What Happens if You Are A Stepparent and Your Partner Files a Restraining Order Against You?

If you are a stepparent and your stepchild's biological parent files a restraining order against you, be prepared for your life to change dramatically. A restraining order is a tool that courts use to protect victims of domestic violence from abuse. Among other consequences, the order prohibits any contact between the alleged abuser and the victim–as well as any at-risk children or stepchildren in the household.

Stepparents served with a New Jersey restraining order should speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer immediately. You need a dedicated advocate with a comprehensive understanding of New Jersey law to represent your rights and interests and protect your future. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Keep reading to learn more about restraining orders in New Jersey and how they can impact your life and role as a stepparent.

What Is a Restraining Order?

In response to the thousands of New Jersey residents suffering from domestic violence each year, the state enacted the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) in 1991. This law permits a victim of domestic abuse to seek a restraining order against an alleged abuser at their local Superior Court. The restraining order is intended to protect the victim from further abuse by prohibiting the alleged abuser from contacting or communicating with the victim or even getting within a certain distance of them. A restraining order is a civil matter; however, criminal contempt charges may arise if the alleged abuser violates the order's terms.

Who May Obtain a Restraining Order?

The PDVA dictates that only an adult victim of domestic abuse may obtain a restraining order. Further, the person must have been abused by a spouse, a household member, someone with whom they're expecting a child, or someone with whom they're in a dating relationship. An abuse victim of any gender may file for a restraining order.

What Acts Does New Jersey Consider Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is generally defined as a single act or pattern of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse between two parties who are or have been in a romantic relationship. The abuse may include threats, intimidation, isolating, or maintaining financial control over the other person. In addition, the PDVA establishes that 19 specific crimes occurring between two people in a current or former domestic relationship are domestic violence. These crimes include:

  • Assault
  • Burglary
  • Contempt
  • Criminal coercion
  • Criminal mischief
  • Criminal restraint
  • Criminal trespass
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • False imprisonment
  • Harassment
  • Homicide
  • Kidnapping
  • Lewdness
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Stalking
  • Terroristic threats

How Foes a Person Obtain a Restraining Order?

An alleged victim (plaintiff) may file for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) through a Family Division of their local superior court or police department. In the filing, the plaintiff must describe in detail the abuse the alleged abuser (defendant) has committed. The court will grant the TRO if they find it likely that the plaintiff's life, health, or well-being is at risk. The TRO remains in effect until the Final Restraining Order (FRO) hearing, which generally occurs within ten days. The FRO may extend the terms of the TRO indefinitely.

What Are the Main Restrictions of a TRO?

A TRO bars a defendant from abusing, approaching, contacting, stalking, speaking to, or communicating with a plaintiff, whether in person or electronically. You won't be allowed to call, text, email, FaceTime, or contact the plaintiff through social media, not even in an emergency or to ask about the children.

The order will also likely prohibit you from going to specific locations, including the plaintiff's workplace or school. You will also be barred from returning to the family home and must make immediate arrangements to stay elsewhere. You'll have to ask a friend or family member to collect your personal belongings.

Can the TRO Prevent Me From Seeing My Stepchildren?

Yes, a TRO may bar you from seeing your stepchildren. As painful as it may be, if your stepchild is included in the TRO, you must not contact, communicate with, or approach the child at all while the restraining order is in effect. Despite the deep and loving bonds that can form between a stepparent and stepchild, stepparents generally have few legal rights with respect to custody or visitation of their stepchildren.

You may be in a stronger position if you have legally adopted your stepchild. In these circumstances, a stepparent has the same rights as a biological parent. That said, a TRO can supersede those rights if the plaintiff has requested it and the court considers it in the best interest of the child. Thus, while the TRO is in effect, you may be prohibited from contacting, approaching, or communicating with your adopted stepchild.

Although a TRO only lasts for ten days, a FRO lasts indefinitely. Should a court grant this order, it could mean a long-term, possibly permanent, severing of your relationship with your stepchild. For this reason, you should contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer immediately upon being served with a TRO. Call Attorney Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to start building your defense and protecting your relationships today.

What Other Restrictions Might a Restraining Order Impose?

The plaintiff may make a range of demands in the TRO petition. If the court grants them and includes them in the order, you will have to follow them until you have a chance to present your side of the story at the FRO hearing. In addition to barring you from your family and home, the order may require you to:

  • relinquish custody of any biological or adopted children you share with the plaintiff and give temporary full custody to the plaintiff,
  • pay child and spousal support,
  • refrain from contacting, approaching, or harassing the plaintiff's close friends and family members;
  • give up any firearms, ammunition, and other weapons to the authorities, and refrain from buying replacements.

