In Camden County, NJ, victims of domestic abuse and other forms of violence can receive legal protection through a restraining order as provided by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991. Restraining orders can be tailored to address a wide range of issues, including temporary custody of any children. If you file a restraining order against your significant other, how can this order affect their custody rights? And if you have a restraining order against you by the parent of your child, can it supersede any custody agreements in place? To address these and other questions, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following key information regarding restraining orders in Camden County and how they can affect questions of child custody.
What does a restraining order do?
A restraining order is a protective order that is designed to stop and prevent abuse between a victim (plaintiff) and an abuser (defendant) with whom they have an intimate or familial relationship. The restraining order effectively stops the defendant from engaging in abusive behaviors against the plaintiff by ordering them to avoid contact with the defendant—or even come within a certain distance of them—or face criminal charges.
Restraining orders may also include additional details to address specific situations, including:
- Prohibiting the defendant from contacting the plaintiff, her family, or place of work;
- Prohibiting the defendant from owning or possessing firearms;
- Requiring the defendant to provide financial support, including payment of rent/mortgage and other bills;
- Ordering the defendant to go to counseling or therapy; and/or
- Awarding the defendant temporary custody of the children.
Who is eligible to obtain a restraining order?
In New Jersey, restraining orders are specifically designed to protect victims over the age of 18 from abusers with whom they have a personal relationship. (Other restraining order options are available for abuse that doesn't fit this description.) Specifically, you are eligible to obtain a restraining order if:
- Your alleged abuser is a spouse, former spouse, household member, intimate partner, a current or former dating relationship, or someone with whom you share a child in common.
- The abuse fits the New Jersey criteria for domestic violence according to the PDVA (e.g., assault, sexual assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, harassment, criminal trespass, stalking, robbery, etc.).
Where and how do I request a restraining order in Camden County, NJ?
The best way to request a restraining order in Camden County is by calling the Family Division of the Camden County Courthouse at 856-650-9100 ext. 59088. Temporary restraining orders (TROs) can often be obtained over the phone. You may also visit the Family Division of the Camden County Hall of Justice at 101 S. 5th St., Camden, NJ, during open hours (8:00 am- 4:00 pm). If you need help with a TRO after hours, call your local police department or 911.
I've been notified of a restraining order against me. What happens next?
It depends on the type of restraining order. If the plaintiff feels they are in immediate danger, they may obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) which can be obtained “ex parte” (meaning they can get it without you being present) and lasts for up to 10 days. If served with a TRO, you must abide by its terms effective immediately or face criminal contempt charges. You will also be notified when to appear at the Camden County Courthouse for your restraining order hearing (typically within 10 days), at which point you will be allowed to appear and present your side of the story (preferably with an attorney present). The judge will then determine whether to issue a final restraining order (FRO). If the TRO becomes a FRO, it is permanent. There is no expiration date, and you must abide by its terms unless and until the FRO is rescinded by the courts. If you fail to appear for the hearing, the judge may rule against you by default and finalize the FRO.
Can a restraining order affect my ability to see my kids?
Yes, it can. If you have children in common with the plaintiff requesting the restraining order, the order may award temporary custody to the plaintiff. The order may also place certain conditions or limitations on your ability to see or visit the children, all the way up to prohibiting all contact with them. The judge may then set custody hearings in the future to determine any permanent changes to your custody arrangements.
Can I challenge the restraining order to regain access to my children?
You cannot challenge the terms of a temporary restraining order (TRO)—so for the 10 days or so that the TRO remains in effect, you must abide by any restrictions to seeing your children. You may, however, challenge the restraining order at the final hearing, including terms that affect your visitation and custody rights. If the court agrees, it may either decline to finalize the restraining order or make adjustments to the terms regarding custody and visitation.
Does the restraining order supersede any current child custody orders?
Yes, if it addresses custody issues. A TRO can temporarily block all contact with your children if the court believes they are at risk. A FRO can also award temporary custody to the plaintiff, effectively revoking any existing custody arrangements you may have. You will then need to renegotiate any permanent custody or visitation arrangements with the courts at a later time.
Because of the custody provisions allowed by New Jersey restraining orders, they are sometimes used by parents to take over temporary custody of the children rather than go through the full process of challenging custody agreements. If you believe a restraining order has been incorrectly used to block access to your kids, consult with an experienced attorney to discuss your options for challenging it.
What can happen if I see my kids in violation of the restraining order?
Violating any part of a restraining order, including any custody or visitation restrictions, is “criminal contempt,” a fourth-degree felony offense in New Jersey. If you're convicted of criminal contempt, you could face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. This would be in addition to any other criminal charges you might face relating to alleged domestic violence. In addition, any violation of the restraining order could also be used against you in future custody proceedings.
If a restraining order revokes my custody rights, do I still have to pay child support?
Yes. If you were required to pay child support before the restraining order was issued, it's safe to assume you will still have that responsibility. In addition, the restraining order may also direct you to take care of other financial obligations, including paying rent or mortgage on the plaintiff's home (even if you're no longer allowed to live there).
Can a restraining order grant custody if there are no other custody arrangements in place?
Yes. For example, if you lived with your spouse and kids at home before the restraining order went into effect, there would be no custody arrangements because you would have had joint custody by default. In that case, the restraining order might grant temporary custody to the plaintiff (your spouse) and even specify certain conditions for visiting the kids until permanent custody and visitation arrangements can be negotiated.
If the restraining order is permanent, are the custody restrictions permanent, as well?
No. A FRO can only grant temporary custody. Further arrangements regarding custody and visitation will be negotiated in the courts at a later date.
Can a restraining order be issued for children under 18?
Not specifically. Only “emancipated” minors under age 18 can file restraining orders on their own behalf. However, if a child is endangered by an abusive parent, the other parent can request a restraining order and include the child as a “protected person.” In that case, the restraining order protects both the adult and any children named as protected.
Because restraining orders can affect custody rights immediately and profoundly, it may be confusing to try and understand your rights when it comes to custody arrangements in the context of a restraining order—or what you can do to protect your own custody rights. An experienced attorney can help you unravel this confusion and explore options for challenging unfair restraining orders—including how they affect custody and visitation. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced New Jersey attorney who has helped many clients successfully navigate complex issues regarding the intersection of retraining orders with custody rights. If you've been served with a restraining order in Camden County, NJ, or if you are accused of violating an existing restraining order, contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to discuss your options.