When someone experiences domestic violence, they often ask the court to grant a restraining order (RO) against the alleged abuser. One such type of RO is a final restraining order (FRO) – here's how they work.
What Is a Restraining Order?
ROs are civil orders issued by courts. Courts will issue a RO to stop someone from behaving violently or threateningly towards someone they have a domestic relationship with. The types of behavior prohibited by ROs include:
- contacting the plaintiff
- exercising custody rights
- living in the family home (even if you pay the mortgage or rent on it)
Defendants may also be ordered to do certain things like making support payments to the plaintiff.
Applying for a RO
To apply for a restraining order in NJ, you must normally be in a qualifying domestic relationship with the defendant. This means you must be, for example, their parent, partner, spouse, or someone they have a child with.
You must also show that the order is necessary to protect you from acts of domestic violence, which include behaviors such as harassment, sexual assault, stalking, and false imprisonment.
ROs can be issued even if no criminal charges are pending – civil matters are separate from criminal matters.
What Is a Final Restraining Order?
There are two major types of ROs in NJ – temporary and final restraining orders.
Temporary restraining orders (TROs) are issued first and immediately protect individuals from their alleged abuser for a short period (around ten days) until a final hearing date is scheduled.
FROs are only issued after a hearing takes place in court before a judge. Unlike TROs, FROs are permanent – they last until the court terminates or changes the order.
The FRO Hearing
At the hearing, the judge considers the arguments put forward by the plaintiff and the defendant. If the judge finds that domestic violence took place and the defendant poses a danger to the plaintiff, they will extend the TRO or issue a FRO.
On the other hand, if the judge is not convinced that there's sufficient evidence of domestic violence, the TRO ends, and no further action is taken.
It's crucial you put forward the best possible case at any final hearing – contact Joseph Lento for effective representation.
After a FRO Is Granted
When the court issues a final restraining order, it's effective immediately. This means the defendant may be prohibited from doing things like:
- being within a certain vicinity of the plaintiff
- contacting the plaintiff
- owning firearms
- returning to the family home
- seeing your children
If you're the defendant, you must ensure you understand what actions are prohibited – otherwise, you risk accidentally violating the order.
Having a FRO issued against you is an extremely stressful experience. You need a knowledgeable restraining order attorney at your side to represent your interests and ensure you understand your appeal rights.
FROs and Your Criminal Record
A FRO will not show up on your criminal record since it's a civil rather than criminal matter. However, your details will be added to the Domestic Violence Central Registry, which the public can access.
Consequences of Violating a FRO
Although a FRO is a civil document, you could be charged with criminal contempt if you deliberately violate the order, and police can arrest you without a warrant.
- Criminal contempt charges could result in jail time or monetary fines.
- If there's a serious violation – e.g., if the defendant assaults or harasses the plaintiff – they may face additional criminal charges leading to steeper fines or additional jail time.
- Harsher penalties apply if someone breaches a FRO more than once, especially if it's a significant breach.
What counts as a FRO violation? It all depends on what the order says. For example, if you're prohibited from contacting the plaintiff, then it's a violation to do something like call, email, or text the plaintiff for any reason. And if you must stay a certain distance away from the plaintiff's home, then you're violating the order if you approach the property.
To be convicted of contempt, the plaintiff must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly violated the order. An attorney can explain what defenses may be open to you, depending on the facts.
Dismissing or Changing a FRO
Even if the parties reconcile, the FRO actually remains in place unless one party applies to have the order dismissed or changed.
- Ending a FRO: The plaintiff can ask the court to end a FRO. The court will check there's no coercion involved before ending any order.
- Appealing a FRO: The defendant can appeal a FRO on the grounds that there's insufficient evidence to support the order or that the court made a mistake in granting a FRO.
- Changing a FRO: Either party can ask the court to reconsider certain provisions in the order. You must provide evidence to convince the court to amend the FRO.
Violating the order, even if you're now happily reconciled, is an offense. FRO violations can have serious consequences – always consult an attorney if you wish to change, appeal, or end a FRO.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help With Final Restraining Orders in NJ
If you need a restraining order, or you've been served with a FRO, and you don't know where to turn, you should contact the Lento Law Firm for help.
Joseph Lento is a highly experienced family law attorney who can walk you through the RO process and ensure you're fairly represented at every stage. From representing you at a final hearing to helping you complete the relevant paperwork, Joseph Lento has the knowledge to support you no matter whether you're the plaintiff or the defendant – call him on 888.535.3686 or tell him about your case online.