In the State of New Jersey, the Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (PDVA) provides legal protection for victims of domestic abuse through restraining orders. These protective orders are versatile and can be customized to address specific issues for each situation—including awarding temporary custody of any children. This sometimes creates confusion if there are already custody orders in effect. What happens if you're served with a restraining order by your ex in Burlington County, NJ? Are you blocked from seeing your children? What if you're the victim—or your child is in danger of abuse? Can a restraining order protect both of you? The Lento Law Firm has compiled the answers to these and other questions below for those who need further insights on Burlington County restraining orders and how they can affect child custody.
What does a restraining order do?
A restraining order stops or prevents abuse between a victim and an abuser with whom the victim has an intimate or familial relationship. The person requesting the restraining order is the plaintiff; the one on whom the order is served is the defendant. Under a restraining order, the defendant is typically forbidden to attempt to contact the plaintiff, or even come within a certain distance of the plaintiff, on pain of facing criminal contempt charges.
Other details may be included in a restraining order to address specific situations. For example:
- The defendant may also be prohibited from contacting the plaintiff's relatives and/or visiting their workplace.
- The defendant may be required to provide financial support to the plaintiff, including paying bills and rent/mortgage (even if the defendant was forced to leave the home).
- The defendant may be mandated to go to therapy or treatment.
- The defendant may be banned from possessing or having firearms.
- The plaintiff may be awarded temporary custody—and/or restrictions may be placed on when or if the defendant may see the children.
Who is eligible to request a restraining order in New Jersey?
New Jersey's restraining orders are designed to protect victims aged 18 years and older from domestic violence and abuse. To be eligible for a restraining order, both of the following must apply to your situation:
- The alleged abuser must be someone with whom you have an intimate or family relationship. Examples include a spouse, ex-spouse, household member, blood relative, intimate partner, someone with whom you've had a child, or someone you're dating or have dated.
- The abuse meets the New Jersey criteria of domestic violence as per the PDVA (e.g., assault, sexual assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, stalking, harassment, criminal trespassing, etc.).
Other protective orders may apply for abuse situations that don't meet these criteria. Consult with an attorney if you're uncertain how to obtain protection.
Where and how can I get a restraining order in Burlington County, NJ?
You can request a restraining order in Burlington County by applying in person at the Burlington County Court Facility, Family Division, 49 Rancocas Road, Mount Holly, NJ. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday-Friday. To obtain a temporary restraining order after hours, on weekends, or on a holiday, contact your local police to be put in contact with a judge on call.
I have been served with a temporary restraining order and summoned for a hearing in Burlington County. What happens now?
The temporary restraining order (TRO) goes into effect immediately, and you must comply with its terms or face criminal charges. In New Jersey, the plaintiff can obtain a TRO “ex parte,” meaning without your presence. The TRO stays in effect for up to 10 days, at which point you'll attend a formal hearing to determine whether the restraining order will become a final restraining order (FRO). You'll be notified when you're served with the TRO when to appear for your hearing at the Burlington County Court Facility. At this hearing, you can tell your side of the story and present any applicable evidence to challenge the restraining order (or any specific terms of the order, such as custody concerns). You may also have an attorney present to represent you. Failure to appear at the hearing may result in the judge ruling summarily against you.
If the restraining order is finalized, when will it expire?
In New Jersey, when a TRO becomes a Final Restraining Order (FRO), it is permanent and has no expiration date. It will remain in effect unless and until either the plaintiff or the defendant convinces the court to rescind it at some point in the future.
Is it possible for a restraining order to restrict my access to my children?
Yes. If you have children in common with the plaintiff, the restraining order can set limitations on how and when you can visit or contact your children. It can also award temporary custody to the plaintiff, effectively revoking any custody rights you currently have.
Can I contest the restraining order to regain access to my children?
A temporary restraining order (TRO) may be appealed by requesting an immediate plenary hearing. However, since a TRO only lasts for about 10 days, in many cases, this step is not practical. At the final hearing, you can challenge the restraining order, especially any terms that impact your visitation rights and custody rights. If the court finds your arguments have merit, it may either decline to finalize the order or make modifications to its terms before finalizing it.
Does the restraining order take priority over my current custody rights?
Yes. If the restraining order contains language that awards custody to the plaintiff and/or restricts your contact with your children, those terms will supersede any current custody arrangements you have. However, a FRO only awards custody temporarily, so you'll have the opportunity at a later date to renegotiate terms of custody and visitation rights regarding your children.
New Jersey restraining orders do allow a parent to temporarily assume custody of their children, and sometimes this tactic is used to bypass current custody orders in place without going through the formal process. To challenge a restraining order that you believe has been used incorrectly to restrict access to your children, speak with an experienced attorney.
What happens if I ignore the restraining order and attempt to see my children anyway?
In New Jersey, violating any part of a restraining order (including restrictions on seeing your children) is an act of criminal contempt—a fourth-degree felony offense. Criminal contempt can lead to up 18 months in prison or a $10,000 penalty. This would be in addition to any other criminal charges you might face related to domestic violence. Any violation of the restraining order could also be used against you in future custody proceedings.
What happens to my financial obligations if a restraining order revokes my custody rights? Do I still have to pay child support?
Yes. It's safe to assume that if you were under orders to pay child support before the restraining order was issued, you will continue to have that responsibility. The restraining order may also add financial obligations to your plate—for example, you may be required to continue paying rent or mortgage for the plaintiff's residence, even if the restraining order prevents you from living there.
Can a restraining order grant custody if there is no other custody arrangement in place?
Yes. If there were no prior custody orders in place (for example, if you were living at home with your partner and children before the restraining order was issued), the restraining order can spell out temporary custody arrangements (typically awarding custody to the plaintiff). The order may also contain language outlining conditions for visitation until permanent custody arrangements can be negotiated.
A Final Restraining Order is permanent. Does that mean the custody provisions are also permanent?
No. A FRO can grant temporary custody only. You and the other parent will need to negotiate permanent custody at a later date.
Can a restraining order be issued for children under 18?
Not typically. Only minors who have been legally emancipated from their parents have the right to request a restraining order on their own behalf.
That being said, if a parent believes their child is being abused or is in danger of such, that parent can request a restraining order that names the child as a “protected person.” This provision allows the same protections as if the child had filed the petition themselves.
As you can see, in New Jersey, the intersection between child custody and restraining orders can be quite complicated, and it can be difficult to know what your rights are if a restraining order suddenly cuts you off from your children. An experienced attorney can help you understand these complexities and offer options to challenge an unfair restraining order, especially when custody issues are involved. Joseph D. Lento is a New Jersey lawyer who has helped countless clients successfully navigate restraining orders and custody rights. If you've had a restraining order issued against you in Burlington County, NJ, contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case and your options.