Victims and Survivors of Domestic Abuse Should Know and Explore All Available Legal Avenues in NJ
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are likely no stranger to living in fear and feeling as if you are stepping on eggshells. Getting out of your current situation and seeking justice against your abuser can feel like an inconceivably difficult journey. Besides the initial and potentially life endangering challenge of escaping your current situation without being discovered by your abuser, you may be worried about how you will navigate so many other details of your life from finances, custody of your children and their support, housing, and maybe even your immigration status. The purpose of this overview is to provide you with a summary of your legal options and rights as a domestic violence victim in New Jersey, so that you can make a plan to bring you and your children to safety.
Legal Options Available for Victims of Domestic Violence in NJ
You may have considered filing or already filed for a restraining order or a criminal complaint against your abuser. Before diving into additional options that many victims of domestic violence are not aware of, let’s briefly discuss these important legal options. If you are in danger and at risk of bodily harm from your abuser, you should do everything you can to get to a safe place in your home, neighborhood, or elsewhere and call 911. When the police respond, you will have the option to file a criminal complaint against your abuser.
You can also obtain a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against your abuser. A TRO will prohibit your abuser from contacting you or coming within a certain distance of you. You will fill out an application with the help of a lawyer or a court staff member and then go before a judge at a hearing without your abuser. The TRO may then become a Final Restraining Order following a hearing where your abuser has a right to present their defense. You do not have to go through this process alone and can seek the help of a domestic violence attorney at our New Jersey law firm to assist you every step of the way.
Protective Alternatives for Non-Citizen Victims of Domestic Violence in NJ
If you are not a U.S. citizen but are a green card holder, non-immigrant visa holder, or an undocumented individual, you should not remain with your abuser out of fear of deportation or loss of status. In fact, U.S. immigration law provides special protections for victims of domestic violence that can help you to establish your life in the United States away from your abuser.
If you are an undocumented person, New Jersey law provides you with the same rights as any other person under its Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. You may be eligible to file for a U-visa, which is a special type of non-immigrant visa that allows undocumented individuals to obtain visa status for 4 years and then apply for a permanent residence (green card) after 3 years, but before your U-visa expires.
Victims of human trafficking are eligible to apply for a T-visa, which also allows them to obtain a non-immigrant visa for a period of 4 years and then apply for a green card after 3 years. Finally, for non-citizens married to a U.S. citizen who abuses them, the Violence Against Women Act allows domestic violence victims to obtain status without relying on their spouse to petition for them.
Financial and Housing Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence
Some victims of domestic violence fear that they will not be able to provide for themselves financially and may not qualify for public welfare benefits based on their spouse’s income. However, you can still apply for welfare assistance and tell your social worker that you are experiencing domestic violence. This will prompt a Family Violence Option Assessment, which provides potential exemptions to existing eligibility requirements, including work requirements and child support enforcement requirements. Furthermore, the fact that you have been abused cannot be used as a reason to deny you any federally funded or Section 8 housing. You also cannot be evicted due to damage caused by an incident of domestic violence by your abuser in the home. New Jersey has many supportive services available, in addition to funded programs aimed at assisting victims of domestic violence throughout the state.
If you are married to your abuser, you may want to consider filing for divorce if your safety and, potentially, your life are in danger from your spouse. New Jersey law allows a spouse to file for divorced based on the general ground of irreconcilable differences or based on cruelty, mental illness, deviant sexual conduct without your permission, adultery, desertion, separation, imprisonment, and voluntary addiction. It is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney about the best way to handle a divorce filing. You may wish to file based on a ground like cruelty, but depending on the facts of your case, it may be more expedient to file based on irreconcilable differences.
Trust Our Dedicated Legal Team to Fight for Your Protection in Jersey City and NJ
It is incredibly common for victims of domestic violence to also experience emotional and mental abuse, which may cause them to believe that they do not have options for protection, safety, and security available to them. Your abuser may have convinced you that you would not be able to make it on your own without them or that they would make life so difficult for you and even threaten to harm you or end your life that leaving them is simply not an option.
Domestic violence situations are incredibly serious, but the right answer is never to stay with your abuser. With that said, it is crucial that you form a safety plan to leave your abuser and take deliberate actions to protect yourself physically, financially, and legally right away.
You do not have to navigate through these challenges alone. No matter what stage of your journey to safety you are in, we are here to help you. We provide representation to victims of domestic violence across New Jersey in towns like Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newton, Freehold, Belvidere, Passaic City, and beyond. Contact a member of our staff today at (908)-336-5008 for a confidential consultation, and let’s make a plan together to protect you and build a better future for you and your family.