There are many different reasons that somebody would seek a restraining order, but in general, it's a matter of safety and well-being.
If you are in the process of filing for a Restraining Order (RO), you know that there are a lot of things to consider. With so much on your mind, it can be easy to forget the real reason why you sought out a restraining order in the first place: to protect yourself from possible danger.
In this article, we will go over how you can use a restraining order to protect yourself. This may help you decide whether a restraining order is right for you. We will also briefly go over the first steps you can take when applying for a restraining order.
What is a Restraining Order?
First thing's first, let's talk about what exactly a restraining order is. While restraining orders are often the talk of Hollywood films and other popular culture tidbits, they are not always accurately portrayed, so it's important to know what you are getting yourself into before you begin the process of seeking out a restraining order.
A restraining order is an official document ordered by the court to protect a person (or, in some states, a place) from an individual who poses a danger. It may also be called a “protective order” or a PFA in certain states.
Not all restraining orders are created equal—the type of restraining order that you receive will depend on your particular jurisdiction, as well as the nature of your situation.
What do Restraining Orders Look Like in New Jersey?
The State of New Jersey offers two different types of restraining orders: a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a final restraining order.
Temporary restraining orders are designed to be issued immediately, provided a judge finds that you are in some form of immediate danger. They will protect you until your court date, which is usually within ten days from when you first petition for the restraining order.
If a temporary restraining order is described as “ex parte,” this just means that the judge has made their judgment call without the presence of the other party (i.e., the person from whom you are seeking protection).
If you need immediate protection and the courts are not open, you can call your local law enforcement department. Judges usually work “on-call” to issue restraining orders in the off hours in cases of emergency.
A final restraining order is issued after your court date when both you and the other party have the opportunity to present your sides of the story. In New Jersey, a final restraining order does not have an expiration date. It can last forever, provided that no legal motions are filed against it.
New Jersey often issues restraining orders for victims of domestic violence, but victims of sexual assault may also be eligible for a civil protective order under the New Jersey Sexual Assault Survivor Protect Act (SASPA).
Who Can File a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
As mentioned above, any resident of New Jersey who is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault can file a restraining order.
New Jersey maintains a legal definition of domestic violence. It outlines that domestic violence occurs between an adult with whom you are involved in a domestic situation. State law does not allow for filing a restraining order against a minor (i.e., someone under the age of 18) unless that minor is emancipated.
A domestic situation is defined as a spouse (or former spouse), a household member (or former household member), or a romantic partner (or former romantic partner). It may also include somebody with whom you share a child (or are expecting a child with). No minimum time must have passed in a dating relationship for it to be seen as valid.
The state of New Jersey also maintains a definition of the kind of behavior that constitutes domestic violence. This list includes homicide, assault, kidnapping, and stalking (the complete list can be found here).
Anyone victim of sexual assault can file for a sexual assault restraining order. New Jersey law defines this as any act of non-consensual sexual penetration, lewdness, or contact.
If you are a victim of sexual violence and looking to file a restraining order as a result, you must not have an intimate relationship with the offender. If you do, you will need to file for a domestic violence restraining order instead.
What is an Extreme Risk Protective Order?
In some cases, it may also be possible to file what is known as an extreme risk protective order. This kind of order prevents a party from ever owning or receiving a firearm. A police officer can file an extreme risk protective order. However, somebody who has a domestic relationship (as defined above) may also be able to file an extreme risk protective order against their abuser.
Are New Jersey Restraining Orders Enforceable in Other States?
If you have a restraining order from New Jersey and are moving or planning to move to another state, you may be wondering whether your restraining order can continue to protect you.
The short answer to this is yes, it can. This is because of what is known as the Violence Against Women Act, which requires every state to respect restraining orders issued in other states.
How Do Restraining Orders Help Protect Victims?
A restraining order protects victims by limiting the movement and location of their abuser. Although circumstances vary, a restraining order may have the power to tell one party to stay away from the other one or cease all forms of contact completely.
The threat of punishment is what keeps abusers from violating a restraining order. The consequences for violating a restraining order are very serious. In fact, in New Jersey, a (final) restraining order violation is considered a felony of the fourth degree. If convicted, punishment can include incarceration of up to 18 months.
Do Restraining Orders Show Up on a Criminal Record?
You may be wondering whether a restraining order will show up on the criminal record of the individual against whom you are filing it. In New Jersey, a restraining order is considered a civil violation, which means that it will not show up on a permanent criminal record (this means that it is unlikely to show up when a background check is performed).
However, if someone is arrested for violating a restraining order, this will show up on their record. Those with a final restraining order will also appear on the Domestic Violence Central Registry, which is searchable and available to the public.
How Do I File a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
The first step in requesting both a domestic or a sexual assault restraining order is to visit your local courthouse and pick up the proper paperwork for filing your claim. “Local” can either mean the courthouse of the county where you live, the county of where your abuser lives, or the abuse happened. Again, if you need to file outside of the court's operating hours, you will have to go through the emergency on-call judge. You can do so by calling the police.
Once you have filled out the proper forms, the judge will determine whether they offer you a temporary restraining order. This will protect you until your court hearing, when it will be determined whether a final restraining order will be issued.
It is best to fill out these forms with as much detail as possible. The courthouse clerk can help you with the process of filling out the forms, but they can't offer legal advice of any kind, which brings us to our next question.
Do I Need an Attorney to File a Restraining Order?
It is not necessary to have an attorney to file a restraining order. However, it is recommended that you reach out to a lawyer before your court date. They can help you ensure that you are putting your best foot forward in your attempt to protect yourself through the lengths of the law.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience as a defense attorney in New Jersey, helping clients through their most difficult times in life. This wealth of expertise offers multiple perspectives making it invaluable to have at your disposal if you are seeking a restraining order for your protection or the protection of a loved one. It is recommended that you contact an experienced attorney as soon as you know that a restraining order is your next step. Get in touch with attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-5336.