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Domestic Violence Cases and Due Process

Thumbnail image for Hand Up.jpgDomestic violence cases are unique because of their competing issues. The legal system weighs a number of values for every case: fairness, due process, expeditiousness, and potential impact on society are just a few. Domestic violence cases usually involve someone in imminent or current danger or a child’s ability to see both of his/her parents, meaning that the courts often must focus on speed over the other values, to prevent further physical or emotional harm. But speed should not come at the cost of other concerns and the courts must find a way to balance all of them together. 

K.J. v. K.P.F. involved a woman plaintiff and a male defendant. The woman and man were unmarried, but had a baby together.  The woman claimed that while the man was giving her a “half-hug,” he elbowed her in the nose and on earlier occasions, had harassed her with repeated unconsented-to touching and requests for sex. The man admitted the requests for sex, but noted that it was not done in a harassing way – and that he elbowed her accidentally when she walked into him in the dark. The trial judge found that she did not present enough evidence at the trial and denied her motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of her case. In her appeal, the woman offered two interesting arguments:

  1. The trial court required her to consent to parenting time in exchange for an adjournment  of the trial date; and 
  2. The trial court’s denial of the adjournment violated her due process rights. 

Hand Up.jpgThe woman did not hire a lawyer until the day before the trial court’s ruling. The attorney requested an adjournment to prepare and become familiar with the case, but it was denied. The judge was concerned that an adjournment would interfere with the man’s ability to see his child and would prejudice his rights to seek a parenting-time agreement. The Appellate Court denied her appeal on these issues. 

New Jersey law extends due process rights in domestic violence cases and our court agree that due process rights are a delicate issue for defendants. These types of cases do not always give much notice or opportunity to respond to defendants, and thus due process can be easily compromised. But, here, the plaintiff, not the defendant, argued that due process was not given. Due process is comprised if “meaningful notice” and “an opportunity to defend” are put in jeopardy. But here, the woman had both.  The Appellate Court denied this claim as well. 

Domestic violence cases can be tricky, with a number of competing issues for the court to balance. Conserving parenting time is one of the highest priorities, as is due process. Finding a balance can be difficult.  

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