States across the country have issued stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus. The unintended consequence of these orders has been the spike of domestic violence reports. Individuals experiencing or who have experienced intimate partner violence are now required to stay at home with their perpetrators leading an increase in violence, reports, and calls to police.
Courthouses in New Jersey are now closed to the public until further notice. Since March 18, 2020, there has been no in-person Superior Court cases and Tax Court proceedings. There are exceptions for limited emergent matters and certain ongoing trials. NJ Courts are now trying to do many case management conferences, applications for relief and hearings by telephone or video conference. Many cases have been suspended.
There are no in-person criminal or family proceedings taking place as of now. If a survivor wants to file criminal charges against a person there is no criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault—which allows a survivor to bring criminal charges against the person who assaulted them at any time. All submissions and payments the court must be done electronically or through mail.
But in cases with more direct consequences such as evictions and protective orders, courts are allowing electronic submissions of emergent applications. Victims of domestic violence can file an emergent application to obtain a temporary protective order and start proceedings. The first step for an individual experiencing violence from a partner or spouse is to try and obtain a temporary protection order (TPO) under the Sexual Assault Survivors Protection Act (SASPA). A TPO would prohibit the person causing harm from having contact with the survivor and prevent them from committing further acts of violence. Courts are now accepting applications for TPOs through email and mail. The form includes documents for a survivor to fill out as well as the emails to a survivor’s corresponding county courthouse. Once an application for a TPO is submitted, family court staff will then contact the survivor for a video or telephone hearing. The final restraining order hearing will take place within 10 days.
As the circumstances are constantly changing, the NJ Courts website posts all updates here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence in their homes and is looking for legal assistance in obtaining a temporary restraining order or filing a criminal charge, please consider our services and contact us to schedule a free initial consultation. Our attorneys are ready and willing to compassionately assist those during these difficult times.
For additional resources to assistance for domestic violence survivors, please consult the NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault website. For information to create a safety plan please visit the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence website. If you or someone you know is living in fear of intimate partner violence, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-572-7233. If you are in danger call 911 right away.
Aleksandra Syniec, who wrote this post, is a second-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law. She is also knowledgeable in landlord-tenant law and the information technology.