If you have a family matter pending in Essex County, chances are you'll be appearing before the Family Court. Whether you're going through a divorce, defending yourself from a restraining order, or enmired in a custody dispute, you undoubtedly have many questions. An experienced Essex County family law attorney like attorney Joseph D. Lento can guide you through the process and the Essex County Family Court.
Services in Essex County Family Court
Essex Family Court hears all actions where the main claim arises out of a family or family-type relationship. The court has jurisdiction over:
- Divorce, family crises, and division of marital property,
- Child support, custody disputes, paternity matters, and child support and visitation,
- Domestic violence,
- Juvenile delinquency, foster care placement, termination of parental rights, and adoption
- Kinship legal guardianship, and
- Abuse and neglect matters.
Child custody matters are typically handled at the Essex County Veterans Courthouse, while Family Court services and assistance are at the Robert N. Wilentz Justice Complex.
Essex County Veterans Courthouse
50 West Market St.
Newark, NJ 07102
Robert N. Wilentz Justice Complex
212 Washington St.
Newark, NJ 07102
Both facilities are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. The Family Division's main number is 973-776-9300, extension 56667.
Child Custody Decisions in Essex County
While parents can often come to a mutual agreement concerning child custody and visitation, it can be a challenging process. If parents can't agree, a judge in the Essex County Family Court can rule on the matter. In determining custody, the court will consider “the best interests of the child.” As part of that determination, the court will consider the factors that affect the child's health and wellbeing and determine which household offers the better option. Some of the factors affecting child custody include:
- How each parent meets their child's needs,
- If either parent or a member of either parent's household has a history of domestic violence,
- Which home offers the most stable environment for the child,
- If both parents are fit to raise the child,
- How much quality time each parent had with the child before and after the separation,
- Which home offers the best quality of education,
- If the child is over 12, their preferences, and
- Any other relevant factors.
New Jersey courts presume that it's best for both parents to share responsibility for a child's wellbeing absent some compelling reason. As a default, Essex County Family Court will do the same, typically awarding joint legal and physical custody. This arrangement gives both parents input into decisions about the child's health, wellbeing, and education and splits parenting time between them equally. The child can also maintain quality relationships with both parents. The court may split time unequally if one parent was the primary caretaker for the child's entire life or has siblings in one home.
The court may also award legal and physical custody to only one parent if the court finds the other is “unfit” to parent. This arrangement may give the unfit parent limited, supervised, or no visitation time with the child. The Family Court typically won't find a parent unfit without a compelling reason, such as:
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse,
- A history of domestic violence, or
- The parent has shown no interest in raising the child or the child's wellbeing.
Restraining Orders in Essex County
Restraining orders in New Jersey are typically only available to those with domestic relationships as intimate couples, family, or household members. These relationships include:
- Those who are or were married or cohabitating,
- Those with dating or intimate sexual relationships,
- Those who share one or more children, or
- Members of the same household.
If you receive notification of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against you, you will probably also receive a notice of a hearing for a Final Restraining Order (FRO). You should appear at this hearing. It's also a good idea to contact an attorney experienced in both family and criminal law as the court will only issue restraining orders in domestic violence situations.
1. Temporary Restraining Orders
A judge can enter a temporary restraining order (TRO) with only one party present in an ex parte hearing. The judge will issue the TRO if they feel that it is necessary to protect the plaintiff's life, health, or wellbeing. Simultaneously, the judge will set a hearing for the final protective order, typically within ten days of issuing the TRO. If the defendant fails to appear, the judge may issue a FRO without their input. If the police serve you with a TRO, you should see an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
2. Final Restraining Orders
At the FRO hearing, the judge will allow both parties to tell their story. Both the plaintiff and defendant can introduce evidence and witnesses to bolster their case. They will also have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and challenge evidence introduced to the court. You may have an attorney represent you in the hearing. While the court won't require that you have an attorney, the hearing will comply with the court's rules and the rules of evidence. For many people, navigating a FRO hearing without an attorney can be difficult. Because so much is at stake, having an attorney with you is a good idea.
The judge will enter the FRO if the judge finds that:
- The parties have a domestic relationship that qualifies, like the family and family-like relationships listed above.
- The defendant committed an act of domestic violence. Many crimes that involve injury or the threat of injury to a current or former intimate partner or a family member qualify as domestic violence. These crimes include but aren't limited to stalking, harassment, kidnapping, and assault.
- The TRO is necessary to prevent further instances of domestic violence against the defendant.
The purpose of the final restraining order is to protect and support the defendant. As a result, the FRO can include many restrictions and obligations of the defendant, including:
- Prohibiting contact or harassment between the plaintiff and the defendant.
- Granting temporary custody of any children.
- Ordering the defendant to pay support, including rent, mortgages, and other financial obligations.
- Protecting the plaintiff from violence.
- Preventing the defendant from owning or possessing firearms.
- Ordering the defendant into counseling, anger management, or group or individual therapy.
The restraining order can also order the defendant from a home that the parties share, even if the defendant owns the home or pays the rent, while simultaneously ordering the defendant to continue paying the mortgage or rent.
After the Essex County court enters the FRO, the police will fingerprint and photograph the defendant and enter the information into the state domestic violence registry. The court will also assess a $500 fine to the defendant. New Jersey law also prohibits those with a FRO against them from owning or possessing firearms.
If a New Jersey court enters a FRO against you, you may lose custody of or visitation time with your children. The court may also order you to pay child and spousal support and to continue paying joint financial obligations like rent, your mortgage, car payments, and the like. If you are facing a FRO hearing, you need an experienced family law attorney by your side.
Hire an Experienced Essex County Family Lawyer
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are experienced in both family and criminal law. Call us today at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento fights hard to protect the rights of his New Jersey clients in court. Let him work for you too.