Domestic violence is a persistent problem among New Jersey married couples, despite the fact that many abused spouses keep their abuse a secret. Domestic abuse is more than just physical violence; verbal and emotional abuse can be just as harmful and cause damage to the spouse and children who are the victims or witness it. Sadly, many stay in violent marriages because they fear the consequences of leaving an abusive spouse. If domestic violence has been an issue in your marriage, it is important to understand you and your children can be free of abuse and protected under the laws of New Jersey.
What Constitutes Domestic Abuse?
Even if you’ve never been injured physically by your spouse, you may have been the victim of abuse under state law. If your spouse or partner yelled, threatened your safety, threw things, or broke things, this could be domestic violence under the laws of our state.
New Jersey’s legal definition of domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. The legal definition of acts prohibited under the state’s domestic violence law includes:
- False imprisonment (restraining someone, with either physical restraints or threats, so as to interfere with their freedom of movement)
- Terroristic threats (threatening to kill another with the purpose to put him or her in imminent fear of death)
- Harassment (with the intention to harass, communicating either anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm)
- Stalking (repeatedly maintaining visual or physical proximity to a person)
- Cyber harassment (making a statement online via an electronic device or on social media, with the purpose to harass, and either threatening to injure a person or damage property or posting lewd or obscene statements or material regarding a person)
- Criminal sexual contact
Filing a Divorce Based on Extreme Cruelty and Domestic Violence in New Jersey
Divorce petitioners in New Jersey can choose between filing a no-fault divorce and filing a divorce based on fault. The available grounds for a fault-based divorce include “extreme cruelty,” which can be defined as including physical or emotional abuse. Many people still believe that filing a fault-based divorce will result in a more favorable economic outcome, but this is not necessarily the case. In most fault-based and non-fault based divorces, assets will be divided on an equitable basis, unless the spouse’s fault had an economic impact on the married couple’s finances. So if a spouse committed some financial misconduct like paying for gifts for a paramour or gambling away savings during the marriage so that the couple accrued more debt or saw a substantial depletion of assets, this could have an effect on how the couple’s property is divided. Each divorce case must be evaluated on its own merits based on the specific facts of that case.
New Jersey law instructs family part judges to award alimony based on a list of 14 factors which include economic need, educational level and earning capacity, how the property was divided, and the marital standard of living, but misconduct during the marriage is not one of these factors. That said, judges are allowed to consider “any other factors which the court may deem relevant,” which could offer a sympathetic judge a path to awarding a greater share of alimony to an abused spouse. However, there is no legal guideline instructing courts to award more to abuse survivors. Again, whether alimony is awarded and how much alimony is to be paid must be evaluated based on the facts of the specific divorce case.
How Will Charges of Domestic Violence Affect My Custody Determination?
The determination of child custody is the aspect of a divorce that is most likely to be affected by allegations of domestic abuse. If the abused spouse obtained a restraining order against the accused abuser, then this will also have an impact on the restrained spouse’s ability to see their child, perhaps limiting whether and where the accused abuser can visit with their child while the divorce is ongoing and after the divorce. Courts will take a parent’s history of domestic violence very seriously when determining whether that parent is permitted to have unsupervised parenting time with their children. If there are severe charges of abuse involved, the parent may have their parenting time severely limited and only under supervised conditions. Again, the manner of parenting time will be determined by the Court based on the specific facts of the divorce case.