For those in an abusive or violent relationship, New Jersey's domestic violence laws can be a literal lifesaver. In 1991, the legislature passed thePrevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 to protect victims of domestic violence from their potential abusers. See N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35 (1991). Under this act, those in violent intimate partner or family relationships can seek a restraining order against their abuser. While restraining orders provide a good solution for those in legitimate fear for their lives and safety, some people manipulate the system and obtain unnecessary restraining orders.
New Jersey restraining orders are civil matters rather than criminal. But if you have a restraining order against you, you probably know how limiting it can be. Your information is listed in a public domestic violence registry. While a restraining order won't appear on a basic criminal background check, it will appear on FBI background checks and appear on more in-depth employer background checks. Moreover, the terms of a New Jersey restraining order could order you to provide financial support to a former spouse or partner, prevent you from obtaining child custody, and even remove you from a shared home. New Jersey restraining orders also don't expire. That means the order will remain in place unless one of the parties petitions the court to modify or remove the restraining order.
Dissolving a New Jersey Restraining Order
Under New Jersey law, you can petition the court to dissolve a restraining order“upon good cause shown.” The law states:
"Upon good cause shown, any final order may be dissolved or modified upon application to the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court, but only if the judge who dissolves or modifies the order is the same judge who entered the order, or has available a complete record of the hearing or hearings on which the order was based."
N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-29d (2016). However, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act doesn't define “good cause.” Because the statute doesn't expressly define this, we look to New Jersey case law to interpret what qualifies as good cause to lift a restraining order. The seminal case setting forth the “good cause” standard in New Jersey is Carfagno v. Carfagno. See 288 N.J. Super. 424, 672 A.2d 751 (Ch.Div. 1995). In Carfagno, the Superior Court of New Jersey set forth the standard that New Jersey courts still use today.
1. The Carfagno Case
In the Carfagno case, the restraining order resulted from a dispute between a divorced couple. The ex-husband repeatedly called his ex-wife, sometimes 20 times a day, took her car without permission, and followed her on several occasions. When Ms. Carfagno applied for the restraining order, the court entered the order, finding that Mr. Carfagno committed the alleged acts of domestic violence. The final restraining order (FRO) prohibiting him from contacting Mrs. Carfagno unless the couple needed to discuss the welfare of their child.
The police arrested Mr. Carfagno for violating the restraining order twice, and the court entered two convictions for contempt. Mr. Carfagno later moved the court to dissolve the restraining order under the New Jersey statute. He argued that:
- He did not violate the restraining order after his second contempt conviction,
- Both parties had accidentally violated the order,
- It was in the best interests of their child to dissolve the order,
- His ex-wife no longer needed the FRO for protection, and
- His ex-wife opposed his request to vacate the order in bad faith in an attempt to sabotage a job application with a local police department.
The court declined to dissolve the restraining order. The judge found that Ms. Carfagno objectively feared her husband. Her fear was reasonable based on his past behavior, threats to her safety, his violations of the FRO, and continued attempts to control her. The judge also held that Mrs. Carfagno opposed the motion to dissolve the FRO in good faith.
In the Carfagno decision, the court noted that the legislative history of New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act showed the legislature intended to protect victims of domestic violence, not those accused of abuse.
"[I]t is therefore, the intent of the Legislature to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide […]. Further, it is the responsibility of the courts to protect the victims of violence that occurs in a family or family-like setting by providing access to both emergent and long-term civil and criminal remedies and sanctions, and by ordering those remedies and sanctions that are available to assure the safety of the victims and the public […]."
288 N.J. Super. 424 at 434. Ultimately, the Carfagno court held that Mr. Carfagno didn't show “good cause” for the court to dissolve the restraining order.
2. Carfagno Factors
In the Carfagno case discussion, the Family Part court listed many factors relevant to determining whether the defendant meets the “good cause” standard established in the New Jersey restraining order statute. The factors included:
- Does the victim consent to the removal of the restraining order?
