Domestic violence is a serious offense and victims are entitled to the full protection of the law. At the same time, however, defendants must be afforded their due process rights in court, and judges must follow the law, not their individual philosophy, regarding the issuance of final restraining orders.

This issue was recently highlighted in the case of C.C. v. R.C., which was decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division on August 19 and provides a textbook case for how domestic violence hearings can go wrong.

In this case, C.C. filed a domestic violence complaint against R.C. based on a specific incident of assault to which she testified at trial. C.C.’s testimony to his incident of assault is known as the “predicate act,” and can be used as evidence for determining the restraining order. In addition to this, C.C. also testified regarding prior acts of domestic violence committed by R.C., who denied the charges.

However, in rendering the decision that C.C. was entitled to a final restraining order, the Judge did not rely on the predicate act of assault with which R.C. was charged. Instead, the judge relied on other previous events as well as his own personal philosophy, which was a belief that divorced couples should not live together in the same house until it is sold even if the parties had agreed in writing that they would do so. As a result, R.C. appealed the ruling and the appellate court agreed that he was entitled to a rehearing before a different judge.

Upon review, the appellate judges were troubled by the trial court’s reliance upon these previous events over the predicate act contained in C.C.’s complaint, along with the substitution of the court’s personal philosophy. Neither of these events meets the very specific legal standards necessary to issue a final restraining order.

Unfortunately, the volume and fluid nature of domestic violence hearings have led some judges to extemporize on the record, which is what occurred in this case. Good intentions and practical considerations aside, domestic violence defendants are entitled to the same due process rights as any other person in the court system.

Whether R.C. is found guilty of committing an act of domestic violence at the rehearing remains to be determined, but the decision by the appellate court demonstrates that the rights of both parties are paramount in such proceedings, and that a judge should not base his or her decision on a personal philosophy rather than the legal principles involved.

It is highly recommended that anyone going to court in a domestic violence case have experienced legal counsel, because the law of domestic violence is a detailed and complicated area to navigate.