You must read the order carefully and adhere to its terms strictly. If you fail to comply with any aspect of this order–even accidentally or if the plaintiff wants to reconcile–you will face severe repercussions, including financial penalties and criminal charges. In addition, violating the order's terms could work against you in the FRO hearing. If you have questions about the scope of the order and whether specific actions are permitted, you should speak with a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

What Should I Know About a FRO Hearing?

The FRO hearing is the first–and most critical–an opportunity for an alleged abuser to defend themselves. The hearing typically takes place ten days after being served with the TRO in the same county where the plaintiff filed the petition. In the hearing, a judge will decide whether to extend the TRO's terms indefinitely or drop the order.

The plaintiff has the burden of proof in the hearing. The onus lies on them to prove that you abused them and continue to pose a serious threat to their health and well-being. However, because this is a civil matter, not a criminal one, the standard of proof is lower. The plaintiff must only show the judge that you abused them by a "preponderance of the evidence." That means the plaintiff will prevail if the judge finds it is "more likely than not" that you abused the plaintiff. This standard is much less demanding than the "beyond reasonable doubt" burden of proof in criminal cases–another reason to have skilled legal counsel representing your interests.

How Should I Prepare for a FRO Hearing?

Although the plaintiff has the burden of proof, you must be well prepared to defend yourself and persuasively argue for the dismissal of the order. You must spend the ten days prior to the FRO hearing collecting evidence to support your position. Such evidence may include photographs, video footage, text messages, emails, comments or images from social media, eyewitness testimony, and personal testimony.

An experienced lawyer can be instrumental in helping you gather the proper evidence and build your defense. A Lawyer who has handled numerous FRO hearings in New Jersey will understand the types of evidence that will be most convincing and help you anticipate certain accusations or arguments the plaintiff may put forth.

Most importantly, your lawyer can help you develop, organize, and practice your personal testimony. Because many domestic violence cases do not have eyewitnesses, it may come down to your word against theirs. You must be prepared to present your side of the story persuasively with the strongest arguments possible for the dismissal of the order. Your lawyer can also help you to calmly and clearly respond to any of the plaintiff's accusations or their lawyer's questions.

To develop a robust defense and enter your FRO hearing feeling prepared, call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today. We are ready to help protect your reputation, relationships, and future.

What Happens if I Lose the FRO Hearing?

If the judge decides that the plaintiff has met their burden of proof, they will rule against you and issue a FRO, a permanent order. You will be fined up to $500, fingerprinted, and your name will be placed in the New Jersey and National Domestic Violence Registry.

While the FRO may not be identical to the TRO, the main restrictions are likely to be the same: you will be prohibited from contacting, communicating with, approaching, or being within the vicinity of the plaintiff. You may also be barred from seeing your stepchildren and permanently lose custody of your biological or adopted children. You may have severely curtailed visitation rights. The FRO may also require you to:

  • permanently give up your guns, firearms, ammunition, and the accompanying licenses to the proper authorities,
  • pay for fees arising from the abuse, including health insurance, medical or dental expenses, therapy, property damage, loss of wages, and reasonable legal fees,
  • relinquish rights to living in the family home, even if your name is on the deed,
  • undergo psychiatric evaluation or treatment
  • undergo a substance abuse evaluation or treatment,
  • refrain from contacting, communicating with, or approaching any of the plaintiff's relatives or friends named in the FRO
  • inform your employer if you work with the plaintiff and will have to discuss how you can comply with its terms in the workplace.

A FRO can leave virtually no aspect of your life unchanged. That's why you must begin mounting a vigorous defense immediately after being served with the TRO. Contact or call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to ensure your voice is heard and your rights are protected as you fight this accusation.

What Factors Does the Court Consider When Deciding Whether I Can Visit or Contact My Biological or Adopted Children With a FRO?

A FRO may sometimes prohibit a defendant from contacting or visiting biological or adopted children (including adopted stepchildren) or non-adopted stepchildren. Concerning biological and adopted children, the judge will determine whether continuing contact with the defendant is in the child's best interest. They will consider factors such as:

  • Whether there is evidence that you abused the child
  • How often the domestic abuse, whether against the child or not, occurred
  • Whether you are a continued threat to the child or parent
  • whether you have a history of domestic violence or a criminal record.
  • the testimony of police and witnesses.

If the court determines that the child can safely visit you, you must determine how to see the child without breaking the terms of the FRO. In some cases, you may need to have supervised visits, or you may have to enlist the aid of a trusted family member or friend to organize visitation exchanges.

Might I Have the Right to See or Contact My Stepchild if I Am Their "Psychological Parent"?

Under exceptional circumstances, New Jersey courts will grant legal rights to a stepparent if the stepchild considers them a "psychological parent." To qualify as a psychological parent, you must prove that:

  • the biological parent consented to and encouraged a parent-like relationship between you and the child,
  • you lived with the biological parent and child
  • you took responsibility for the child's care and assumed parent-like obligations with respect to the child
  • you maintained this relationship long enough to develop a bond with the child.

