In the state of New Jersey, victims of domestic violence and abuse can seek legal protection from their abusers by filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO). A TRO legally forces your abuser to stay away from you, avoid contacting you, and give up their firearms. When you are in a dire situation, getting a TRO could be the lifeline you need. It's vital that you know exactly how the process works and the steps you need to take to obtain a TRO in New Jersey.
The TRO Process in New Jersey
To get a TRO in New Jersey, you have to go through four steps:
- Go to the courthouse or police station and obtain the TRO forms.
- Fill out the forms.
- Wait for a judge to review your complaint and grant your TRO.
- Attend a court hearing ten days later.
We'll cover each of these steps in more detail, as well as frequently asked questions about TROs in New Jersey in the rest of this guide.
Who Can I Get a Restraining Order Against?
If you want to get a restraining order against someone in New Jersey, you must be what's considered a “protected party.” In other words, you must have a qualifying relationship with the person you want the TRO against.
You may only get a TRO against someone who:
- You are or were married to
- You are or were in a dating or intimate relationship with
- You have a child in common with
- You live with or used to live with
If any of these apply to you, you can seek protection under the Domestic Violence Act and have legitimate grounds to apply for a TRO. When you apply for a TRO, you are known as the “plaintiff,” and the accused is the “defendant.” Read our guide to who can get a TRO in New Jersey for more details.
Is It Easy to Get a TRO?
Getting a TRO is fairly easy. In most circumstances, all it takes is going to the courthouse and filling out some paperwork. Judges tend to err on the side of the plaintiff to prevent possible further violence from taking place.
To get a TRO, you must prove that an act of domestic violence occurred. Read this list of domestic violence crimes to see what constitutes domestic violence in the state of New Jersey. When you fill out a form to apply for a TRO, you can describe when, where, and how the abuse or threats occurred and provide as many details as necessary.
While a TRO is relatively easy to obtain, final restraining orders (FROs) are less so. If you want protection from this person on a long-term basis, it would be wise to work with an attorney after getting your TRO. They can help you build your case for the FRO hearing.
Where to Go to File for a TRO
You can request a TRO in one of three ways:
- Call 911 if it's an emergency. The emergency operator can contact a judge who is on duty to issue you an ex parte TRO. This TRO expires as soon as the courthouse opens again, and you will have to go to the courthouse to get another TRO.
- Go to the courthouse during business hours. Go to the Family Division Office of the Superior Court in the county where you live, are staying, where the domestic violence occurred, or where the assailant lives. Here is a list of phone numbers for the Family Division in each county in New Jersey, with extension numbers to connect you to TRO resources.
- Go to your local police station outside of business hours. When the courthouse is closed, go to the police department where you live, where the domestic violence happened, or where the other person lives to file for a TRO.
The above options are for filing for a civil TRO only. If you also want to file a criminal complaint, you must go to the municipal court or the police department where the domestic violence occurred.
How to Fill Out a TRO Form
A staff member from the Family Division Office will assist you with filling out your TRO form, but they can't give you legal advice. You should know what to expect on the form before you go to the courthouse so you can gather the proper information.
It helps to have as much information about the defendant as possible. The more the courthouse has to go on, the easier it will be to find the defendant and serve them the TRO. The form may ask for the following information about the defendant:
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Home address
- Home or cell phone number
- Employer and work address
- Work phone number
- Sex (male or female)
- Hair color
- Eye color
- Distinguishing features like scars, facial hair, or tattoos
- Prior history of domestic violence
- Car description and plate number
- History of drug use or gun ownership
You may also have to provide information about your children if you want them protected by the TRO as well. Be sure to bring your photo ID with you to the courthouse as well.
Remember to read the form carefully and provide as much description of the domestic violence event as possible. If you have any questions or if something on the form is unclear, ask a staff member for assistance.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a TRO in New Jersey?
You do not need a lawyer to file for a TRO. You do not need one to attend the FRO hearing, either. You may hire one if you choose, however, and it's recommended that you do. You will have to present your arguments before a judge at the FRO hearing proving that you need legally enforceable protection from the defendant. If you aren't familiar with the process of gathering evidence or presenting your case, it could be a difficult thing to prove. Also, keep in mind that the defendant is allowed to have a lawyer at the FRO hearing as well. Hiring an experienced attorney can help increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
What Happens After I Fill Out My TRO Form?
