In this day and age, it’s common for relationships to fail. Unfortunately in some extreme cases, when that happens, bad things may follow. Sometimes, the situation between a couple is so bad that a person may have no reasonable choice other than to enlist the assistance of law enforcement and the court system.
If you’ve been the victim of harassment, stalking or domestic violence, you most likely are all too familiar with how disturbing the presence of someone no longer welcome in your life can be. Fortunately, in New Jersey, obtaining a restraining order is a viable solution in these instances to make your life easier.
The primary grounds for restraining orders
Domestic violence is, unfortunately, the primary grounds upon which restraining orders are sought. In the state of New Jersey, it requires a showing of:
“…the occurrence of one or more criminal offenses such as homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault, lewdness, criminal trespass or mischief, harassment or burglary upon any person who is 18 years or older, who is an emancipated minor or any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, a former spouse, any other person who is present with whom the person has had a dating relationship, a former household member or person with whom the victim has a child in common or with whom they are expecting a child.”
If you have been the victim of domestic violence, you absolutely can obtain a restraining order in NJ.
Getting started with the process
Although filing for a restraining order is not overly complicated, you should probably consider hiring a lawyer experienced in this area to assist you with the process of filing for a restraining order in NJ. The first thing a lawyer would suggest if a domestic violence incident (as defined above) occurs is that you should call the police and ask for a restraining order.
The complaint for a restraining order in NJ is filed with the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court which is responsible for all instances that involve a family or family type relationship. Depending on the situation, the complaint could either be filed in the county in which you reside, the county the person you are filing the complaint against resides or the county where the incident of domestic violence occurred.
What should you expect when you initially file for a restraining order?
The Family Division of the Superior Court is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is closed after 3:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays. When the Superior Court is closed, you should file a complaint at their local police department. Upon arrival, you should bring:
- Any and all information you have which would serve to identify the person against whom you are seeking the order be issued. This information can include:
- Home address/address of employer
- Description/plate number of vehicle
- Details regarding any criminal history or drug usage
- Whether the individual owns any firearms.
Professional legal advice is critical in moving forward with a restraining order in NJ
Once the process has begun, it will be necessary for you to complete the process of filing for a restraining order at a county courthouse, police station or municipal building. At these locations, you will be provided with the forms you need to finalize the restraining order in NJ. Be sure to fill them out accurately and completely, as this is your opportunity to describe to the authorities how you were threatened or injured.
When speaking to the police, be sure to include all of the vital pieces of information regarding the incident, such as the date/time/location of the threats or attacks, mention if any weapons were used and provide details of the altercation. We know reciting the details of your encounter to the police is beyond difficult, but if you were hit, slapped, pushed, pulled, grabbed, choked, etc., this would be the time to tell the police.
However, under no circumstances will the court staff or police be able to provide you with any legal advice. Unless you are comfortable enough to understand exactly what evidence and witnesses will be necessary to establish your case, an experienced domestic violence attorney is recommended to assure you are protected.
What can you expect once you have filed a restraining order?
Once you have officially filed, you will be expected to appear before a judge (during court hours) or appear via telephone if the court is closed. In order to be granted a restraining order in NJ, you will need to prove, to the satisfaction of the court, that you are in fear of harm from the other party. If you have met the burden of proof, the judge will issue a temporary restraining order (TRO).
The first step of protection: Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)
A temporary restraining order is essentially an emergency measure that will remain in effect until a court hearing is held to determine if a final restraining order (FRO) is warranted.
Whenever a judge issues a temporary restraining order in NJ, the police will serve it to the other party, along with the complaint and details regarding the time, date and place of the full hearing for the FRO (usually within 10 days of when the TRO is granted). At the full hearing, the court will request you to present whatever evidence you have to prove that an act (or acts) of domestic violence were committed by the other party against you.
If he or she appears in court, that person will be permitted to present evidence in his or her own evidence for defense.
What does a final restraining order cover in NJ?
A final restraining order in NJ may include the following relief:
- Protection from future contact
- Changes in parenting rights (custody and/or visitation)
- Modification of support payments or other financial matters, such as rent or mortgage
- Possession of specific items of personal property
- Forfeiture of any weapons
Important procedural factors to remember about obtaining a FRO
If you do not attend the full court hearing, your TRO will expire which brings you back to square one. If you cannot attend the date scheduled, request a continuance from the court ASAP for a subsequent court date. If your continuance is granted, you must request that the temporary restraining order be extended until the date of the new hearing, as they are not automatically granted just because a continuance has been.
In the event that the other party fails to attend the full hearing, the court may either issue a “default judgment” against that person and grant you a Final Restraining Order in NJ or, in the alternative, decide to set another date for a full hearing so that the other person has a further chance to plead his or her case.
Given the nature of domestic violence matters and the impact the outcome can have on the reputations of those involved, courts are hesitant to act without giving all parties the opportunity to be heard. Be certain that you carry with you at all times a copy of the restraining order the judge has issued.
Again, unless you are completely comfortable that you understand exactly what evidence and witnesses will be necessary to establish your case, an experienced domestic violence attorney is recommended.
There are no fees for filing a complaint for a restraining order in NJ.