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Recent Updates in NJ Domestic Violence Law

Aug 5, 2021 | Written by: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq. |

There have been two recent published opinions from the New Jersey Appellate Division that address family law cases involving domestic violence.

The first is the case of D.M.R. v. M.K.G.[i], which was approved for publication on May 11, 2021.  In that matter, the court addresses how domestic violence trials should be conducted via remote proceedings (e.g., Zoom). 

The defendant appealed the FRO (final restraining order) entered against her based on harassment[ii].  The defendant claimed that the court erred in finding she committed the predicate act of harassment, erred in failing to conduct the required legal analysis, and violated her due process in the “numerous” irregularities that took place during the remote proceeding.

The Appellate Division concluded that some of the defendant’s claims of denied due process had merit.  First, the defendant was not served a copy of the complaint at the time of the first hearing.  The trial court gave the defendant less than 24 hours from service to prepare for the hearing, scheduled the next day.  The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) and New Jersey Domestic Violence Procedures Manual[iii] "ensure that individuals charged with committing domestic violence offenses are treated fairly and receive the full panoply of due process rights guaranteed by our federal and State constitutions."  The Appellate Division further found that the urgent rush to trial was not justified.

As to the issues with technology, the Appellate Division held, “however, even in a Zoom bench trial, a trial judge must take special care to craft questions in such a manner to avoid being perceived as an advocate for any side of a dispute."[iv]

This case is noteworthy for its instructions on conducting a remote domestic violence proceeding and the careful approach the judge must take, particularly when one is self-represented.

The second noteworthy decision is State of New Jersey v. W.C.[v]  This matter deals with the State’s appeal from a family part order denying its motion for forfeiture[vi] of the defendant’s weapons. 

In May 2020, Emma filed a TRO (temporary restraining order) against the defendant (WC).  Pursuant to the TRO, the police seized firearms belonging to the defendant and brought them to the local prosecutor’s office.  Although the defendant requested an adjournment of the final hearing to obtain counsel, the court denied his request.  The defendant ultimately moved to vacate the FRO and for a new trial, which were granted, and a second trial took place.  The same judge then denied Emma’s request for an FRO and vacated the one previously entered.

The State proceeded, regardless of the fact that no TRO nor FRO existed, with a hearing to forfeit the defendant’s weapons.  The State only argued that it was entitled to forfeiture because the statute barred the return for a two-year period following the entry of the initial FRO.  The defendant asserted that such a bar was impossible because the FRO was vacated. 

The PDVA "is intended 'to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.'" In re Forfeiture of Pers. Weapons & Firearms Identification Card Belonging to F.M., 225 N.J. 487, 509 (2016) (quoting N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18). "Because the presence of weapons can heighten the risk of harm in an incident of domestic violence, the [PDVA] contains detailed provisions with respect to weapons." State v. Harris, 211 N.J. 566, 579 (2012). For example, the PDVA provides that law enforcement officers "who [have] probable cause to believe that an act of domestic violence has been committed shall . . . seize any weapon" that the officer observes or learns is on the premises "that the officer reasonably believes would expose the victim to a risk of serious bodily injury." N.J.S.A. 2C:25- 21(d)(1)(b). The PDVA further authorizes a court to order, as a condition of a TRO, "the search for and seizure of any [firearm or other] weapon at any location where the [court] has reasonable cause to believe [a] weapon is located and the seizure of any firearms purchaser identification card or permit to purchase a handgun issued to [the] defendant." N.J.S.A. 2C:25-28(j).  Where firearms, a firearms purchaser identification card, or a permit to purchase a firearm are seized pursuant to the PDVA, they must be "inventoried and turned over to the county prosecutor."  In re F.M., 225 N.J. at 510 (citing N.J.S.A. 2C:25-21(d)(2)).

The Appellate Division importantly held, “The State's claimed entitlement to forfeiture rests solely on a literal interpretation of N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(b) that, in our view, leads to an absurd result.”

These are two narrow but important published decisions from our Appellate Court.  Domestic violence matters can be incredibly technical and complicated.  There can also be criminal consequences.  It is important to have counsel familiar with these matters before you proceed.


[ii] N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a)


[iv] L.M.F. v. J.A.F., 421 N.J. Super. 523, 537 (App. Div. 2011).



Diana Fredericks, Esq.


Diana N. Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters.  She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.  Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.