagues generally consort to start the weekend.
But what if you haven’t spoken to them in six months and they’ve never made anything that could be construed as a threat to you? What if they just got a job in the same office complex and happened to see you and your colleagues going out?
Now, don’t get us wrong, the decision to follow you home is still a little weird. It’s probably something that should confirm your judgement in ending the relationship. But emotional abuse to the level of getting a restraining order? Probably not, at least if there’s no more to the story.
What Happens in Court
If you and your attorney believe the requirements for a restraining order are being met, the next step is to present your case before a Superior Court judge.
For this initial hearing, notice is not given to the defendant. What will happen is that you will be interviewed about this incident, as well as any past incidents that serve to create the pattern of behavior and attempt to establish control. If your case is compelling, you will be given a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).
At this point, notice will be given to both you and the defendant to return for a hearing that will take place within the next ten days. This hearing will be to determine if a Final Restraining Order (FRO) will be issued. The defendant will get the opportunity to tell the court their side of the story.
After You Get the FRO
In the state of New Jersey, a Final Restraining Order is permanent and violation of it is a criminal offense. Furthermore, federal law requires that other states accept New Jersey’s restraining order. So, if you get a job in New York City and must relocate, your FRO will go with you.
What if you and the defendant mend fences? If you share children together, the kids might want to see both parents. While we certainly suggest moving very carefully in these situations, a restraining order can be amended or even dismissed, if the plaintiff so desires. This must be done formally, through an appearance in Superior Court.
Emotional abuse isn’t something to take lightly. It can take a serious toll on your life and in the lives of your children. If it’s happening to you, let us help you protect yourself and your family. Reach out to DeTommaso Law Group today, either at (908) 274-3028 or here online.