In New Jersey, being hit with a restraining order is a serious matter that can complicate your life in many ways. Not only does it restrict you from contact with the person who filed the order, but it has the potential to show up on background checks and criminal records, possibly impacting your professional career. Furthermore, violating the restraining order in the slightest degree is a crime that could affect your life for many years to come.
One of the common questions asked by people facing restraining orders in New Jersey is how having a restraining order against them might affect their professional license—or if it will affect them at all. If you are licensed as a doctor, nurse, attorney, teacher, insurance agent, or some other professional, should you be concerned? Will having a restraining order jeopardize your standing with the licensing board? Will disciplinary action be taken?
The answers here aren't cut-and-dried; they depend on a variety of factors. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney who understands the ramifications and consequences of restraining orders against working licensed professionals. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information so that if you have a restraining order against you, you'll have an idea of what to expect with your state licensing board and the steps you can take to protect your career and future.
Understanding Restraining Orders in New Jersey
A restraining order is a court-ordered document that prohibits one person from contacting another person or even coming within a certain distance of the other person. Restraining orders are typically issued in domestic violence cases to protect the alleged victim from further violence by their partner. If someone obtains a restraining order against you, it will specify the things you are not allowed to do to attempt to contact or communicate with the person the order is protecting. If you violate the terms of that order, you can be arrested and charged with a crime (in addition to any other criminal charges you may be facing).
Types of Restraining Orders in New Jersey
The State of New Jersey currently recognizes three types of restraining orders:
- A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) offers immediate, temporary protection for the alleged victim from having further contact with you. A TRO can be issued at the victim's request without your involvement. A TRO stays in effect until a hearing is held (usually within 10 days) to determine if the restraining order should be permanent. If the plaintiff doesn't show up for the hearing, the TRO expires.
- A Final Restraining Order (FRO) effectively makes the TRO permanent. At a hearing for an FRO, both sides in the dispute appear, and you will be allowed to tell your side of the story and make your case for why the restraining order should be rescinded. If the judge issues an FRO, the restraining order stays in effect unless you or the other party submits a successful request to terminate or modify it.
- A Sexual Assault Restraining Order is a special type of restraining order designed to offer specific protections for alleged victims of sexual abuse or harassment.
If I Have a Restraining Order Against Me, Does It Mean I Have a Criminal Record?
Not unless you violate it. A restraining order is a civil action, not a criminal action. However, violating the restraining order is a crime, and any arrest or conviction for violating a restraining order will likely show up on your criminal record. This is an important distinction to make because state licensing boards tend to pay attention to your criminal record, not all court actions against you.
Will a Restraining Order Show Up in a Background Check?
It could—especially if it is finalized. If a TRO expires, there should be no record of it for you, but if it becomes an FRO, you will be fingerprinted and photographed for the domestic violence database. That information can sometimes show up on a background check. However, it won't appear as part of a criminal record unless you are arrested and/or convicted in relation to the restraining order.
Will a Temporary Restraining Order jeopardize my professional license?
Probably not. A TRO is merely a stopgap action, so a hearing can be held to determine whether the restraining order should become permanent. If you are hit with a TRO, you will probably not need to report it to your licensing board, especially if you resolve the dispute and the TRO is allowed to expire.
Could a Final Restraining Order (FRO) affect my license?
It might—but it's not guaranteed. It depends on a wide range of contributing factors, including:
- The reporting rules set by your licensing board. For example, some professional licenses require you to report the existence of a restraining order, along with any arrests or convictions.
- Whether the licensing board monitors your public records.
- The type of professional license you carry. While all licensed professions have certain standards of conduct, some will be especially sensitive to issues surrounding domestic violence.
- Whether the FRO shows up on a background check.
- Whether you violate the FRO. The stakes for your professional license go up considerably if you get arrested or convicted.
Bottom line: The best-case scenario is that the FRO has virtually no effect on your license or ability to practice. The worst-case is that it triggers an investigation or disciplinary action by your state licensing board. An experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney can advise you as to what is at stake—especially one with parallel experience in professional license matters.
Which Professional Licenses Are Most Likely to be Jeopardized by a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
A restraining order has the potential to raise concerns with any licensing board in New Jersey, but the professional licenses most likely to be affected are those that specifically sensitive to crimes of “moral turpitude,” which include domestic violence and sexual assault. In most instances, your license wouldn't be jeopardized unless you were convicted of a crime of this nature—but because a restraining order implies suspicion of domestic violence or assault, the restraining order is enough in some cases to trigger an investigation.
New Jersey professional licenses that could be most at risk from a restraining order include, but are not limited to:
- Medical licenses (including dental and chiropractic licenses)
- Nursing licenses
- License to practice law
- Teaching certification
- Social worker license
- Licensed professional counselors
Can an Out-of-State Restraining Order Affect My Professional License in New Jersey?
Yes, it can. Not only are out-of-state restraining orders honored and enforced in New Jersey, but they can still show up on a background check. Furthermore, if you move to New Jersey on the pretense of a “fresh start” and fail to disclose the out-of-state restraining order on a license application if that question is asked, your license could be called into question if they find out after the fact.
Can I Take Any Proactive Steps to Protect My License in the Event of Having a Restraining Order Against Me?
Yes, you can—and you most definitely should. If you are hit with a restraining order, here are some steps to take to reduce the risk of triggering an investigation or disciplinary action from your state licensing board.
- Obey the terms of the restraining order without fail. This is the most important thing you can do to protect your license. Remember, a restraining order is a civil action, not a criminal case—and many licensing boards will only be looking at your criminal record. As long as you keep the restraining order from becoming a criminal issue by violating it, your risks of triggering board action against you remain low in many cases, if not most.
- Know the licensing board's rules of reporting. If your licensing board expects you to report the existence of a restraining order, do it—even if you have concerns that it will trigger disciplinary action. If you don't, and they find out by some other way, it could definitely put your license at risk.
- Hire an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney. While a restraining order is not in itself a criminal matter, having a good defense attorney at the restraining order hearing can increase your chances of having a Temporary Restraining Order rescinded rather than converted to an FRO. The attorney can also strategize with you to have an existing FRO rescinded, so it no longer poses a threat to your career.
As an experienced New Jersey attorney with extensive experience in both criminal defense and professional license cases, Joseph D. Lento is uniquely qualified to help licensed professionals dealing with the fallout from a restraining order. Don't let this personal legal crisis jeopardize your career. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.