Obviously, no one wants to be hit with a restraining order. They cause all sorts of headaches, in and of themselves. It isn't just that you're barred from being near the petitioner. You may be prohibited from going to certain places they frequent; you may be forbidden to communicate with their friends or family, even if those people are your friends and family as well.
Restraining orders can also have many collateral consequences, though, consequences that you may not have considered. They can affect your job, interfere with your professional licenses, play a role in custody battles, and even impact your ability to purchase a firearm.
The good news is that you do have options: there are ways to challenge a restraining order or to get it lifted once it's in place. It's important you recognize, though, that there are time limits on your ability to file appeals in these cases. If you want to overturn one of these orders, you need to act quickly.
An Overview of Restraining Orders in New Jersey
Before we get into the potential collateral effects of restraining orders, let's talk about what restraining orders are and how they work.
The purpose of a restraining order is to prevent one person (“defendant”) from contacting or interacting with another (“petitioner” or “plaintiff”). The general idea is to ensure that a defendant can't harass or do physical harm to the petitioner.
In New Jersey, restraining orders are issued for two specific reasons. Most often, they are used in domestic violence cases to keep one family member away from another. They can also be used, though, in sexual abuse cases, even when the petitioner doesn't actually know or have a relationship with their abuser.
There are two types of restraining orders. Generally, a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued first. The petitioner must make their case in order to convince a judge to issue a TRO, but you, as the defendant, have little say and may not even know an order has been issued until you receive a notification. A TRO protects a petitioner for up to ten days, until a hearing can be held into whether or not a Final Restraining Order (FRO) is warranted. A Final Restraining Order, as the name implies, is permanent, but you have the right to contest it at a formal hearing.
Only a superior court judge may issue a restraining order. You should also know that in New Jersey, restraining orders are a civil rather than a criminal matter. Restraining orders don't go on your criminal record, for example. However, they leave no room for exceptions. You can be forced to leave your home if you're not allowed contact with your spouse. You could be forced to leave your job if you both work at the same location. In addition, restraining orders remain in place even if you and the petitioner should ultimately reconcile. Finally, while a restraining order is not a criminal matter, violating a restraining order is absolutely a criminal offense and can get you arrested and jailed.
Beyond the direct effects of a restraining order, it can have a number of secondary effects on your life as well.
- Job Status: Certain jobs require employees to report any time they are under a restraining order. Your employer could suspend you or, in certain extreme cases, even fire you. Likewise, licensing boards also frequently require such notification, and a restraining order can trigger a full investigation into your fitness to retain your license.
- Custody Battles: Restraining orders supersede custody agreements. This means that if you are barred from contact with your spouse and your child must be with your spouse, you are effectively barred from contact with your child. More importantly, your family court judge may take your restraining order into account when deciding issues of custody.
- Weapons Ownership: In most cases, law enforcement will prohibit you from owning or even possessing a dangerous weapon if you are under a restraining order. Obviously, this means you cannot buy a weapon, but it also means you may have to forfeit any weapons you already own. If you are under an FRO, this forfeiture could very well be permanent. This New Jersey policy is not just for firearms but extends to any type of dangerous weapons, including certain knives, tear gas, and even stun guns.
The effects of a restraining order aren't always limited to direct, practical consequences either. You may also find that a restraining order can take a toll on you psychologically.
- Simply complying with the order can be stressful. It isn't always easy to avoid contact with someone. It can be frustrating to have to organize your life around where the petitioner might be at any given moment.
- It's not unusual to feel anger towards the petitioner or even towards the court. Your life is being restricted, and that can seem unfair.
- Many people experience feelings of self-doubt or guilt when they've been issued a restraining order. Even if you've done nothing wrong, a restraining order may cause you to feel embarrassed.
- The practical effect of a restraining order can be isolation. That is, you could be barred from communicating with friends and family or from going to certain locations. You might even be prohibited from contacting your children. This kind of isolation can produce feelings of loneliness and depression.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help With Restraining Orders
There are legal remedies to restraining orders. The right attorney can help you
- Challenge the terms of a TRO
- Challenge an FRO at a hearing
- File an appeal of an FRO
- Convince a judge to vacate an FRO when it's no longer appropriate.
You should know, though, that there are strict timelines when it comes to challenging a restraining order. For instance, you have just forty-five days from the issuance of an FRO to appeal it. This isn't a lot of time to draft documents and file paperwork. You need to work fast, and you need an attorney who can work fast as well.
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.