4/9/2015

Divorce Attorneys May Assist Domestic Violence Victims in Obtaining Unemployment Benefits

     In a recent published decision, the NJ Appellate Division reversed the Board of Review’s denial of unemployment benefits to a woman (L.C.) who left her job and moved to Utah to flee her abusive ex-spouse.  L.C. v. Board of Review, Docket No. A-5997-12T2 (App. Div. March 16, 2015).

     Generally, claimants can’t receive unemployment benefits if they voluntarily leave work without “good cause.”  The “good cause” must be attributable to the employment.  Personal reasons for quitting that are unrelated to the work, regardless of how compelling, aren’t enough to get benefits.  There are exceptions, however.  In the case of L.C., the Appellate Division noted that the NJ Legislature created an exception in 2000 for workers who are forced to quit because they are “victims” of domestic violence. 

     In the 2000 amendment to the relevant statute, six categories were identified that suffice as proof of victimization.  Those categories include: (1) a restraining order; (2) a police record documenting the domestic violence; (3) documentation that the perpetrator has been convicted of one or more of the offenses enumerated under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act; (4) medical documentation of domestic violence; (5) an affidavit from a certified Domestic Violence Specialist; or (6) other documentation of the domestic violence provided by a social worker, member of the clergy, shelter worker or other professional who has assisted the individual with the domestic violence. 

     The Appellate Division specifically found that the Board mistakenly failed to consider a letter from L.C.’s divorce attorney, which identified various acts of domestic violence by her estranged husband.  According to the court, this letter sufficed as evidence under number #6 above.   The matter was remanded for a new hearing on the basis that the attorney’s letter should have been in the form of an affidavit (or sworn statement) – not a letter.

     As family law attorneys, we often bear the unfortunate burden of being intimately involved with victims of domestic violence.  We are one of the first individuals to advise victims of their rights and prepare them for Final Restraining Order hearings to seek a permanent order of protection from their abuser.  In conjunction with these duties, we often help victims of domestic violence obtain a court order for child support or spousal support (if appropriate).  This decision from the Appellate Division is significant as it specifically dictates that the victim’s family law attorney is a qualified “professional” who can assist the victim in obtaining unemployment benefits.  Essentially, this decision arms attorneys with another method to assist our clients through tumultuous times.

    To review the full Appellate Division published decision, click here.