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Restraining Orders

Sometimes, when marriages or relationships begin to fall apart, arguments can turn ugly - in the worst cases, they can get violent. When domestic violence happens, clients often want to know how they can go about protecting themselves from the abuser. The following is a list of questions I often hear from clients who are interested in obtaining a restraining order in NJ.

What is a Restraining Order in NJ?

There are 2 primary kinds of restraining order in NJ – a temporary restraining (TRO) or a final restraining order. The TRO is granted if there is evidence presented to the judge that convinces him or her that a TRO is necessary to protect your well-being. This hearing is ex-parte, meaning it is done outside the presence of the subject of the order (or the alleged abuser). The order does not last that long – usually 10 days or so. At that point, a final hearing is set for the judge to determine if the temporary protections should be made more permanent. This final hearing allows both parties to present their evidence.

What Does Getting a Restraining Order in New Jersey Achieve?

If the court awards a restraining order, they can prevent the alleged abuser from obtaining or keeping weapons, coming within a certain geographic area (such as your house or place of work), award custody and in some cases, offer a monetary award to the victim. It also creates ‘no-contact’ between the victim and the abuser, preventing any conversations in telephone, in writing and even through third parties. The law allows the judge to have significant discretion in what they order, so long as it is justified by the need to protect the victim from any further abuse.

How do I get a Restraining Order in NJ?

While you do not need to have a lawyer to file for a restraining order in NJ, it does help. You will need to file a complaint in the courthouse located in the county where you live. If you are in serious danger and need to file right away but the courthouse is closed, the local police station may allow you to file with them. You will need a photo I.D. and information about the abuser (their address, telephone number, physical description, whether they own weapons, and the kind of car they drive, for example). Review the form from the clerk's office carefully. When you get to the question regarding how you have been harmed, be as detailed as possible (but be honest!). Before you sign the form, have the clerk review it to ensure that you have filled things out correctly.

When Will the Restraining Order be Effective in New Jersey?

The form will go to the judge, and if they believe you are in danger, they will sign the TRO, at which point it will be served on the abuser by a police officer. Remember, this is only a temporary restraining order. If you want it to be permanent, you must attend another hearing in front of a judge. The abuser will also be in attendance. This can make you feel nervous, but they have the right to present a defense and have their version of events be heard by the court.

How Should I Prepare for the Hearing to Make my TRO Permanent?

First, consider hiring an attorney who can make sure your story and evidence are heard by the judge. This will be your opportunity to present the facts, as well as refute any defense your abuser tries to put on. It will be very helpful if you have witnesses, photos or other evidence (like text messages or angry voicemails) that you can show the judge to support your claims. You have to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the acts you claim he or she did. It is important to understand that if you do not appear, the restraining order will be dismissed, and you will not be granted any further protection. Similarly, if the abuser decides not to show, the judge might move the hearing back or the judge might issue a final restraining order.

What Does the Court Consider in Determining Whether a Restraining Order in NJ

The victim must show that the defendant committed one of 14 acts as listed in the New Jersey Domestic Violence Statute. The grounds are incredibly broad, and essentially consider a multitude of crimes or actions which involve the risk of death or serious harm to a protected person. These include assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal trespass, terroristic threats, and most commonly pled, harassment.

How can I Prove Harassment in Order to get a Restraining Order in New Jersey?

The elements of harassment are that someone has communicated to another person in offensively coarse language, and/or at very inconvenient hours with the purpose to harass the other. Or, they can be found guilty of harassment if they offensively touch the other party (including kicking, shoving, or pushing) with the intent to harass, or in any other alarming or significantly annoying conduct. These grounds are pretty broad, but it also requires the victim to show that the behavior isn’t just annoying or inconvenient – but harassing and alarming. Courts have granted permanent restraining orders when one party purposely blocked a victim's car while cursing at her. In another case, someone mailed graphic pornography to someone and threatened to send them to her son and employer. This was considered egregious behavior, and the court determined it was harassing to the extent it warranted a final restraining order.

How Does a Restraining Order in New Jersey Actually Protect the Victims of Domestic Violence?

The defendant will first have notice that there is a court order preventing him or her from continuing the harassing or violent behavior. Then, if they violate the order in any way at all, they can be arrested, immediately. Violating a court order is a criminal offense. So, if the subject of the restraining order breaks the no-contact rules – in any way! - the police can be called on him or her, and they can be arrested that same day. It is possible they will then face fines or jail time. While it is not a full and complete protection, it offers great deterrents to the abuser and offers peace of mind to the victim.

Further, see Restraining Order in NJ: Frequently Asked Questions – Part 2 and Restraining Order in NJ: Frequently Asked Questions – Part 3. If you have any questions or concerns about getting a restraining order in NJ, contact the law offices of Peter Van Aulen today for a free initial consultation at 201-845-7400.

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*Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances