In 1982, the state of New Jersey passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, conceived to protect victims of domestic violence. The law includes a provision that permits victims to obtain a restraining order, which restricts the contact an alleged offender can have with a victim.
Thousands of temporary and final restraining orders are issued in Cape May County courts every year. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a restraining order, its issuance will undoubtedly have a profound effect on your life. At worst, defendants have found themselves unable to return to their own homes and have been kept from seeing their children.
New Jersey Restraining Orders
There are three types of restraining orders in New Jersey: Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs) for domestic violence situations and temporary restraining orders available for victims of sexual assault. A judge ultimately determines the issuance of a restraining order.
If this is your first rodeo, there's a high likelihood that you've been issued a TRO. A judge issues a TRO ex parte, meaning both parties aren't present. A judge can issue a TRO without notice to you if the judge thinks it's necessary to protect the plaintiff's life, health, or well-being. When the police serve you with a TRO, they should also serve you with the date of the final hearing, which should be held sometime within the next few weeks. It's recommended that you cooperate when law enforcement eventually seizes your firearms.
If you live with the person who sought the TRO, you won't be able to return to your home while the order is in effect. It's important to note that even though you may own the residence or if you were there first, with a TRO in effect, you'd still be required to move out.
TROs last until a judge issues a FRO, removes it, or issues a further court order.
FROs are a permanent replacement of TROs. In New Jersey, there is no time limit on FROs. Before these orders are implemented, what's known as a “final hearing” will be held at the Family Division of Cape May County Superior Court. Both you and the victim will be given an opportunity to introduce evidence and provide testimony to consider in the decision to issue (or refute issuing) a FRO.
The court will only grant the FRO if the plaintiff shows by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- You had a qualifying domestic relationship, meaning you were intimate partners, members of the same household, or have a child together.
- You committed a predicate act of domestic violence. Domestic violence can include assault, kidnapping, harassment, cyber harassment, stalking, burglary, and more.
- The restraining order is necessary to prevent additional acts of violence.
If the plaintiff can't show this, the court will deny the FRO. The most typical reason for a court to deny a FRO is if the judge doesn't believe the defendant is a threat to the plaintiff.
To say that you should have a criminal defense attorney by your side during this hearing is an understatement. The court will conduct these hearings according to the rules of evidence and the court's procedure, making it difficult for someone without extensive legal training and litigation experience to represent themselves in court. Moreover, the court will decide whether to grant the FRO on the strength of both side's arguments and evidence. An attorney can build a solid defense for you that can significantly turn the tide of this legal battle.
Sexual Assault Restraining Order
A judge can issue a civil protective order under the New Jersey Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA) to protect victims of sexual violence from their assaulter. A judge can issue a temporary restraining order under SASPA if they believe it's necessary to protect the safety and well-being of a victim. The judge must also find that the victim was the victim of non-consensual sexual contact, sexual penetration, lewdness, or an attempt to do so. The court will typically hold a hearing for a final restraining order within ten days.
What Does a Restraining Order Do?
A Cape May restraining order can keep you from going near or even contacting a plaintiff and prohibiting you from going near the plaintiff's home, workplace, or school. Restraining orders can also include additional details providing for:
- Temporary or even permanent custody of your children;
- Financial support for children or a spouse, mortgages, rent, or other financial obligations;
- Prohibiting you from contacting the plaintiff, their family, or place of work;
- Prohibiting you from owning or possessing firearms;
- Counseling or therapy; and
- Protection from future violence.
For SASPA restraining orders, the order can:
- Prevent future acts of sexual violence;
- Prevent stalking;
- Prevent the defendant from contacting the plaintiff;
- Prevent online or in-person harassment;
- Prevent the defendant from entering places where the plaintiff might be, like work, school, or home.
A final restraining order is a permanent court order. It will remain in place until one of the parties asks the court to remove or modify the order. When a judge issues a final restraining order, the police will place your photo, information, and fingerprints in the New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry. This database is public and searchable.
Violating a Restraining Order
If you're thinking about contacting the plaintiff despite a TRO or FRO, it'd be in your best interest to reconsider. While a restraining order is a civil matter in New Jersey, violating a restraining order is a criminal offense in Cape May County. You'll be charged with criminal contempt charges that could potentially result in jail time and hefty fines. A second violation of a restraining order will get you a mandatory 30 days in jail.
Have You Been Issued a Restraining Order in Cape May County? Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
The threat of domestic violence is a serious matter that shouldn't be undermined. Due to the nature of these cases, however, much of what transpired is up for speculation. Essentially, it's your word against your the victim's, and in a situation with such high stakes, it's imperative you have reliable legal counsel to defend you.
Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm has extensive experience and knowledge in this legal area, as he's helped many people in this predicament navigate the legal process. He can do the same for you. For more information about how to successfully defend your restraining order, contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.