A restraining order can be a lifesaver for those in New Jersey in violent relationships. To tackle the problem of family violence, the legislature passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991. The law intends to protect victims of domestic violence from their potential abusers. See N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-17-25-35 (1991). As part of that law, victims of domestic violence can seek restraining orders against abusers. Whether you are seeking a restraining order or defending yourself against one, it's important to understand how and when a New Jersey court may have jurisdiction over your restraining order case.
What Is a Restraining Order?
A restraining order is issued by a New Jersey court and can order someone to refrain from contacting or approaching you. There are two types of restraining orders for domestic violence: temporary and final restraining orders. You can obtain a temporary order with an ex parte hearing before a judge, meaning the defendant won't be present. However, the judge will set a hearing for a final restraining order with both parties. These hearings typically take place in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court.
A restraining order can also include additional provisions that will:
- Prevent contact or harassment between the restraining order applicant and the defendant
- Provide temporary custody of any children
- Provide financial support, such as rent, a mortgage, and other financial obligations
- Protect the applicant from violence
- Prevent the defendant from possessing or owning any firearms
- Ordering counseling or therapy
Because all of these repercussions can become permanent if a judge issues a final restraining order, you must ensure that you have an experienced New Jersey attorney protecting your rights during the restraining order process.
Can I File a Restraining Order?
Before filing a restraining order, you'll first need to determine whether you are eligible to file a petition for a restraining order. Or if one is filed against you, whether the application is valid. To have the standing to file a restraining order, the petitioner must meet the requirements of New Jersey law. The parties must have a “domestic relationship,” an act of domestic violence must have occurred, and there must be an urgent need to prevent future acts of violence.
- Domestic Relationship: A domestic relationship exists between two parties if you are current or former spouses, close family members, intimate partners, have a dating relationship, are members of the same household, or have one or more children together.
- Act of Domestic Violence: Acts of domestic violence in New Jersey include a long laundry list of specific crimes, including assault, stalking, sexual assault, and harassment.
- Urgent Need: The applicant for the restraining order must also show an urgent need to restrain the alleged abuser from committing future acts of violence.
All three of these elements must be present for a judge to issue a restraining order. For example, if you and your cousin end up in a fight, your cousin files a restraining order against you, and you don't live in the same household, your cousin doesn't have the standing to file a restraining order against you. As a result, your attorney may be able to have the restraining order petition dismissed. If you need to file a restraining order for protection, an attorney can ensure that your application meets all of the requirements of New Jersey law or offer you alternatives.
Where to File a Restraining Order?
If you meet the statutory requirements, meaning you have a domestic relationship and can show that an act of domestic violence occurred, the next step is to determine which court may have jurisdiction over the restraining order application. The petitioner must file the application in either:
- The New Jersey county where the parties reside, or
- The county where the alleged act of domestic violence happened.
For example, if you live in Rockland County, but the act of domestic violence happened in Bergen County, you should file for a restraining order in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court in one of those counties. If you don't file in one of these counties, the court may not have jurisdiction over your restraining order application. It may be the wrong venue. However, a New Jersey attorney well versed in restraining order application and defense can ensure that the action is filed in the proper venue and defend an action that isn't.
No Contact Orders
If the court where you filed the restraining order doesn't have jurisdiction because you don't meet all of the required elements of the restraining order statute, you may have other options. A victim in a domestic violence case may file a criminal complaint against the alleged abuser and request a “no contact” order as part of the action.
A no-contact order is similar to a restraining order in that it can prevent someone from contacting or approaching you. However, a no-contact order is connected to a criminal case. A judge will often issue a no-contact order preventing the defendant from contacting an alleged victim of a crime as a condition of bail.
The no-contact order is up to the judge's discretion, and a victim may also ask the court to remove a no-contact order. It will typically remain in place until the court resolves the criminal action against the defendant. Although if the defendant is found guilty, the court may keep it in place. If the defendant violates a no-contact order, it can result in forfeiting bail and additional criminal charges.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Attorney
Whether you need a restraining order for protection or you're defending yourself against one, you need experienced legal guidance right away. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help. He's experienced in both New Jersey family law and criminal defense law, meaning he understands how to pursue and defend restraining orders. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.