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Top Things to Know if a Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Happens to You in NJ

Published: June 23, 2021

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Seasoned Attorneys Guiding You through the Process of Domestic Violence Risk Assessments in Restraining Order Matters

Domestic Violence Risk Assessment in Restraining Order Case NJ HelpIn October of 2017, New Jersey’s Attorney General’s office sent a directive to law enforcement leaders and prosecutors regarding the implementation of a new domestic violence risk assessment. The Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) score sheet is a checklist for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to evaluate domestic violence situations. The list helps officers and prosecutors assess the risk of danger one party poses to the other and the need for protection for the party claiming the abuse. Its use is mandatory when the person charged is accused of violent crimes like homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, terroristic threats, aggravated assault, and other life-threatening crimes. High scores suggest a greater likelihood of a repeat offender.

How do Officers use Domestic Violence Risk Assessments in New Jersey

Officers responding to a domestic violence incident may use the risk assessment score sheet when interviewing the victim. An officer checks off which of 13 items applies to the case, according to the victim. The list includes the accused’s prior domestic or other violent incidents, as well as their prior convictions, incarceration, and denied conditional release from jail. Other listed items are homicidal threats by the accused during the violent incident, a victim’s confinement, and the victim’s fear of future violence. Also pertinent are whether the parties share biological or stepchildren, whether the accused has substance abuse problems, committed violence against a pregnant woman, and whether the victim lacks help. The more items checked off, the higher the probability the accused is to commit further violence.

How do Judges use Risk Assessments of Domestic Violence Defendants

The ODARA score sheet is also helpful to judges who issue a final restraining order in a domestic violence case. Domestic violence victims or police officers on behalf of the victim may petition the court for a temporary restraining order protecting the alleged victim. While a temporary restraining order is easier to get, for the final order, a petitioner must prove that they are in danger of future violence to get the judge to order the accused permanently restrained from contacting the victim. Since domestic violence incidences often occur in private, the judge must decide based on evidence one or both parties present to the judge at the final restraining order hearing.

A judge can also rely on the ODARA score sheet to help them order child custody and visitation arrangements.

A Domestic Violence Risk Assessment can be used for Custody and Visitation Decisions

The plaintiff with custody of the children may request that the court order a risk assessment of the accused to evaluate the likelihood of future violence against the intimate partner or children. If the judge issues a final restraining order based on proven domestic violence and the plaintiff’s safety, a risk assessment may be deemed appropriate for child custody and visitation. When one parent is violent to the other, their children’s safety may be at risk. Considering the best interests of children, a judge would want to know whether the accused should have monitored visitation with the children or no visitation at all if the children risk harm. The risk assessment gives judges concrete factors to consider in making that decision.

When one parent requests a risk assessment of the other, the judge must consider whether the request is sincere or arbitrary. A judge may deny the requested risk assessment if the request is impulsive or malicious. In the absence of a baseless request, the judge can order the risk assessment and consider the results in deciding the child visitation order in the final restraining order. If ordered, a county official interviews both parties about their version of the relationship, violence, and parenting. If the Department of Child Protection and Prevention previously visited the family and opened a file to investigate child abuse or neglect, the department may conduct the risk assessment.

Each party can supply the person conducting the assessment with documents, reports, and witnesses to prove their claims and defenses. Each may show pictures of injuries, police reports, medical reports, prior restraining orders, the parties’ mental health records, the children’s school and health records, substance abuse evidence, and a proposed schedule of visitation, including where and how the visitation will take place. The assessor then writes their report, which the court reads and considers at the scheduled hearing on visitation.

The risk assessment process allows a third party to inform the court after an investigation. Balancing the children’s interest in maintaining a relationship with both parents against the potential of harm to the children is a thorny, complex picture in some cases. Typically, child custody considerations in family court rest on the needs, education, parental history, ages of the children, where each parent lives, past child abuse or neglect, and the preferences of older children, in addition to past domestic violence and the children’s safety from abuse. In other cases, the picture is more apparent. A parent who strikes, pushes, shakes, throttles, or threatens the other parent with a weapon when children are nearby or while either parent holds a child, the risk assessment is likely to be high that the children risk injury with the restrained parent.

What to do if You have a Domestic Violence Risk Assessment in NJ

Any person accused of domestic violence who becomes the subject of a risk assessment should strongly consider getting legal help with their defense. Additionally, since a restraining order can complicate life for a parent who wishes to comply with the order but still maintain contact with their children, the defendant must fight for their parental rights.

A seasoned domestic violence and restraining order attorney at The Tormey Law Firm can inform and prepare you throughout the domestic violence process, while also vigorously protecting your rights and best interests. Our attorneys can guide you from the moment we become involved in your case, from before to after the final restraining order hearing, and in any related criminal, DCPP, or family law proceedings involving the domestic violence accusations in your case. We have a team of lawyers who are highly familiar with domestic violence cases, related child custody issues, protective orders, and risk assessments.

We can help you appear in court with the best evidence possible to counter the plaintiff’s claims, including discrediting the plaintiff’s witness and any documentary evidence offered to the court in an effort to prove that you are violent and the plaintiff’s safety is at stake. Our legal team can also assist you in preparing for your risk assessment interview, advising on which items you may be asked to discuss with the interviewer and probable questions you may need to address.

Regardless of the side you’re on in a domestic violence scenario, we can provide invaluable experience to assist either party through these grueling proceedings. If you are involved in a domestic violence case, reach out to our experienced lawyers now for a free consultation. You can reach us online or by calling (908)-336-5008 anytime for assistance immediately.

Filed under: Domestic Violence Case Issues

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Travis J. Tormey is a distinguished member of the legal community and a respected legal resource on domestic violence. He has been featured in a variety of prominent publications and media outlets, including CBS radio, Aol News, the Asbury Park Press,, and the Daily Record. Mr. Tormey has also been recognized as one of the the top criminal attorneys under 40 years of age by the National Trial Lawyers Association and the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. Whether representing victims or the wrongly accused, Travis remains passionately committed to protecting the rights of the innocent.

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