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Singleton, Mosquera, Vainieri Huttle & Downey Bill to Strengthen Protections for Domestic Violence Victims Clears Assembly

‘Monica’s Law’ Would Establish Risk Assessments in Honor of Resident Killed by Estranged Husband

The General Assembly on Thursday approved legislation Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Gabriela Mosquera, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Joann Downey sponsored to strengthen protections for domestic violence victims.

The bill (A-4034), dubbed “Monica’s Law,” is named for Monica Paul, a 31-year-old woman who was shot to death in June of 2008 in the presence of her 11-year-old daughter at a Montclair YMCA. Convicted in the killing was her estranged husband Kenneth Duckett, against whom she had obtained a restraining order.

“We’ve come a long way since the Domestic Violence Prevention Act was passed in the early ’90s, but as we continue to examine this issue more closely, we find many new ways in which our legal and law enforcement system can work to better protect victims and their families,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “The tragic death of Monica Paul is just one example of how we can create an additional safety net within our judicial system to prevent warning signs from being overlooked.”

Under the legislation, the attorney general, in consultation with the Supreme Court Statewide Domestic Violence Working Group, would develop an evidence-based risk assessment instrument to help law enforcement officers throughout the state evaluate the likelihood that a domestic violence perpetrator will commit a future act of violence.

The bill also would require the Administrative Office of the Courts, in consultation with the Domestic Violence Working Group, to develop a parenting time questionnaire to be completed in any proceeding to determine custody or parenting time by a parent asserting a concern for the safety or well-being of a child where ordered by the court. The questionnaire would collect information for use with an evidence-based guide of risk considerations to assist the court in determining custody and parenting time alternatives where there is a potential risk to the safety or well-being of a child from a parent who is entitled to parenting time. The questionnaire shall include, but is not limited to, information regarding: the parents and children; the parent’s recommendations for parenting time alternatives; the availability of transportation; the history of domestic violence, child abuse, or other violent or threatening behavior of a parent; the exposure of children to domestic violence or other violent or threatening behavior of a parent; the other parent’s history of substance abuse; the other parent’s criminal history; the other parent’s history of mental illness; the results of prior parenting time efforts; the other parent’s capacity to care for the child; and any other information deemed relevant by the court.

“Children can often be used as a pawn by domestic violence perpetrators to continue inserting themselves in their victim’s life. I know this first-hand,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Our state has a duty to protect all domestic violence victims.”

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to spur action, but hopefully Monica Paul’s life will serve as the impetus for greater protections for other victims of domestic violence,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “With this legislation, we can create an additional layer of protection for victims of domestic violence and their children.”

“Domestic violence is always tragic, but it is all the more heartbreaking when a child is involved,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “New Jersey must take action to protect domestic violence survivors and their children.”

Under the legislation, the court may order continued suspension of parenting time only when a parent is provided with procedural due process and the court finds on the record no other alternative would protect the safety and well-being of the child. If there is any allegation during the court proceedings that a parent has physically or emotionally abused a child, the court shall refer the matter to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families for investigation.

The bill received unanimous Assembly approval and now awaits further consideration in the Senate.