If the police served you with a restraining order in New Jersey, you're probably wondering what you should do and how serious this is. It's important to remember that you can fight a restraining order, and this doesn't mean that any court convicted you of a crime. Read on to find out more about restraining orders in New Jersey and what you should do if you're served with one.
What is a Restraining Order?
In New Jersey, there are both temporary restraining orders (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A judge must issue both TROs and FROs. A FRO in New Jersey will stay in place indefinitely until either you or the complainant petitions the court to lift or vacate the order. Both types of protective orders will typically include protections for the complainant and may include monetary obligations like financial support, rent, and temporary child custody. The order will also prevent you from contacting your accuser, whether in person or by text or email.
While a restraining order is a ciivl matter, violating a restraining order is a criminal offense. You could face arrest for criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Moreover, if a police officer believes that an allegation that you violated a restraining order is credible, they will arrest you. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-31. Unfortunately, even a small violation like texting or emailing the complainant can get you arrested. If you violate a restraining order a second time, the law mandates 30 days in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30.
Temporary Restraining Orders
When the defendant files a complaint for a restraining order, they can request an emergency ex parte TRO be issued immediately. “Ex parte” means that only your accuser will be present, the court will not notify you, and the judge will make a decision based solely on the information your accuser provides. A judge will grant a TRO if the judge believes it's necessary to protect the life, health, or well-being of your accuser. A TRO will last until the hearing for a final restraining order, typically within ten days. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-28(a),(f); 2C:25-29(a).
Even if the complainant can't be physically present in court, a judge can still issue a TRO based on their sworn testimony or complaint or the sworn testimony of someone representing your accuser if they can't be present because of a physical or mental inability to file the restraining order request personally. If the court agrees that the complainant's need for the TRO is sufficiently urgent, they may excuse their failure to appear in court.
What Will Happen When I'm Served With the TRO?
If the police haven't already arrested you, they will typically serve you with the TRO and the date for the final restraining order (FRO) hearing in person, and it may happen at your home or work. If your accuser lives in the same home, the police will escort them home and order you to vacate the premises. If the TRO mandates that the police arrest you, they will do so. The police will also arrest you if you don't cooperate and vacate the home.
Sometimes the TRO will also order the police to confiscate any firearms or other weapons you may have. You should cooperate with the police if this happens. The police will arrest you if you don't.
If you aren't at home or work when the police try to serve you, or they can't find you, the police will send the temporary restraining order back to the county family court. If the police can't complete service, they will retain copies of the TRO in order to serve you once they are able to find you. If you live in another county, the local police may notify the family court or police in your county to serve you with the TRO as soon as possible.
What Should I Do When I'm Served With a TRO?
If the police serve you with a TRO and a date for a hearing for the FRO, you should:
- Cooperate: If the police order you to leave home, pack a bag and go. If the police have an order to confiscate your firearms, allow the police to do so. If you don't cooperate, the police will arrest you.
- Contact an Attorney: You need an attorney as soon as possible, preferably a New Jersey criminal defense attorney with experience defending restraining orders. An attorney who also practices family law can further help because restraining orders may involve custody and related issues.
- Read the TRO Carefully: Read the restraining order carefully to determining what you can't do. If the TRO orders you not to contact the complainant, her family, or your children, you must follow the order. Pay careful attention to the date for your final restraining order hearing.
- Contest the FRO: You and your attorney should contest the order. If you don't show up, it is likely, if not almost assured, that the court will finalize the restraining order without hearing your side.
What Happens at a Hearing for the Final Restraining Order?
If a judge issues a temporary restraining order (TRO) against you, the plaintiff doesn't dismiss the order, and the parties can't resolve the issue through negotiated civil restraints, the court will set the order for a final hearing. The final restraining order hearing (FRO) typically happens within ten days of the initial date of the TRO.
All FRO hearings happen in the Family Part of New Jersey Superior Court before a judge. There is no jury; Instead, the judge will evaluate the evidence and make the final decision. At the FRO hearing, the complainant had the burden to show that the judge should issue the FRO.
At the hearing, both you and your accuser will have a chance to tell your stories and introduce evidence and witnesses in support. To issue a final restraining order, the judge must find by a “preponderance of the evidence” that:
- You and the complainant have a qualified domestic relationship.
A “qualified domestic relationship” includes a current or former marriage, a dating relationship, members of the same household, or having one or more children together.
- You committed an act of violence.
Acts of domestic violence include:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal restraint
- Sexual assault
- False imprisonment
- Criminal mischief
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal trespass
- Criminal coercion
- Cyber harassment, and
- Contempt of a domestic violence order that is a crime or “disorderly persons offense,” or any other crime that involves the risk of death or serious bodily injury.
