Once you're served with a temporary restraining order (TRO), the clock is ticking. You must not only abide by the sudden legal constraints placed on you. It is also critical to prepare for an upcoming hearing for a final restraining order (FRO).
A skilled, experienced criminal defense lawyer can guide you through the next ten days and beyond. Joseph Lento regularly defends clients facing permanent restraining orders in New Jersey. Let him serve you during this critical period in your life.
Why are the Next Ten Days Critical?
Ten days is not a timeframe we chose randomly. New Jersey’s Domestic Violence Court Procedures (NJDVCP) explain that, once you receive notice of your TRO, you will return to court “about ten days later.” When you return to court, you may face the possibility of a permanent restraining order.
The upcoming ten days are ones that you must take full advantage of.
Step 1: Retain a qualified attorney to oversee your case
The very first thing you should do after receiving notice of TRO is hire a qualified attorney. A qualified attorney will alert you to issues that you have not even considered. A lawyer's guidance may:
- Allow you to resume working and tending to personal responsibilities without being overwhelmed by your case
- Prevent you from violating your TRO
- Prepare you for your upcoming FRO hearing
- Result in a positive outcome in your FRO hearing
In any legal matter—particularly one as serious as a restraining order—retaining a qualified attorney is an essential first step.
Note: Your attorney will be of immense assistance for all of the following steps.
Step 2: Mind the conditions of your TRO
A top priority right now is abiding by the conditions of your temporary restraining order. Even the pettiest violation of the TRO could sway the judge during your FRO hearing.
N.J.S.A. 2C:25-23 explains the power of a TRO, which allows a judge to:
- Forbid you from having contact of any kind with the defendant who requested the order
- Forbid you from possessing weapons, including firearms
- Forbid you from contacting your children
- Require you to pay child support
- Ban you from specific locations, possibly including your normal place of residence
Temporary restraining orders are generally less detailed than final restraining orders. Because TROs are usually only active for ten days, the terms of your order may be pretty broad. More sophisticated conditions like permanent custody and long-term financial support may be addressed following a FRO hearing.
You may need to make arrangements to honor the conditions of your TRO order. The worst possible scenario is for you to violate the conditions of your TRO. You may need to (or choose to):
- Secure temporary housing
- Turn over weapons to law enforcement (if it does not already possess them)
- Arrange for law enforcement or a third party to obtain personal items from a property you've been banned from
- Remain off social media to avoid accidental contact with the plaintiff
- Delete the plaintiff's information from your phone—even an unintentional phone call may be a violation of your TRO
At first glance, these measures may appear overkill. Do not underestimate the importance of honoring your TRO, even at the cost of temporary inconvenience.
Violating a TRO is not only a potential strike against you during FRO proceedings. A TRO violation may initiate criminal proceedings, as N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 states that “A person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if the person purposely or knowingly disobeys a judicial order or protective order.”
Step 3: Monitor the status of your TRO
The odds are that your TRO will result in a FRO hearing. However, the plaintiff who issued your TRO may choose not to follow through on a final restraining order. In this case, you may face a slightly different resolution process from a FRO hearing.
Even if the plaintiff seeks dismissal of your TRO, you may need to:
- Complete meetings with state-affiliated counselors
- Complete paperwork related to your TRO
- Appear in front of a judge, who may choose to dismiss the TRO or instead order a formal FRO hearing
Because the window between issuance of a TRO and a FRO hearing is only ten days, you can generally expect to attend a FRO hearing. If they choose, then the plaintiff may request a dismissal during the FRO hearing. The plaintiff may need to first speak with a domestic violence counselor as a condition of dismissal.
It is important to monitor all case-related events and updates. Certain changes could affect the way you prepare and strategize.
Step 4: Prepare for your FRO hearing
This is the step where an attorney may be most beneficial. Your lawyer should:
- Familiarize you with the general format of a FRO hearing
- Explain the case they will make for dismissal of your restraining order
- Prepare you for the questions that they will ask (should you testify during your FRO hearing)
- Prepare you for questions that the plaintiff's attorney may ask
- Emphasize and re-emphasize any points that they want you to remember
You may be the critical witness in your FRO hearing. As such, your attorney may take great care to prepare you as a witness. In addition to preparing you personally, your lawyer will make the most robust case possible. Their duties may include:
- Contacting witnesses who can testify on your behalf
- Recording witness accounts and arranging witness appearances during your hearing
- Initiating the discovery process, which may expose any evidence against you, provide a list of witnesses that the plaintiff's attorney plans to question, and grant other valuable insights
- Collecting evidence that will benefit your case
- Providing a comprehensive strategy for your defense
A lawyer will not simply help during the next ten days. Your lawyer will lead your defense, doing the heavy lifting while you try to maintain life as usual.
Step 5: Clear your schedule for your FRO hearing
Clearing your schedule is a vital step before your FRO hearing. Still, removing obligations from your schedule—especially several days in advance—may be easier said than done.
