In New Jersey, domestic violence in families is a serious societal issue. The New Jersey legislature passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act to provide solutions. See N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. Under this 1982 law, sexual assault and domestic violence victims can obtain court orders to protect themselves from further abuse. This restraining order offers protection by legally prohibiting an abuser from approaching or contacting a domestic violence or sexual assault victim.
A restraining order is a civil matter, not a criminal matter. As a result, a restraining order shouldn't result in a criminal record. However, if you don't defend yourself against a petition for a restraining order, you could find yourself one step closer to a criminal record. Violating a restraining order is a crime. Moreover, an arrest related to alleged domestic violence or sexual assault could affect your career as a realtor.
Domestic Violence Restraining Orders
The petitioner must follow the legal process before obtaining a restraining order against you. First, they'll apply for a temporary order with the court. The court will then set a hearing for a final restraining order before deciding whether to issue a permanent order.
1. Temporary Restraining Orders
After applying for a restraining order, the petitioner will have an initial hearing with a judge. This hearing will be ex parte, meaning only one party and their attorney will appear before the court. The court won't notify you of this ex parte hearing, and you won't have the right to appear. If the judge believes a temporary restraining order (TRO) is necessary, it will only remain in place until the final hearing, about ten days.
If the judge issues a TRO, the police will serve you with a copy of the order and the notice for the time and date of the final hearing. If you and the petitioner live together, the police may order you to leave, even if you pay the mortgage or rent. If you own any firearms, they may also confiscate them. Finally, the TRO may order temporary custody or visitation arrangements for any children you share with the petitioner. The TRO should only remain in place for about ten business days until the hearing for the final restraining order. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-28(a),(f); 2C:25-29(a).
2. Final Restraining Orders
You have the right to appear at and participate in the hearing for the FRO. You can appear with your attorney, cross-examine witnesses, challenge evidence, and present your own witnesses. Before granting a FRO, the court needs to find:
- You and the petitioner have a qualified domestic relationship, including dating relationships, family members, members of the same household, parties with children together, and current or former partners or spouses.
- You committed an act of domestic violence. Domestic violence in New Jersey can include assault, harassment, threats, stalking, sexual assault, kidnapping, burglary, criminal mischief, false imprisonment, lewdness, criminal trespass, robbery, criminal coercion, cyber harassment, contempt of a domestic violence order that is a crime or “disorderly persons offense,” or another crime that involving a risk of serious bodily injury.
- The order is needed to avert future domestic violence.
When a court enters a restraining order against you, the court will also order you to pay a $500 fine, and the police will fingerprint and photograph you for the police database.
While the court won't require that you have an attorney with you, a hearing for a FRO is a formal court proceeding. It can be challenging to navigate the rules of evidence and the court rules without legal training. Your best chance of a positive result at a FRO hearing is with a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side.
Sexual Assault Restraining Orders
New Jersey law also allows victims of sexual assault to apply for a restraining order. However, the civil protective order falls under the New Jersey Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) rather than the New Jersey Domestic Violence Protection Act. SASPA allows the court to issue a restraining order to protect a victim of sexual violence from their assaulter if the judge believes it's necessary to protect the safety and well-being of the victim.
The process for issuing a SASPA restraining order is similar to that of a domestic violence restraining order. However, the judge must find that the petitioner was the victim of non-consensual sexual penetration, sexual contact, lewdness, or an attempt at one. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:14-13, et seq. A hearing for a final order also usually happens within ten business days.
How Can a Restraining Order Affect My Career as a Realtor?
In New Jersey, the Real Estate Commission issues all licenses to real estate brokers and salespeople. See N.J.S.A. § 45:15-1 et seq. The New Jersey Real Estate Commission “is empowered to conduct investigations, to hold hearings and to revoke licenses and/or otherwise sanction individuals and firms for violations of the license law or its administrative rules.” Violations that can result in serious sanctions include:
- Commingling or misappropriating escrow monies
- Making substantial misrepresentations
- Being convicted of a theft offense
- Procuring a license by fraud or deceit
- “Any conduct which demonstrates unworthiness, incompetency, bad faith or dishonesty”
Moreover, under New Jersey law, all potential real estate brokers must possess good character, trustworthiness, honesty, and integrity. See N.J.S.A. § 45:15-9. As a result, all applicants must go through a criminal history record check during the licensing process.
Although a New Jersey restraining order is a civil court order, not criminal, an arrest record related to the restraining order may still appear on your background check even with no conviction. Moreover, violating a temporary or a final restraining order is a criminal offense, and the police can charge you with criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. A conviction for violating a court order will result in a criminal record and can result in jail time. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-31. Moreover, you can receive a mandatory 30-day sentence in jail for violating a restraining order a second time. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30.
If you're worried about whether a past arrest or something related to a restraining order will show up during the New Jersey licensing process, it's a good idea to run a background check on yourself before beginning the process. You should also consult a New Jersey criminal defense attorney with experience handling restraining order matters. A skilled attorney can give you all of your options and help you protect your career in real estate.
Hire an Experienced Restraining Order Attorney
If you're served with a temporary or final restraining order, your first step should be to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A restraining order could affect your real estate career, and you need an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney by your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm can help you. They've guided many New Jersey professionals through the restraining order process. Find out how they can help you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.