Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

How Does New Jersey Protect the Whereabouts Of A Victim Of Domestic Violence as the Divorce Process Begins?

In order to protect a victim of domestic violence, New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act allows a Judge of a New Jersey Family Court to issue a final restraining order.  Victims then usually begin to feel a new sense of peace. In most cases once a horrific act like this occurs and a victim seeks legal aid via court order, it is likely the parties will get a divorce. However, this is not always the case and the parties might just remain separated. What happens then if the abuser wants a divorce down the road, but doesn’t know the victim’s whereabouts? As a New Jersey divorce attorney, I recently addressed this issue and the case of J.C. v. M.C., 2013 N.J. Super LEXIS 213 (Ch. Div. Sept. 13, 2013) in right on point. Let’s explore.    

In J.C. v. M.C., the parties were married in 2006. In 2012, the wife filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband. The court held that the husband did commit an act of domestic violence and granted the wife a final restraining order. The restraining order, among other things, prohibited the husband from contacting his wife and remained in effect throughout the time the parties were separated. While neither of the parties initially filed for a divorce, in 2013 the husband filed for one on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Basically, that meant that he wanted a divorce because he and his wife had become incompatible, in addition to the fact that he was forbidden from contacting her. However, when he attempted to inform his wife that he wanted a divorce he couldn’t because he did not know where she lived.

Since the husband did not know his wife’s whereabouts, the main issue became how important it is to protect the confidentiality and location of a domestic violence victim. The Court looked to New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A. 2C:25) for guidance on the issue. Pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, a victim of domestic violence is entitled to keep his or her address and location confidential from a former spouse or soon to be ex-spouse. Additionally, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C: 25-26(c), a victim’s location should remain confidential and not appear on any documents or records to which a former spouse or soon to be ex-spouse has access. Furthermore, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-33 awards confidentiality to domestic violence records, stating that those records must be confidential and not made available to any individual unless law holds otherwise. Moreover, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:25-34, confidentiality is typically granted to records in the domestic violence central registry.

As evidenced by several of the provisions of the Act, the Court concluded that the purpose of the Act was to “assure victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.” The Court noted that since domestic violence is a serious crime in today’s society, it is vital that victim’s are provided with as much protection and security as possible. Therefore, the Court agreed with the Act’s provision that provides for confidentiality of a domestic violence victim’s location.      

Although preserving the confidentiality of the wife’s whereabouts was the Court’s main priority, it still had to figure out a way for the wife to be informed that her husband wanted a divorce. The court decided that the best option to provide notice to the wife of the divorce without jeopardizing her confidentiality was for the divorce complaint to be forwarded to her via certified mail by the court’s domestic violence unit. The Court stated that if it allowed the husband to learn of her whereabouts, New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act’s purpose would clearly be violated. In particular, the Court held that it was imperative, pursuant to the Act, to keep the abuser husband physically away from the victim wife at all times. Additionally, the Court looked to New Jersey’s Address Confidentiality Program Act, N.J.S.A. 47:4-1, to -6, which provides more protection for victims of domestic violence in certain situations by preventing abusers from learning their whereabouts. This Act influenced the Court’s holding as well. 

Ultimately, a victim of domestic violence in New Jersey will be afforded as much protection as legally possible. For more information on the issue, please do not hesitate to contact my office to discuss today. Thank you.