You may have to miss work, academic classes, and other pre-planned obligations if they fall on the day of your FRO hearing. Inform your boss, professor, family member, or friends that you have a commitment that you simply cannot miss.
This is important: clear the entire day of your FRO hearing. The legal system is notoriously unreliable, and the Family Court Division of the New Jersey Superior Court (which will likely conduct your hearing) is not immune to delays. Don't assume that your hearing will be heard on time or be resolved quickly.
Step 6: Avoid unnecessary stress
Your temporary restraining order undoubtedly stresses you. With a permanent restraining order looming, your anxiety may be at an all-time high.
And yet, you must be in the best possible mental space when your FRO hearing occurs. Studies find that accusations of wrongdoing can harm a defendant's physical wellbeing, mental health, identity, and relationships. If you do not reduce your stress to the greatest possible extent, then you may:
- Present yourself poorly during your FRO hearing
- Be vulnerable to uncharacteristic outbursts during your FRO hearing
- Make poor decisions, including violating your TRO
- Compromise the success of your defense
Stress is not entirely avoidable when you are facing a restraining order. You must, however, make a conscious effort to maintain your mental wellbeing during a hyper-stressful time.
Step 7: Lean on friends, family, and your attorney
The ten days before your FRO trial may be unlike any other challenge you have faced. Remember that you are not alone during this period. By sharing your concerns and anxieties with those you trust, you may maintain the necessary mind frame to succeed in your hearing.
Your attorney is a particularly valuable resource. They are available to:
- Answer any questions that you have about the FRO hearing, your defense strategy, the facts of your case, and any other concerns
- Help you prepare for your FRO hearing
- Ease your concerns about testifying
- Remind you of the critical points in your defense
- Provide any relevant case updates
Anxiety may stem from what you don't know or don't feel prepared for. Nobody is better positioned to quell this anxiety than your attorney.
Step 8: Prepare for the possibility of a final restraining order
Embrace that your FRO hearing may not unfold in the way that you hope. While you can prepare doggedly and hope for the best, accept that no case outcome is guaranteed.
The judge overseeing your hearing may impose a final restraining order (FRO). The judge may impose a FRO because:
- They believe you pose a threat of danger to the plaintiff
- They believe that you committed an act of domestic violence
- They find the plaintiff's case more compelling than yours
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states that there were 52 domestic violence homicides in New Jersey in 2016. New Jersey police received 63,420 reports of domestic violence in the same year. Judges are keenly aware of such figures.
Fair or not, judges in New Jersey may err on the side of protecting plaintiffs through final restraining orders. An effective defense may protect you from a final restraining order. However, you should be mentally prepared for all possible case outcomes.
Step 9: Complete your hearing
At the end of your ten-day window, you will need to complete your hearing. By this time, your lawyer will have adequately prepared you for the process. Still, you'll have to complete the process of:
- Appearing at the hearing
- Listening to the plaintiff's case against you
- Testifying (if this is part of your attorney's strategy)
- Finding out the judge's decision
You move a step closer to a long-term resolution between you and the plaintiff by completing your hearing.
Step 10: Put trust in your lawyer
Even if the plaintiff in your case receives the FRO that they seek, your attorney can appeal. You generally have a 45-day window to file an appeal, and your attorney can certainly file that appeal for you.
There are several grounds upon which a FRO decision may be overturned. An appellate body may overturn a FRO if:
- New facts or evidence have emerged since the issuance of the FRO
- The judge who granted the FRO request did not properly interpret the facts presented at your hearing
- The judge who granted the FRO request did not apply the law properly
- The judge made one or more rulings during your hearing that were inappropriate, such as suppressing or allowing certain testimony or evidence
- The judge's decision did not accurately reflect the totality of facts, evidence, and testimony
Even if your lawyer does not successfully appeal, all is not lost.
Step 11: Know that final restraining orders can be dissolved
While “final restraining order” notably contains the word “final,” these orders are not truly final. New Jersey Courts explain that “The victim can ask the judge to dismiss the restraining order at any time.”
While the judge makes the final decision to dissolve a final restraining order, a plaintiff's request to dissolve the order may carry significant weight. You and the plaintiff may reconcile, or the plaintiff may determine that a final restraining order is no longer necessary.
A judge may dismiss a FRO if:
- The plaintiff who requested your FRO signs a Certification to Dissolve a Restraining Order
- A judge agrees with the plaintiff's request to dissolve the restraining order
And with that, the terms of your final restraining order may no longer apply. While the preference is to avoid a final restraining order altogether, know that your legal chances remain alive no matter the result of your FRO hearing.
Hire Joseph D. Lento if You've Been Hit with a TRO
The Lento Law Firm believes that every person hit with a TRO deserves a capable defense. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team will lead you through pre-hearing preparation, your FRO hearing, and any necessary appeals. They will exhaust every option to clear your name.
A criminal defense attorney is an invaluable resource when you are facing a restraining order. Call Joseph D. Lento today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online to begin your defense. Keep in mind how quickly ten days pass—do not wait to call.