- There is an immediate need for restraints to prevent further acts of domestic violence against the complainant.
Under the rules of evidence, the evidence presented at the hearing must be relevant. Evidence is relevant if it helps prove or disprove any of the above three elements, including whether or not the predicate act of domestic violence occurred and whether a restraining order is necessary. Some common types of evidence used in restraining order hearings include:
- Witness testimony
- Photos and videos
- Text messages
- Social media posts, comments, or messages
Even if you know who you want to call as witnesses and what evidence you want to introduce at the hearing, you also have to know how to get the court to admit the evidence. present, that is only the first step. You should also know how the court can admit the evidence. Evidence may be both relevant, but it may not be admissible under the rules of evidence. If so, the court probably won't hear it. It can be challenging to navigate a formal FRO hearing on your own, either as a complainant or a defendant. Hiring an attorney who is experienced in both criminal defense law and restraining order matters may be your best chance to successfully defend a restraining order.
What if I Don't Contest the Restraining Order?
First, it's important to understand the consequences of a restraining order in New Jersey. While the temporary order you received is typically only good for around ten days, or until the final hearing happens, if you don't contest the restraining order, you could find that you:
- Can't contact or communicate the complainant in any way, including through email and text,
- Could be barred from your own home, even if you pay the rent or the mortgage,
- Could be ordered to continue paying the rent or mortgage as well as other joint financial obligations like car and loan payments,
- Could lose custody of your children and be ordered to pay child support,
- Will be prohibited from owning firearms or other weapons under New Jersey law.
If the court issues a final restraining order, it will be permanent and remain in effect unless the complainant or you ask the court to modify or lift the order. Once the judge issues the FRO, the police will fingerprint you and place your photograph and information in the New Jersey state domestic violence database. While this is a civil rather than criminal matter, the domestic violence database is open to the public and searchable. Placement in the domestic violence database could have long-term effects on your career.
Final Restraining Orders
A final restraining order (FRO) is usually more detailed than a TRO and is permanent. The order will remain in effect unless you or your accuser petition the court to lift or modify the FRO. The court will typically schedule a hearing for a final restraining order within ten days.
In the hearing, you will both have a chance to tell your side of the story, present evidence and witnesses, and cross-examine witnesses. After both sides are done, the court will decide whether or not to grant the final restraining order. The order will stay in place until one of the parties asks the court to modify or remove it. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-29(d). If the court issues a FRO, you will face a $500 fine and can no longer legally own a firearm. The police will also fingerprint and photograph you for the New Jersey Domestic Violence Database.
While a FRO is a civil matter and won't appear on criminal background checks, the New Jersey database is accessible to the public and searchable.
However, violating a restraining order is a criminal matter, and if convicted of violating a FRO, that crime will appear in criminal background checks.
What Should I Do When Served With a FRO?
If you're served with a FRO, you still have options with the assistance of an attorney.
First, you should cooperate when the police serve you with a final or temporary restraining order. The police may have orders to search for and confiscate firearms and firearms permits. The police may also have an order from a judge removing you from a shared home with the complainant. The police can remove you from the home even if you pay the mortgage or the lease is in only your name. If you don't cooperate, the police will arrest you, and you may face criminal charges.
- Were You Served with a TRO?
Next, you should determine if the police served you with a temporary restraining order and the notice of the FRO hearing. If you were and ignored it, the judge may have issued a FRO in your absence after a one-sided hearing. Typically, the complainant obtains a temporary restraining order ex parte or without the defendant present. This temporary order is then supposed to be served on you, along with the date for the final restraining order hearing, usually within ten days.
If you never received the TRO or the date of the FRO hearing, for some reason, your attorney may be able to request a new hearing.
- Have Circumstances Changed?
Typically, a restraining order is final. The document will remain in force until one or both parties ask the court to lift or modify the restraining order. You may be able to request that the court modify or vacate the final restraining order if circumstances have changed in your relationship or behavior.
First, the complainant, your accuser, may ask the court to lift the document for several reasons:
- They have forgiven you,
- You've reconciled,
- Your accuser no longer fears you because enough time has passed,
- You have children together and wish to make your family relationship more normal, or
- The complainant doesn't wish to risk you facing criminal charges.
In deciding whether to lift the final restraining order, the court will consider:
- The current nature of the relationship between you and the complainant,
- Whether your accuser still fears you,
- Whether the complainant consents to lift the restraining order,
- Whether you violated the restraining order and how many times,
- Whether you've sought counseling,
- Whether you've been in any violent altercations,
- Whether you have any involvement with drugs or alcohol,
- Your age and overall health,
- Whether any other jurisdictions entered restraining orders against you, and
- If the complainant opposes you lifting the order, are they acting in good faith?
