February 12, 2024
golden dome of the top of the New Jersey statehouse
New Jersey's Statehouse (Credit: NJleg.gov)

Years of work by Professor Ruth Anne Robbins, her students, and their partners at the NJ Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NJCEDV) culminated on January 8 in the signing of bill A-1475, which requires the court to consider information regarding coercive control in domestic violence proceedings.

Coercive control is a hallmark of abusive relationships and includes behaviors like isolating the victim from family and friends and controlling access to medication, medical treatment, or transportation. Previously, coercive control was not included in the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), meaning that judges were not required to consider these abuses for victims seeking a restraining order. Effective immediately, that has changed thanks to this new law.

“Fundamentally, coercive control undermines a victim's autonomy and individual freedom, and we heard countless stories from victims about how this type of abuse has devastated their lives,” says Matt Divis ‘23, who worked with Robbins on this project during his time as a student. “The bill also provides notice to litigants in family court—the majority of whom are unrepresented. Understanding the PDVA can prove challenging even for seasoned attorneys, so this is a step in the right direction on that front as well.”

Ruth Anne Robbins
Rutgers Law Professor Ruth Anne Robbins

According to Robbins, this new law codifies and clarifies two New Jersey court decisions from several years ago, one by the New Jersey Supreme Court and one by the Appellate Division. “Those two decisions introduced the idea of a need test a victim must prove,” she explains. “Since that time, however, courts have not coalesced around standards for the family court judges to use. This new law does just that.” 

Indeed, the new law amends the PDVA to include a list of abusive behaviors that can help victims substantiate their need for a restraining order, puts litigants on notice that they must provide such evidence in their pursuit of protection, and permits judges to consider evidence of coercive control in their analysis of whether the victim “needs” a restraining order.

On the one hand, working with Rutgers Law has been beneficial to the Coalition. “The research and outreach from Rutgers Law School was instrumental in helping to educate the legislature on the importance of judges considering coercive control in domestic violence cases,” says NJCEDV’s legal director Denise Higgins. On the other, this was also a valuable experience for the School’s law students.

“So much of law school focuses on litigation, and I knew very little about the legislative process and legislative advocacy,” says Divis. “We submitted statements at different stages and testified in front of the judiciary committee. We also met with a number of state officials throughout the process. While we (as students) were not experts, it felt like our research and testimony was heard and we were able to make a real-world impact.”

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

Subscribe to our RSS feed.