Dear Cassie: I’ve obviously heard of restraining orders, but what can you tell me about how restraining orders actually work in New Jersey? –A.S.
Dear A.S.: Restraining orders in New Jersey (whether temporary or permanent) are issued under a law called the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. That Act protects against a wide range of behavior which is defined to be domestic violence, including: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, criminal coercion, robbery and cyber-harassment. While the definition of “domestic violence” is broad, family law practitioners will tell you that “harassment” is probably the most common cause for the issuance of temporary restraining orders.
A victim of domestic violence applies for what is known as a temporary restraining order through the Superior Court of New Jersey or, after hours, through his or her local police department. An ex-parte hearing is held as to whether there is cause for a temporary restraining order to be entered, meaning that the person who is alleged to have committed an act or acts of domestic violence is not a part of the hearing. If a temporary restraining order is entered, it temporarily restrains the alleged aggressor from contact or communication with the victim, which means that the alleged aggressor is immediately removed from the residence the parties share, if applicable. The temporary restraining order can also contain a number of other provisions designed to protect the victim, including provisions addressing or even prohibiting parenting time with the children until the final hearing, and provisions pertaining to temporary financial relief or support.
Pursuant to the Act, a final restraining order hearing is then scheduled to occur within 10 days of the issuance of the temporary restraining order. (However, due to COVID-19, many inundated courts are now unable to meet that 10-day statutory requirement). At the final restraining order hearing, both parties will partake, and both parties have the right to cross-examination and to have witnesses testify on their behalf. At that hearing, the court will assess whether an act of domestic violence occurred and whether a final restraining order should be issued. In assessing that issue, the court will consider the past history of domestic violence and the need for protection for the victim.
The existence of either a temporary or final restraining order is taken very seriously by our court system. If a final restraining order is entered, the aggressor is fingerprinted and entered into a central domestic violence database. A violation of either a temporary or final restraining order comes with it criminal repercussions and potential arrest.
Unlike in other states, final restraining orders in New Jersey are indeed permanent; there is no automatic date on which they expire. To dissolve a final restraining order that has been entered, a party would have to file a motion in the Superior Court of New Jersey and meet specific criteria to establish that the final restraining order is no longer necessary.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.