It's easier to lift a restraining order if you have the complainant's consent and approval. However, it is still possible to lift a restraining order without your accuser's consent. If you can show:
- You are no longer a threat to the complainant,
- You have gone through counseling,
- You no longer use drugs or alcohol, if that was a factor,
- You have no additional violent charges on your record,
- You don't have any other Protection Orders against you,
- The complainant has contacted you multiple times in violation of the restraining order,
- The complainant is acting in bad faith by opposing your petition to lift the restraining order,
- You wish to be able to contact your children or other family members protected by the restraining order, and
- Any other factors that may be applicable.
While lifting a restraining order might seem easy, it is more difficult if you don't have the complainant's cooperation. However, it is possible with the help of an experienced domestic violence attorney well-versed in fighting restraining orders.
After a Restraining Order is Final
After the court issues a final restraining order, the police will photograph and fingerprint you for the New Jersey's Domestic Violence Central Registry. You will also face a $500 fine and can no longer own a firearm under New Jersey and federal law. If the police haven't already confiscated your firearms, they may do so after the FRO is final.
New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry
While a final restraining order isn't a criminal violation, it will be in the state's domestic violence registry. Your restraining order shouldn't appear on a criminal background check. However, the New Jersey database is open to the public and searchable. The database allows courts and police to enforce restraining orders and protect possible victims of domestic violence. But if an employer or someone else conducts an in-depth background check on you, the restraining order may pop up.
New Jersey courts have a great deal of discretion to create conditions for a restraining order. Typically, the FRO will prohibit you from contacting or communicating with the petitioner, in person, or online.
Provisions of a New Jersey Final Restraining Order
The court tailors every restraining order to the needs of the complainant, but they often have many provisions in common. These may include:
- Prohibiting harassment or contact, even indirectly through third persons,
- Modifying custody, visitation, and financial support of children or a spouse,
- Prohibiting the defendant from owning or possessing firearms or other weapons,
- Ordering the police to search for and confiscate weapons, including firearms permits,
- Meeting already existing financial obligations like mortgages, car payments, or rent,
- Restitution to the plaintiff, and
- Counseling, therapy, or substance or alcohol abuse treatment.
In New Jersey, final restraining orders don't expire. An FRO will remain in place until one of the parties asks the court to modify or remove the restraining order. These consequences are why it's important to fight a restraining order in court before it becomes final. You need a skilled defense attorney experienced in domestic violence allegations and restraining order defense on your side during the hearing.
What Happens if I Violate a Restraining Order?
Violating a restraining order in New Jersey is civil contempt of court and it is a criminal offense. The police can arrest you for violating a restraining order. If you violate a restraining order a second time, it can result in mandatory 30-days in jail.
While a restraining order is civil and not criminal, if a judge enters a FRO against you, the police will fingerprint and photograph you and enter your information into the domestic violence database. New Jersey's domestic violence database does not typically appear in criminal background checks. However, the database is available to the public and searchable, so it may appear in more in-depth background checks.
What Should I Do if My Accuser Contacts Me?
If the complainant contacts you, be sure to document it. However, the restraining order will remain in place. If a restraining order forbids you from contacting the complainant, you still can't contact the complainant, and if they text or email you, you shouldn't respond. It may be a good idea to send the communication from the complainant to your attorney in some cases.
What Should I Do if I See My Accuser in a Public Place?
Restraining orders may dictate that you can't be within a certain distance of the complainant or at specific locations like their home, work, or school. If you are in a public location, everything can get complicated. But it's best if you leave as soon as possible—document what happened and what you did as well. If your accuser tries to make it look like you are violating a restraining order, the courts will take a false accusation seriously. A restraining order is a protective measure and shouldn't be a weapon.
What if My Accuser and I Work Together?
If you work with your spouse, your significant other, or if you have a child with a coworker, one of you could theoretically end up with a restraining order against the other while still working in the same office. If this describes your situation, navigating the workplace can be challenging. If the terms of the court's order account for your shared office, you may need to discuss the restraining order's details with your employer and discuss how it will work as a practical matter.
At the final restraining order hearing, you should inform the judge about your shared workplace. If you don't appear for the hearing, the court may issue an order preventing you from going near the complainant's home, school, or workplace. A restraining order could effectively bar you from your workplace and put your job and career in danger. If you go to work anyway, you could end up violating a court order and end up in jail. If you work with your accuser it's essential that you retain a New Jersey attorney with plenty of experience handling restraining order hearings.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Restraining Order Attorney
If you're facing a restraining order hearing or already have a final restraining order in place against you, you need legal advice. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has helped countless New Jersey clients navigate the court system and defend themselves from restraining orders. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.