If you have a family matter pending in Morris 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 Morris County family law attorney like attorney Joseph Lento can guide you through the process and the Morris County Family Court.
Services in Morris County Family Court
Morris County Family Court receives all cases where the main claim arises from the family or a family-type relationship. The court has jurisdiction over:
- Divorce and division of marital property,
- Family crises,
- Child and spousal support,
- Paternity matters,
- Child custody, parenting time, and visitation,
- Domestic violence,
- Juvenile delinquency,
- Foster care placement, termination of parental rights, and adoption
- Kinship legal guardianship, and
- Abuse and neglect matters.
The Morris County Superior Court in the Morris County Superior Courthouse typically handles child custody matters. The Morris County Family Court services and intake are in the same building, at the corner of Washington and Court Streets. For assistance with domestic violence situations or to apply for a Temporary Protective Order, the Morris County Family Justice Center is on the fourth floor of the County Records and Administration Building, directly across the street from the Morris County Courthouse.
Morris County Superior Courthouse
56 Washington St.
Morristown, NJ 07960
Morris County Family Justice Center
10 Court St.
Morristown, NJ 07962
Both facilities are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. The Family Division's main number is 862-397-5700, extension 75145.
Child Custody Disputes in Morris County
The court almost always prefers when parents can agree on child custody and visitation matters. But if the parents simply can't mutually agree on an arrangement, a Morris County Family Court judge can rule on the matter. In determining custody, the court will consider "the best interests of the child." As part of determining the child's best interests, the court will weigh many factors to determine which household has the best environment for the child. Some of the factors affecting child custody include:
- How each parent meets their child's needs,
- Which home offers the best quality of education,
- Which home offers the most stable environment for the child,
- How much quality time each parent had with the child before and after the separation,
- If the child is over 12, their preferences,
- If either parent or a member of either parent's household has a history of domestic violence,
- If both parents are fit to raise the child, and
- Any other relevant factors.
In New Jersey, the presumption is that both parents should share equal responsibility for their children's wellbeing. As a result, the courts typically award joint legal and physical custody without a compelling reason to change it. This arrangement gives both parents equal input into decisions about their child's health, wellbeing, and education. This arrangement also splits visitation time between both parents equally, giving both parents the chance to have a quality relationship with their child. 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 award sole legal and physical custody to one parent if the other parent is "unfit" for some reason. A judge won't usually find a parent unfit unless they have:
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse,
- A history of domestic violence, or
- No interest in raising the child or the child's wellbeing.
This arrangement may give the unfit parent limited, supervised, or no visitation time with the child.
Restraining Orders in Morris County
Restraining orders in New Jersey are typically only available to domestic relationships as intimate couples, family, or household members. These relationships include:
- Current and formerly married couples,
- Current and former cohabitating couples,
- People who share a child,
- People currently or formerly dating, or
- Members of the same household.
If the police serve you with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), you will probably also receive a notice of a hearing for a Final Restraining Order (FRO). You should contact an attorney experienced in both family and criminal law before this hearing. Having a FRO issued against you, with your personal information in the state's domestic violence registry, can have long-term consequences.
1. Temporary Restraining Orders
A judge typically enters a TRO with only the plaintiff or the plaintiff's personal representative present. The court will issue a TRO if necessary to protect the plaintiff's life, health, or wellbeing. At the same time, the judge will set a hearing for the FRO, typically within ten days of issuing the TRO. You should appear at the FRO hearing.
2. Final Restraining Orders
At the FRO hearing, you will both have the chance to tell your story to the judge. Both the plaintiff and defendant may:
- Introduce evidence and witnesses in support,
- Cross-examine witnesses and challenge evidence introduced to the court,
- Have an attorney represent you in the hearing.
While the court won't require that you have an attorney, it can be challenging to navigate a formal hearing by yourself. While the hearing may be slightly less formal than a criminal trial, the court will conduct the hearing according to its rules and the rules of evidence. As a result, having an attorney present gives you the best chance of success.
The judge will enter the FRO only if they find that:
- The parties have a qualifying domestic relationship such as a current or former marriage, dating relationship, or have a child together,
- The defendant committed an act of domestic violence such as stalking, harassment, kidnapping, assault, or other crime that threatens or causes injury, and
- The TRO is necessary to protect the plaintiff from further instances of domestic violence.
The FRO can contain many restrictions against the defendant and order the defendant to continue meeting certain obligations. Some common FRO terms include those that:
- Prohibit contact or harassment between the plaintiff and the defendant.
- Grant temporary custody of any children.
- Order the defendant to pay support, including rent, mortgages, and other financial obligations.
- Protect the plaintiff from violence.
- Prevent the defendant from owning or possessing firearms.
- Order the defendant into counseling, anger management, or group or individual therapy.
The judge's FRO may also order the defendant to leave the home shared with the plaintiff, even if the defendant owns the home or pays the rent. The judge may also order the defendant to continue meeting financial obligations like the mortgage, car payments, insurance, and the like.
Once the court order the FRO, the police will take your photograph and fingerprint you to enter the information into the state's domestic violence registry. The court will also order you to pay a $500 fine. Once the judge enters the FRO, New Jersey law prohibits you from owning, possessing, or buying a gun.
Having a FRO entered against you can also affect any pending child custody dispute you have. You could very well lose custody of your children or have visitation restricted. If you are facing a FRO hearing, you need an experienced family law attorney by your side.
Hire an Experienced Morris County Family Lawyer
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are experienced in both family and criminal law and work hard to protect his clients' rights in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can fight for you. Call us today at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation.