How fitting that on the day I am putting finishing touches on this article, the headline in our local paper reads “Jury: Man tried to kill wife.” Sai Ramesh Maddi was found guilty on April 28, 2005, of attempting to murder his wife by “kicking, starving, stomping, burning and biting” his new bride in their home in Parsippany. The battered wife, Sireesha Pesala, who only came to this Country in early April, was tortured over a 52 day period between April 13th and June 4, 2001, when finally, on the last day, she learned to use 911 and begged Parsippany police to rescue her before her husband returned from his computer consulting job.
The defense? Maddi claimed that his wife asked to be beaten so that she would “learn to be a better housewife.” He professed to love her and be pained to have to hurt her. Fortunately, the jury—reported to be comprised mostly of men—didn’t buy it.
While domestic abuse may take many forms from criminal acts to non-criminal acts that destroy a victim’s ability to act independently, in general, it is a pervasive problem that affects millions every year. Our Legislature in this State has addressed the problem with a statute known as “The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.” (hereafter “the Act” or the PDVA”). The intent of the Act is to “assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.” The Act defines domestic violence as “the occurrence of one or more of the following acts upon a protected person by an adult or an emancipated minor: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, and stalking. A “victim of domestic violence” is defined by the statute as “a person protected under [the] act and shall include any person who is 18 years of age or older or who is an emancipated minor and who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or any other person who is a present or former household member.” It also includes any person with whom the victim has a child in common or whom the victim anticipates having a child in common, if one of the parties is pregnant. It also includes any person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship.
A victim of domestic violence may file a complaint with the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. In Morris County, this may be accomplished by going to the Superior Court, located at the corner of Washington and Court Streets in Morristown. The filing process is meant to be “user-friendly,” and there are people employed in the Domestic Violence Unit as well as on-site staff from the Jersey Battered Women’s Services, who guide victims through the process. On weekends, holidays or other times when the Superior Court is closed, a victim may file a complaint before either a Superior Court—Family Part Judge, or a municipal court judge who is assigned to accept such complaints and issue emergency relief in the form of a temporary restraining order, (hereafter “TRO”). Typically, this is accomplished through the police department in the jurisdiction where the alleged domestic violence occurred.
When obtaining a Temporary Restraining Order, victims may ask for various forms of relief. These include, forbidding the defendant from returning to the scene of domestic violence, forbidding the defendant from possessing any weapons, and/or ordering a search and seizure of weapons.
The Temporary Restraining Order will designate a date for the final hearing. The hearing is usually scheduled within ten days of the issuance of the TRO and takes place at the county courthouse in the Superior Court—Family Part of the Chancery Division. At the hearing, the plaintiff/victim who is seeking a Final Restraining Order has the burden of proof. The standard applied under the PDVA is what is known as a “preponderance” standard. This is a lesser standard than that required in a criminal case. Still, in simple terms, a plaintiff/victim has the burden of proving that her version of events is more credible than the defendant’s version and that what occurred amounted to an act of domestic violence under the Act. The case is heard by a Judge, without a jury.
The Judge will consider several factors when making a determination. These are, without limitation, (1) the prior history of domestic violence, (2) the existence of immediate danger to person or property, (3) the financial circumstances of the plaintiff and defendant, (4) the best interests of the victim and any child, (5) when determining custody and parenting time, the protection of the victim’s safety, (6) the existence of a verifiable order of protection from another jurisdiction. In order to obtain a Final Restraining Order (hereafter “FRO”), there must be a finding (by a judge) or an admission (by the defendant) that an act of domestic violence was committed.
Once there has been a finding of domestic violence, the court is obliged to grant “any relief necessary to prevent further abuse.”  This may include prohibiting the defendant from purchasing, owning, possessing or controlling any firearm during the period in which the restraining order is in effect or two years, whichever is greater. The defendant will be barred from committing further acts of domestic violence. The victim will be granted exclusive possession of her residence regardless of whether the residence is jointly or solely owned or leased by the parties. The FRO may provide for parenting time, if appropriate, and it will specify how that is to take place to best protect the victim and children. The FRO may direct that the defendant undergo an evaluation, such as a risk assessment relative to parenting time or that he or she attend domestic violence counseling such as the ACT program. The victim may ask for monetary compensation for losses suffered as a direct result of the domestic violence. The Order will restrain the defendant from entering the residence, property, school, or place of employment of the victim or of other family or household members of the victim and may even require the defendant to stay away from any specified place that is named in the order and is frequented regularly by the victim or other family or household members. The FRO will prohibit the defendant from making contact with the plaintiff and others upon the victim’s request. The victim may also ask for emergency financial support from the defendant including payment of the rent or mortgage, an order of custody for any children, and may impose a requirement that the defendant be permitted to retrieve personal belongings from the residence with the accompaniment of a police officer.
A victim of domestic violence who has obtained an FRO should always carry the FRO with her at all times. In the event that the defendant attempts to make contact with the victim, in a way that is prohibited by the order, the victim should call the police. If the defendant has violated the FRO, he or she will be arrested and charged with contempt in addition to any other criminal charges that may be appropriate. The FRO is permanent in the sense that it does not expire or have a termination date. However, if the victim has reconsidered his or her relationship with the defendant, he or she may seek a dismissal of the FRO by going to court and making the request. A defendant may also file a motion to vacate the restraining order upon certain very specified grounds. For example, if a victim begins contacting a defendant despite a restraining order, then the defendant could argue to the court that the victim obviously has no fear of the defendant and the restraining order should be lifted.
For information concerning domestic violence services in Morris County, contact the Jersey Battered Women’s Services, at P.O. Box 363, Morris Plains, NJ 07950; Office: 973-455-1256; 24 hour HOTLINE 973-267-4763. For information on anger management programs for men in Morris County, contact Abuse Ceases Today 973-539-7801.
Patricia L. Veres, Esq. is a partner at Riordan Family Law, in Denville, New Jersey.PLV@VRfamilylaw.com or 973-537-1700
 Daily Record, April 29, 2005, page 1.
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18; Legislative findings and declaration.
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19; Definitions.
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-28; Complaint of victim; emergency relief, temporary restraining order, service of process
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-28(j).
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a).
 N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(b).
 Abuse Ceases Today