Restraining orders are protective measures that often arise in cases of alleged domestic violence. Such orders can be temporary or permanent and highly specific in the measures that they impose.
Whether you plan to seek a restraining order or become the defendant in a restraining order, it is important to know the law in New Jersey. A question like “Can I get a restraining order?” is a fundamental one.
If you face any issue with a restraining order, domestic violence case, or other legal matter, hire a skilled attorney to help. Joseph D. Lento has roots in New Jersey and extensive experience with restraining order issues. He knows the law and can help you today.
What Is a Restraining Order?
New Jersey Domestic Violence Court Procedures (NJDVCP) define a restraining order as:
“A Court Order that is intended to protect you from further harm from someone who has hurt you; to keep the abuser away from you, or to stop harassing you; or keep the abuser from the scene of the violence, which may include your home, place of work, or apartment.”
Restraining orders are a civil, rather than criminal, order. While a restraining order is not itself a criminal offense, it could affect—and be affected by—related criminal proceedings.
For example, the state may cite a restraining order against you as proof that you pose a threat to an alleged victim of domestic violence. Conversely, the court may see a criminal conviction as grounds to impose a final (i.e., permanent) restraining order, or FRO, against you.
What Does a Restraining Order Do?
Both temporary and final restraining orders limit what the defendant named in the order can do. A restraining order may:
- Prevent the defendant from contacting the plaintiff (in person, by phone, online, through another person, or otherwise)
- Prevent the defendant from visiting the plaintiff's home or place of business
- Prevent the defendant from contacting children that they share with the plaintiff
- Forbid specific types of behavior, such as stalking, harassment, and sexual violence
- Dictate child custody arrangements
- Revoke the defendant's right to possess firearms and other weapons
- Impose financial obligations on the defendant
- Impose additional measures
A TRO may generally have a more limited scope than an FRO.
What Are the Types of Restraining Orders in New Jersey?
While domestic violence-related restraining orders may be most common, they are not the only type of restraining order in New Jersey. Other specific forms of restraining order include:
- Sexual assault restraining orders, pertaining to issues of sexual violence
- Extreme risk protective orders, pertaining directly to firearm ownership
- Out-of-state protective orders, pertaining to protection from someone who resides in a different state
- Stalking-related protective orders, pertaining to protection from convicted stalkers
In a broader sense, the three primary categories of restraining orders in New Jersey are:
- Temporary restraining orders (TROs)
- Final restraining orders (FROs)
- Sexual assault restraining orders
The Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) governs certain aspects of a sexual assault restraining order.
Who May Seek a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
New Jersey law generally allows domestic violence victims (or alleged victims) to seek a restraining order. The court may generally err on the side of granting a temporary protective order even if evidence of domestic violence is lacking.
N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d) defines a “victim of domestic violence” as:
- Anyone 18 years of age or older (or an emancipated minor) who has suffered domestic violence by a spouse, ex-spouse, “or any other person who is a present household member or was at any time a household member.”
- Any person who suffers domestic violence from someone they share a child with or anticipate sharing a child with
- Any person who suffers domestic violence by a dating partner
N.J.S.A. 2C:14-14 explains that you may also apply for a temporary restraining order if you are the alleged victim of sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to, sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, and lewdness.
Per N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.2, victims of alleged stalking may obtain a temporary restraining order. If the defendant of that order is convicted of stalking, then the order could become permanent (per N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10.1)
“Family or household members” or law enforcement officers may petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order. Under the purview of New Jersey’s “red flag” laws, extreme risk protection orders have become a way to remove weapons from those thought to pose an imminent danger.
Certain other parties may be eligible to seek a restraining order. You can speak with a knowledgeable attorney to determine your eligibility for a protective order.
Who Issues Restraining Orders?
In cases of domestic violence, the Family Division Office of the New Jersey Superior Court handles restraining order hearings. To seek a temporary restraining order, an alleged victim of domestic violence may either visit the Family Division Office in their jurisdiction or visit the presiding law enforcement department.
Upon receiving a request for a TRO, a hearing officer or judge will hear the plaintiff's case. They will determine whether to file a TRO. This same court generally handles the final restraining order (FRO) hearing. The FRO hearing typically occurs no more than ten days from the issuance of the TRO.
Are Restraining Orders Permanent?
Not initially. The enactment of a temporary restraining order (TRO) is just as its name implies—temporary. The outcome of the subsequent FRO hearing will determine if the restraining order becomes final or permanent.
The FRO hearing is a critical point for both a plaintiff and defendant. Both parties will be able to present their case during the FRO hearing. The hearing may include:
- Witness testimony
- Oral arguments by attorneys for the defendant and plaintiff
- Presentation of evidence
- Cross-examination of witnesses, possibly including the defendant and plaintiff
- Rebuttal arguments by attorneys
Following the FRO hearing, the judge will decide whether to impose an FRO. When making this decision, the judge will likely consider:
- The relationship status of the plaintiff and defendant
- The cases made by each side during the FRO hearing
- The defendant's criminal history, including acts of violence
- Any recent events that indicate the defendant is a threat to the plaintiff's wellbeing
- All other relevant facts
The judge's decision will be based on the preponderance of the evidence. If they believe it is more likely than not that a protective order is necessary, they may issue the order.
How Long Does an FRO Remain in Effect?
An FRO goes into effect from the moment of the judge's order. However, a plaintiff generally has 45 days to appeal the judge's ruling. If the plaintiff fails to appeal or appeals unsuccessfully, then the FRO order will be final.
A final restraining order will not dissolve passively. Instead, the defendant will need to actively petition for the court to vacate an FRO against them. To vacate an FRO, the defendant may need to prove that they no longer pose a threat to the plaintiff who requested the FRO. A plaintiff can also petition for the dissolution of an FRO, reducing the burden of proof for the defendant.
So long as the FRO remains in place, the defendant is bound to its terms. Even if the plaintiff and defendant resume a consensual, amicable relationship, the terms of the order remain in effect.
What Happens if a Defendant Violates a TRO or FRO?
The effect of violating a TRO or FRO depends on the nature of the violation. The typical charge for violating a temporary or final restraining order is criminal contempt, as detailed by N.J.S.A. 2C:25-30, and conviction may lead to up to 30 days in jail and significant fines.
You may face additional charges. If you possess a firearm after being served with a TRO or FRO, for example, then you may face serious firearms-related charges. This could expose you to further jail time, prison time, fines, and secondary life consequences.
Should You Hire a Lawyer for a Restraining Order Issue?
It is wise to hire a skilled lawyer for a restraining order issue in New Jersey. Whether you are a plaintiff seeking protection or a defendant named in a restraining order, having an attorney is a must. Keep in mind that the other party to your restraining order will likely have an attorney of their own.
Your attorney will:
- Survey the facts of your case
- Create a strategy for your case
- Represent you in all case-related matters
- Protect your rights
- Seek the best possible outcome for you
Every case is unique. An attorney will provide personal representation with one goal in mind: achieving the outcome that you seek.
Call the Lento Law Firm Today
Having attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm in your corner for your restraining order issue will best help you through this challenging time. Attorney Lento and his team have extensive knowledge of New Jersey's domestic violence laws and restraining order procedures. If your safety or freedom is on the line, let the Lento Law Firm fight for you. Call the Firm today at 888-535-3686.