The Domestic Violence Act and Elder Abuse

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Abuse Attorney

As you have seen on the news, domestic violence comes in many forms, whether it is a parent physically assaulting their child or a prominent football player punching his girlfriend on an elevator in a hotel in Atlantic City.  But in the opinion of J.C. v. B.S., Judge Jones of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part in Ocean County discussed the Domestic Violence Act as it relates to elder abuse.  While the outcome of the case is not surprising given the facts the legal precedent is and extends the reaches of the Domestic Violence Act to protect elderly persons and makes findings that will have consequences for those who verbally abuse the elderly.

To summarize the facts, the plaintiff was an elderly, physically frail woman.  Her adult son, the defendant, lived with her.  The plaintiff applied for a final restraining order against her son after he verbally and physically abused her.  Plaintiff testified that the defendant called her crude names to her face, poked her angrily, which caused her to fall on at least one occasion, and put his hands around her throat, making her feel threatened and harassed.  While plaintiff presented herself as introverted, the defendant came off as aggressive, referred to his mother as “this damn lady” in court (among other unspeakables), and denied any wrongdoing.  Instead, he claimed the mother was aggressive towards him, chasing him around the house.  When asked how his mother could chase him around due to her frailty and physical limitations, and why he just didn’t leave the house if the conduct was that bad, he could not provide an explanation.

The opinion discusses how seniors are the most vulnerable in our population and that while the Domestic Violence Act never addressed elder abuse, its protections against abuse can be extended to situations such as this one with an elderly woman being abused by her adult son that lives with her.  It noted that this case went beyond incidental profanities made by the son to the mother, but instead was one where the adult child constantly degraded his mother in her own home.  It mentioned how emotional abuse can be just as bad to the elderly as physical abuse, and the Domestic Violence Act was not meant to be invoked only when the victim receives a “black eye” from his or her abuser.  One of the most important sentences in the opinion is how domestic violence can “suffer deep and lasting emotional effects from exposure to domestic violence” and that this logic is equally applicable to “elderly parents who are emotionally harassed and abused by their own adult children.”  The case then concluded with the judge finding that a final restraining order is warranted in this situation.

Now from a first reading, it is easy to see why the restraining order was issued.  What this defendant did was reprehensible, and his repeated conduct put the court in the situation where it had to issue the restraining order.  But what is fascinating about the opinion is how it equates children being abused from their parents to elderly parents being abused by their children, and how the use of constant profanity against the elderly is emotional abuse sufficient enough to warrant a restraining order given the frailty of the elderly person.  This case can easily be applied to someone who lives with an elderly person that is unrelated, or to someone who is related to a parent who frequently visits the home.  The logic of this case will be followed by other judges given this type of situation.  So for any caregivers out there who live with or frequent the house of an elderly patient, take note of this opinion.

To discuss your NJ Elder Abuse matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.