- Does the victim still fear the defendant?
- The state of the parties' current relationship.
- Has the defendant violated the restraining order or have any contempt convictions?
- Does the defendant use alcohol or drugs or engage in violence?
- Had the defendant attended counseling?
- The state of the defendant's age and health.
- Is the victim acting in good faith in opposing the dissolution of the restraining order?
- Does the defendant have any restraining orders entered against them in other jurisdictions?
If you move to dissolve a restraining order in New Jersey today, the court will address the Carfagno factors to determine whether you've shown “good cause” to vacate the order. The court will also order a search of the New Jersey central domestic violence registry to ensure you don't have any other domestic violence charges or restraining orders issued against you.
Compliance with a Restraining Order
When looking at the Carfagno factors, perhaps one of the most compelling factors can be that the parties no longer have any relationship and do not have any contact. While compliance with a restraining order is necessary to lift or dissolve a restraining order, compliance alone won't be enough for a court.
In J.N. v. S.B., the Appellate Division of the Superior Court addressed why no contact or compliance with a restraining order alone isn't reason enough to lift an order in conjunction with the Carfagno factors. See No. A-0538-10T3 (App. Div. June 9, 2011) (slip op.). The J.N. case involved a former New Jersey state trooper and police officer who had a romantic relationship with the plaintiff for four years. A judge entered a final restraining order (FRO) against him after a lengthy trial, concluding that “throughout their relationship, defendant engaged in numerous and egregious acts of domestic violence against plaintiff, including physical assaults and harassment.” The defendant didn't appeal.
Three years later, the defendant filed a motion to vacate the FRO, declaring that the parties hadn't had any contact for three years, the plaintiff's fear of him wasn't substantiated, and it was keeping him from employment opportunities. Considering the Carfagno factors, the judge declined to lift the restraining order, finding that the “plaintiff had rational concerns, was a reasonable person, and acted in good faith in opposing the motion.” The defendant again declined to appeal.
Two years later, the defendant again filed a motion to vacate the restraining order. Basing his argument on Carfagno factors two and three, he argued that her fear of him was subjective rather than objective because they had had no contact or relationship in nearly six years. However, he conceded that he did have two additional restraining orders against him from other relationships. In a written opinion, Judge Kenny declined to dissolve the restraining order, addressing all of the Carfagno factors:
- Concerning Carfagno factor one, the judge found the plaintiff “strenuously opposed” lifting the restraining order.
- Concerning factor two, the judge found “persuasive evidence” the plaintiff's fear of the defendant was objectively reasonable based on his long history of domestic violence and restraining orders with two other women.
- His history of aggression suggests he remains a person “prone to committing acts of violence.”
- There was no substantial change in circumstances since the parties still lived near one another. He was still young and healthy, and the defendant had not undergone domestic violence counseling or treatment.
While the defendant argued that having had no contact with the plaintiff for six years showed compliance with the restraining order, the judge held that compliance with a restraining order alone was not enough to justify a change in circumstances to dissolve a restraining order. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed that Judge Kenny properly declined to vacate the restraining order:
"The judge's factual analysis reveals she properly considered all of the Carfagno factors, including whether plaintiff objectively fears defendant, and properly concluded that defendant failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances and good cause for vacating the FRO. The judge also correctly concluded the parties' history of domestic violence and the totality of circumstances established the objective reasonableness of plaintiff's continued fear of defendant."
Id. So, while compliance with a restraining order is helpful, you need to address each Carfagno factor directly to dissolve a restraining order. An experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney can help you approach a restraining order in a method designed to give you the best chance of vacating the order successfully.
Have a Restraining Order Against You? Call the Lento Law Firm Today
If you've got a New Jersey restraining order against you, you already understand the long-lasting consequences. The good news that you can dissolve a restraining order in some cases. Although it's always best to retain a criminal defense attorney before a final restraining order hearing, you can still get relief after an order is in place. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento can help. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.