You've probably heard the phrase “restraining order” before. Restraining orders get issued all the time on television and in the movies. You may not know the specifics about this legal term, though. After all, what you see on the screen isn't always the same as what goes on in real life.
If you've been issued a restraining order in New Jersey, you need all the facts. At a minimum, you need to know
- What a restraining order is
- How restraining orders get issued
- How to behave if you're under a restraining order
- What you can do to fight a restraining order
You'll find valuable information on all these topics below. More important than anything else, though, you need to know how to get help if you're dealing with a restraining order. A restraining order in and of itself is not a criminal matter, but it can quickly become one if you aren't careful. It's important you take restraining orders seriously and taking them seriously often requires seeking professional legal help.
What Is a Restraining Order?
First things first: just what is a restraining order? A restraining order, or protective order, is a court order that restricts one person (a defendant) from contacting or interacting with another (plaintiff). Generally speaking, the purpose of a court order is to ensure that the plaintiff is protected from any potential violence on the part of the defendant. To obtain such an order, a petitioner must demonstrate that they have been subject to violence from the defendant in the past.
Restraining orders are civil rather than criminal matters. However, violating a restraining order can result in criminal charges. In addition, because they are court orders, they remain in effect until the court has lifted them or until a specified amount of time has passed. You cannot simply decide to violate them because they are inconvenient. In fact, even if you should reconcile with the petitioner, the restraining order remains in effect until it has been lifted by the court.
Grounds for a Restraining Order
The law regarding restraining orders in New Jersey is the same whether you live in Newark or Princeton. Orders can only be issued for two specific reasons: domestic violence or sexual abuse.
- Domestic Violence: These orders are issued to protect current or former members of a family or household or partners in a current or former dating relationship.
- Sexual Abuse: This type of order applies to victims of abuse who may not be involved in a relationship with or even know their abuser.
In order to be granted a restraining order, plaintiffs must demonstrate past violence or abuse. Specifically, they must allege one or more of fourteen specific crimes
- Terroristic Threats
- Criminal Constraint
- False Imprisonment
- Criminal Coercion
- Sexual Assault
- Criminal Sexual Contact
- Criminal Mischief
- Criminal Trespass
Types of Restraining Orders
A New Jersey court can issue one of two types of restraining orders.
- Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): As the name implies, TROs are temporary measures, usually put in place until a hearing can be scheduled for a Final Restraining Order. These hearings are generally set within ten days of the TRO being issued, and the TRO itself usually includes an end date. This end date can be extended by the court, however, in cases where it takes longer than ten days to get to the FRO hearing.
- Final Restraining Order (FRO): An FRO is permanent. As a result, it is only issued after a full hearing at which you are allowed to make arguments against it. Obviously, FROs do not have an end date but remain in force until such time as they are lifted by the court.
The Restraining Order Process: TROs
Restraining orders in New Jersey can only be issued by superior court judges.
TROs are generally issued quickly and are often the result of a criminal complaint made to local law enforcement or the courts. When a TRO request is made, it is usually “ex parte,” meaning the judge meets only with the petitioner. In fact, in some cases, the petitioner need not even be present to request the order. The first you might hear of the order is when the police serve you with it.
You may have been arrested prior to the TRO. That is, the TRO may have been issued as a result of your arrest. In other cases, the TRO actually contains an arrest order.
The Restraining Order Process: FROs
Because they are permanent, the process for obtaining FROs is much more involved than that for TROs. The superior court judge must hold a hearing into the matter, and you have the right to present evidence, call witnesses, and testify yourself.
Normally, FRO hearings are scheduled within ten days of a TRO being issued. The hearing itself includes several separate stages.
- First, a domestic violence advocate explains both sides' cases.
- If the petitioner is seeking financial assistance or damages from the defendant, they must submit paperwork.
- Both sides have an opportunity to testify and to call witnesses to testify on their behalf.
- Any additional evidence is submitted.
- Attorneys for both sides offer oral arguments on behalf of their clients.
Ultimately, the judge must decide whether to issue the FRO, deny the FRO, or continue the TRO until they can make a final decision. Of course, an FRO is permanent. Only a successful appeal can overturn an FRO.
In addition, it is worth knowing that because restraining orders are civil rather than criminal matters, the standard of proof required to obtain an order is far less strict than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Basically, the judge will issue an order if they believe it is “more likely than not” that you represent a threat to the petitioner.
Examples of Restrictions
Restraining orders are individualized to the particular case. That is, a judge can prohibit a variety of different behaviors from the defendant based on the facts of the case. Virtually every order includes a provision that prohibits the defendant from contacting the petitioner. Other provisions can include
- Prohibition against stalking or threatening the petitioner
- Prohibition against harassment, including cyber-harassment
- Prohibition against any third-party contact with the petitioner
- Prohibition against contact with the petitioner's friends, family, roommates, or acquaintances.
- Prohibition against going to the petitioner's place of work
- Prohibition against going to the petitioner's residence
There are no exceptions to a restraining order's provisions. If, for instance, you and the petitioner live together, and your order contains a prohibition against going to their residence, you could be forced to move out. If you happen to work together, you may have to find other employment.
How to Handle a Restraining Order
You may not know when a temporary restraining order is coming. The police simply show up at your house in Paterson, Jersey City, Trenton, or wherever you live and serve you with notice. From the moment you are served, though, your behavior will be scrutinized, and any missteps on your part could further complicate your case. Ideally, then, you want to have a plan in place before the police arrive.
- First, don't dispute the order, and certainly don't do anything that might be perceived as violent. Your behaviors could be used to justify turning a temporary order into a final order. In general, avoid saying anything, since what you say could be used against you at the FRO hearing.
- Next, contact an attorney. Obviously, an attorney can help you prepare your defense for the FRO hearing and represent you at the hearing itself. Even before this point, though, they can take care of the case, so you have time to focus on your day-to-day activities. They can communicate with the other principles in the case. They can help make sure you don't do anything to make your situation worse.
- Follow the conditions of your order. A restraining order can come with many provisions that may complicate your life. However, violating any of those provisions can lead to a criminal charge of contempt.
- Prepare for your FRO hearing. If you have a lawyer, they'll handle most of the prep work for your case, but you must help them by giving them all the important facts, helping them identify useful evidence and witnesses, and preparing to answer questions in court.
- Deal responsibly with an FRO. If you should be issued an FRO, you want to abide by its provisions the same as you did with the TRO. Again, violating those provisions is a criminal offense. You can, of course, appeal the judge's ruling in your FRO case. An attorney can help you do this. Otherwise, though, an FRO is final.
Joseph D. Lento is Here to Help With Restraining Orders
There are many reasons you need an attorney if you're facing a restraining order in New Jersey.
- An attorney can help you fight a final restraining order.
- An attorney can help you navigate the tricky legal issues that might be involved in your case, such as how custody issues play out under a restraining order.
- An attorney can help you deal with any of the peripheral legal issues that might stem from the restraining order.
- An attorney can help you deal with any criminal charges that might result from violating your restraining order.
- An attorney can help you to appeal a final restraining order.
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney with experience handling all types of restraining orders. He understands just how damaging these orders can be and he's committed to helping his clients get their lives back to normal. If you've been issued a TRO, or if you're fighting to overturn an FRO, contact Joseph D. Lento today to find out how he can help. Call 888.535.3686 or use our automated response form.