Once you are done filling out your TRO form, you will go before a hearing officer or judge. They will listen to you explain why you want a TRO and review the form you filled out, then decide whether to give you one. If you apply for a TRO at a police station, the police officer will contact a judge who will decide whether to grant you a TRO.
When you go to the courthouse or police station to file for a TRO and go before a judge to make your case for one, the defendant will not be present. The judge does not need to hear the opposing party's side of the story to grant you a TRO.
If the court grants you a TRO, you will receive a copy of it. The court will also send a copy to the police, who are responsible for serving the TRO to the defendant.
How Long Before I Have Protection?
A TRO goes into effect as soon as a judge enters it. That means you will have legal protection right away. The police must serve the defendant with the TRO and notify them of the date of the final hearing, which is usually ten days after you file for the TRO. While the TRO is in force, the defendant cannot come near you and, if you live together, must vacate the premises, even if they own the home. The police will also confiscate all of the defendant's firearms.
What Should I Do in the Days After Filing for a TRO?
In the days after filing for a TRO, you should prepare for your FRO hearing. The hearing will most likely take place in the same county where the TRO was filed. On your TRO paperwork, it should say when and where the hearing takes place. Note that the defendant may request a hearing sooner than ten days, and if they do, the court must contact you.
Which Court Handles a TRO?
In New Jersey, a TRO is a civil matter which the family court presides over. Throughout the process, the Family Division of the Superior Court in the county in which you file your TRO is the court that handles the process. If the defendant violates the terms of the TRO, they can be arrested, however, and charged with a crime. If the defendant follows the TRO's conditions, they cannot be arrested, and the matter remains within the family court.
You can also decide to file criminal charges against your abuser for domestic violence, in addition to getting a TRO. In this situation, the TRO case and the criminal charges would be handled separately by different courts.
What to Do if the Defendant Violates the TRO
It's important that you read all the restrictions in the TRO so that you know when the defendant has violated them. Each TRO may differ slightly based on the plaintiff's situation, so knowing what the defendant may or may not do is imperative. If the defendant has already been served the TRO and knows of its existence, they can be arrested for violating it. Violations might include:
- Showing up at your home, work, or school
- Attempting to contact you directly or sending a third party to contact you indirectly
- Showing up at your child's home, work, or school if the child is protected under the TRO as well
When you know that the defendant has violated the TRO, you should contact the police immediately and provide as many details as you can about the violation. In this situation, it helps to have an attorney working with you on your TRO case. They'll be able to know for certain if a defendant has violated the restraining order and can help you prepare an action plan in advance in case it happens. An experienced restraining order lawyer is a good person to have on your side when you are dealing with a TRO.
How to Prepare for the Hearing and What to Expect
The hearing will most likely be run like a trial. Both you and the defendant will have a chance to present arguments in your own favor. You will both be able to present evidence and ask third parties to come to the court to testify on your behalf as well. FRO hearings usually proceed in the following manner:
- Information-gathering stage: A court staffer will determine the outcome you're seeking.
- Paperwork completion: Sometimes, filling out more paperwork is necessary, like if you're proposing that the defendant provide financial support.
- Testimonies: You, the defendant, and third parties will give testimonies. Note that any third parties must be permitted to appear by the court.
- Evidence: Both you and the defendant will be able to present your evidence.
- Oral arguments: Your attorney and the defendant's attorney will offer oral arguments to close out the hearing.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will make one of the following decisions:
- Grant an FRO, which is permanent
- Dismiss the TRO and not grant an FRO
- Prolong the TRO until the court reaches a decision on the FRO
An Experienced TRO Attorney in New Jersey
Seeking protection from abuse is a serious matter and one that you shouldn't try to tackle alone. As soon as you file for a TRO, you should consult with a restraining order lawyer to help you get through this difficult time and prepare for your FRO hearing.
Joseph D. Lento has helped countless victims of domestic violence find the protection and support they needed to escape abuse. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 and ask about how our experienced family law attorneys can offer you the guidance you need.