If the court is convinced that an individual is at risk of doing harm to another, they can issue a restraining order to keep them apart. Sometimes a court will restrict a parent's ability to see their children, spouse, or partner. In situations where there are allegations of domestic violence, courts in New Jersey are authorized to address custody issues and issue restraining orders against those who are alleged to cause or threaten harm. These orders can have a significant effect on a parent's ability to see their child or children. If you have a custody or restraining order issue, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
What is a Custody Order?
A custody order is a document that is signed by a Superior Court judge that states what the custody arrangement is between parents of a child if the parents are not together. If there is a custody dispute, the court will use the facts and circumstances of the case in conjunction with New Jersey law to determine what is the best custody arrangement for the child or children in question. This order can be changed by the court if there are allegations of domestic violence.
What Law Applies to Custody Cases in Mercer County?
The state of New Jersey has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) to determine the appropriate jurisdiction. If your case is in between two states, then the UCCJEA applies and will be used to determine which court should hear the case.
If there is an existing custody arrangement in place and there is an accusation of domestic violence, the court will look at several factors to determine if custody should be changed. These factors include:
- Whether the alleged violence was directed towards a parent, child, or both;
- Whether the alleged aggressor still poses an imminent threat;
- Whether the alleged aggressor has a criminal past or is currently facing a criminal charge;
- The amount of times violence has been alleged;
- Whether there were any injuries; and
- The testimony of any witnesses.
Depending on the information considered by the court, a custody arrangement can be changed, limited, or even revoked in some cases. A judge can also order the alleged aggressor in a case to attend anger management classes as well as other rehabilitation measures. If it is shown that a false allegation was made, then the court can use that information in determining whether custody should be changed regarding the individual that made the false claim.
What is a Restraining Order?
A restraining order is an order of protection that is granted by the court to keep threatening and harmful individuals away from others. If someone alleges that they are a victim of domestic violence, then they can petition the court for a restraining order to aid in their safety. The proper court where a restraining order should be filed is in the county where the alleged victim lives. If you are a victim of domestic violence in Mercer County, New Jersey, then you would file your restraining order petition in the Mercer County Superior Court. In that petition, you will be required to specifically state what happened and describe it in detail. Restraining orders can be issued when there are allegations of assault, harassment, stalking, sexual assault, threats, kidnapping, or false imprisonment. If there are any allegations of prior acts of domestic violence, then those must be discussed as well.
What Types of Restraining Orders Exist?
In New Jersey, there are two main types of restraining orders: Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs). The first type of restraining order that might be granted by a judge is a TRO. To get a TRO, a complainant will first need to file a complaint for a restraining order with the court or with a local police station if it is after court hours. The complainant will then need to go before a judge, where the judge will determine if a TRO is necessary to protect the complainant. If the TRO is granted, then the local police department or county sheriff will serve the individual with the TRO. This then sets the stage for a FRO hearing. Once a TRO is issued, the court will typically set a FRO hearing within 10 days. If the court determines that a FRO is warranted, then one will be issued. It is important to know that a FRO does not expire and will only be removed when dissolved by the court.
Can a Restraining Order Affect My Ability to See My Kids?
Yes, it can. A Restraining Order has the power to award temporary custody of any kids in common to the plaintiff. The order can dictate visitation terms and can even prevent you from having contact with your kids. Even though the immediate purpose of a restraining order is for safety, it can also determine custody for both a short- and long-term period.
If a court grants a TRO against you, then you will likely have a hearing within ten days to determine if the restraining order should be made permanent. If it is made permanent, then the custody orders in the FRO will remain until a custody hearing takes place.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Restraining Order?
While TROs and FROs are civil orders, any violation is a criminal contempt offense. If you are alleged to violate either a TRO or FRO, then the law requires that you be arrested, even if the allegation turns out to be false. If you violate a FRO, then that is considered an act of criminal contempt which can result in a disorderly persons offense which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If you violate a FRO twice, then you can be ordered to serve a mandatory 30 days in jail. A FRO violation can also result in a fourth-degree felony charge if an act of domestic violence is also alleged. A conviction for a fourth-degree felony can result in up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Where Can I Get a Custody or Restraining Order?
If your child lives in Mercer County and you are looking for a custody order, then you will likely need to file your case in Mercer County Superior Court. You will also need to file in this court if you are a Mercer County resident and you are looking for a temporary or permanent restraining order because of an allegation of violence or the threat of violence.
The Mercer County Superior Court is located at:
175 South Broad Street
Trenton, NJ, 08650
The court accepts complaints for restraining orders from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from Monday-Friday.
It is highly recommended that you have legal assistance if you are dealing with a custody or restraining order issue.
Can I Have a Custody or Restraining Order Cancelled?
When custody or restraining orders are issued by the court, they are deemed permanent unless otherwise specified. The only way to modify or cancel a custody order or restraining order is by appeal or motion for reconsideration to the court. If you are planning to have one of these orders modified or canceled, then you will have to demonstrate to the court why the change should be made and will need to satisfy the court that it is safe to modify or eliminate the prior order. Even if the parties decide to reconcile and get back together, the prior orders will remain in effect until they are changed by a judge.
If you plan to seek an appeal of a custody or restraining order decision, then your case will be sent to the appropriate appellate court where the transcripts of your case will be reviewed, and a determination will be made if the Superior Court judge followed the law correctly when deciding the outcome of your custody or restraining order hearing. If you plan to file a motion for reconsideration of a custody or restraining order decision, then you must file your motion within 20 days of the issuance of the FRO you are contesting. If you have legal questions, then call us at The Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about custody or restraining orders, then it is important that you have an experienced attorney on your side. It is important to know what the Mercer County Court is looking for when determining whether to grant a custody or restraining order. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help put you in the best position for success. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.