Legislation currently pending in New Jersey seeks to address concerns that domestic violence laws are not doing enough to protect victims and children. The bill establishes a domestic violence risk assessment pilot program to help identify those who are likely to commit an act of violence against the victim or child.
“Monica’s Law,” named for domestic violence victim Monica Paul who was killed in 2008, provides for mandatory risk assessment, prior to issuing an award of visitation, in all cases where a final domestic violence restraining order has been issued and where the actor and the victim have a child in common and certain other risk factors are present.
If passed, the law will require that the Administrative Offices of the Court develop a risk assessment questionnaire for use in a pilot program in Essex and Passaic counties. The questionnaire would be given to those filing a complaint and would ask for information including whether the person against whom the domestic violence complaint is filed has used or threatened to use a weapon, physically harmed the victim or their child or made threats of physical harm, and whether the victim fears for his or her own safety or for their child’s.
The completed questionnaire would be considered by the court hearing the domestic violence matter in order to determine the presence of risk factors necessitating a risk assessment. A risk assessment is required in all cases where:
- the defendant, in the course of committing the act of domestic violence, used or threatened to use a weapon on the plaintiff or on a child;
- the defendant, in the course of committing the act of domestic violence, threatened to kill the plaintiff or a child;
- the plaintiff has expressed a belief that the defendant will attempt to kill her or a child;
- the defendant has previously harmed or threatened to cause physical or emotional harm or neglect to a child;
- The plaintiff has expressed the belief that the defendant will attempt to abduct a child;
- The defendant has physically harmed the plaintiff, including such acts as choking or suffocating the plaintiff;
- The defendant has sexually assaulted the plaintiff; or
- In other circumstances as may be determined by the Administrative Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, in consultation with other public and private groups with an expertise in the prevention of domestic violence or the prevention of child abuse.
The risk assessment must be performed by a qualified, licensed professional who has received specialized domestic violence training as defined in the bill. Defendants must pay for all ordered risk assessments unless the court waives the costs due to financial hardship. Visitation will be suspended until the risk assessment is completed.
If you are the victim of domestic violence or you have been accused, retaining an experienced attorney is crucial to safeguarding yours and your family’s rights.
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