In an important new ruling handed down last week by a Superior Court judge in Ocean County, pregnant women threatened with domestic violence can file for restraining orders to protect their unborn children.
The court’s decision appears to clarify that when domestic violence is present, pregnant women who are already seeking a restraining order for themselves shouldn’t have to wait until giving birth to have another order put in place for the child. In applicable cases, this may provide babies with protection under the restraining order from the moment of birth, thus saving new moms the additional step of returning to court to file for a separate restraining order.
As Superior Court Judge Lawrence Jones wrote in his opinion:
“When a pregnant victim of domestic violence obtains a restraining order against an abuser, and thereafter gives birth to a child, the last place the victim may want to go immediately after delivery is right back to the courthouse again.”
According to the Star Ledger, the case Jones based his ruling on involved two teenagers in Ocean County who had a disagreement over whether they should keep the child. Eventually, the 18-year-old male attacked the 17-year-old pregnant girl in Lakewood.
New Jersey law does not recognize fetuses as having rights, but courts have ruled over the years that children may sue parents later in life for damages suffered in the womb. For example, in cases involving a mother’s drug abuse, an adult child could sue for damages over development issues clearly linked to drug exposure before birth. In this case, it seems to make legal sense that if a child could conceivably sue later on for damages sustained as a result of domestic violence — for example, if the episode led to preterm birth and birth complications that in turn led to disability and impairment — then mother has the right to secure a restraining order in order to keep her baby safe from harm.
“Our Supreme Court has recognized that domestic violence is a serious problem in our society, and ‘persists as a grave threat to the family, particularly to women and children,” Jones wrote in his ruling that appears to extend this protection much further then previously thought.
Are you a victim of domestic assault? Please call 911 if you are in immediate danger, or contact New Jersey’s domestic violence hotline: 800-572-SAFE (7233).
We also have a number of extremely helpful resources available for anyone in New Jersey experiencing domestic violence or contemplating filing for a restraining order. For help on how to follow a restraining order, see our article, “How to File Forms & Understand The Restraining Order Process in a Domestic Violence Case”. More filing information can be found here: New Jersey Restraining Orders.