This is a high standard, not easily met. However, even if the court deems you a psychological parent to your stepchild, if a FRO is in place, a judge must still determine whether it is in the child's best interest to visit or communicate with you.

Given that the relationship with your children or stepchildren may be at stake, if a restraining order is issued against you, speak to a skilled criminal defense attorney immediately. Contact the experienced New Jersey restraining order lawyer Joseph D. Lento at 888.535.3686 today.

What Are the Consequences of Violating a FRO in New Jersey?

Take every precaution to avoid violating the FRO. It goes into effect as soon as the judge issues the order at the FRO hearing. From that point onward, you must follow its terms precisely. Leave immediately if you accidentally show up at an event or space when the plaintiff is in attendance. Do not call the plaintiff to ask them to drop the order. If they contact you and want to reconcile or with news about your stepchild, do not respond but contact your lawyer immediately.

If you violate the order, even by accident or with good intentions, you could be arrested for criminal contempt, fined up to $1,000, or serve up to six months in jail. You might be charged with additional separate offenses, such as stalking, harassment, or assault. A criminal conviction will become a part of the public record and be accessible to anyone conducting a background search. Having a criminal record could put at risk your job, professional license, educational scholarship, housing prospects, and more.

Discuss the terms of the FRO with your lawyer so that you are clear on its scope. For example, if there's a substantial risk of being in close proximity to the plaintiff in a public place, or if the order doesn't extend to your children or stepchildren, you will need to ask a lawyer how to handle the situation without being accused of violating the order. Call experienced lawyer Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Team today at 888.535.3686for a consultation.

Will the FRO Be Part of the Public Record?

A person can find a restraining order in public records by searching the Domestic Violence Registry. However, it might only appear on a general background check with substantial effort.

Can a FRO Be Appealed?

A defendant can appeal the court's decision to issue a FRO. To do so, they must argue that a legal mistake occurred in issuing the FRO or that the plaintiff did not have sufficient grounds to meet the burden of proof. The appeal does not give the defendant an opportunity to present new evidence. The court will only consider whether a legal or factual mistake was made that would have materially changed the outcome of the hearing. If the error had changed the result of the FRO hearing, the appellate court will dismiss the order. However, if the mistake wouldn't have changed the outcome, the order will remain in place.

As a defendant only has 45 days to file an appeal, you should contact a New Jersey lawyer skilled in FRO appeals, such as Attorney Joseph Lento, as soon as possible.

How Else Can a FRO Be Lifted, Changed, or Dismissed?

A FRO in New Jersey never expires on its own, but it can be lifted if the plaintiff or the defendant files a motion for removal. The person filing the petition must produce sufficient evidence showing that a significant change in circumstances has occurred and that the plaintiff no longer needs the court's protection. In deciding to lift the order, the court will examine multiple factors, including whether:

  • the plaintiff consents to the order's removal
  • the plaintiff still fears the defendant and is acting under coercion
  • the defendant continues to be a threat to the plaintiff
  • the defendant has a substance abuse problem
  • the defendant has been involved in other violent acts with other persons
  • the defendant has violated the FRO and how many times
  • the defendant has engaged in therapy or counseling after the FRO was issued.

If the plaintiff opposes lifting the FRO, the court will also assess whether the plaintiff is acting in bad faith.

The court will deny the request for removal if it decides the defendant continues to be a threat to the plaintiff. If the evidence shows that the circumstances have changed, and the court is confident that no one is coercing the plaintiff into giving their consent to lifting the order, they will grant the request.

What Happens to the Restraining Order if We Reconcile?

If you and the plaintiff reconcile, that's great news! However, you must remain on your guard to avoid violating the terms of the order. The FRO only ends when the court officially lifts or dismisses it. Until that happens, you could still be arrested for violating the FRO's terms. The only way to be free of those burdensome restrictions is by having the order dismissed on appeal or filing a petition to have the order lifted. If you have reconciled, you should speak to an attorney to discuss how to have the order removed as quickly as possible. The last thing you want is to land in legal trouble just as your life gets back on track.

Hire a Highly Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney.

Your love for your stepchild may be as profound as the love for a biological child. If a restraining order is imposed on you, the relationship may be at risk of permanent rupture. If you're served with a TRO, don't just hope that the situation will resolve itself or give up. Fight the TRO with the most experienced and competent New Jersey criminal defense lawyer you can find.

If served with a restraining order or a court has already issued a FRO against you, contact New Jersey restraining order attorney Joseph D. Lento immediately to represent you and help preserve your rights. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm have one of the strongest records of restraining order success in New Jersey. Contact us today at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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