You've just been through the most traumatic experience of your life. Your spouse, partner, or live-in relative, someone you love, has turned violent toward you. Maybe they've injured you; perhaps they've threatened your child. Perhaps it's not the first time—maybe a cycle of abuse is beginning, and you fear for your life. You don't know what to do or who to turn to. And you need protection now more than ever before. Fortunately, the State of New Jersey has robust restraining order laws that are designed to afford urgently needed protection for victims of domestic violence.
The Lento Law Firm has put together the following guide to help domestic violence victims understand the step-by-step process of obtaining a restraining order in New Jersey. We'll talk about who can file a restraining order, where and how to submit the application, what a restraining order is for (and what it is not for), and the process you'll go through to get both emergency and lasting protection.
Who Can File a Restraining Order in New Jersey?
Restraining orders exist to offer protection for any person over age 18 who has been, or is being, subjected to domestic violence. By definition, domestic violence is an act of violence or threatening by someone with whom you have an intimate, familial, or live-in relationship. Specifically, you can obtain a restraining order against any of the following:
- A spouse or ex-spouse (includes same-sex relationships)
- A domestic partner
- A current or former household member (e.g., live-in relative or roommate)
- Someone you're dating or have dated
- Someone with whom you share a biological child (or are expecting one
By comparison, you would NOT be able to file a restraining order against a neighbor or coworker who is stalking you (unless you had a prior intimate relationship). New Jersey offers other forms of protection in those instances. Restraining orders are designated for intimate/familial relationships where domestic violence may occur.
Where and How to Submit an Application for a Restraining Order
Your first step in getting restraining order protection is to apply for a Temporary Restraining order or TRO. To do so, you would apply in person at the Superior Courthouse (Family Division) in the county where you live, the county where your alleged abuser resides, or the county in which the abuse happened. If you need emergency protection after courthouse hours, you can file at your local municipal courthouse or call the police to have them reach out to the judge on call to issue the order.
When issued, the TRO goes into effect immediately, and your abuser will be served with paperwork advising them of such. The TRO remains in effect for up to ten days, pending a court hearing at which you will both be invited to appear.
What Information to Include When Filing for a TRO
When you come to the courthouse to fill out your application, be sure to bring a valid photo ID. Also, the more information you can provide regarding your abuser (e.g., their address, workplace, contact info, vehicle description, gun registration, etc.), the more easily your TRO can be processed.
When filling out the application, you'll be asked to provide the following information as to why you're requesting the state's protection:
- Your relationship to the abuser
- A detailed description of the abuse. Describe the event(s) in detail, and be as specific as your memory allows, including how you were struck (e.g., slapping, choking, etc.), what exactly was said, and so on. Be sure to include any physical evidence (e.g., photos, police reports, hospital records) if you have them.
- What you fear will happen if no restraining order is issued. Again, be specific, and include mention of any threats the abuser has made toward you.
What Happens After You Submit Your Application
After filling out your application, you'll need to sign the forms, possibly in the presence of a court clerk or notary. The presiding judge or judge on call will then review the application, and if your situation fits the criteria for domestic violence and a credible threat, the judge will issue the TRO affording you immediate protection. The judge will then schedule a formal hearing within ten days to which you and your alleged abuser may bring attorneys, evidence, witnesses, etc.
If you're granted the restraining order, your abuser must comply with its terms or face possible criminal penalties. If they violate the order, you can contact the police and file a complaint.
What Happens at the Hearing
The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the TRO should be converted into a Final Restraining Order (FRO). You or your attorney will have an opportunity to tell your story and present any applicable evidence, and your alleged abuser (and/or their attorney) will be allowed to offer a defense. The judge will then decide whether there are sufficient grounds to finalize the restraining order.
Final Restraining Order
In New Jersey, finalized restraining orders have no expiration date. Once the FRO is issued, it goes into effect permanently and cannot be removed unless a judge issues a separate order rescinding it. If you have a change of heart or believe your abuser is no longer a threat, you can petition the court yourself to rescind the FRO. Your abuser may also petition the court if they can provide clear evidence as to why the restraining order should be lifted. However, once the FRO is in place, you both need to abide by its terms. If you change your mind and decide to allow contact with the abuser, they could be arrested and charged with contempt for violating the order unless you have it rescinded first.
Restraining Order Attorney in New Jersey
To ensure your request for a restraining order is successful, it's best to have a good family attorney involved to help you navigate the process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have extensive experience with restraining orders in New Jersey. Call 888-535-3686 to learn more about how we can help.