If you've sought or have been served with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), you're already experiencing a high-stakes situation. Likely, the ramifications of a TRO have already been explained by law enforcement officers or the New Jersey court system.
Whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in the matter, during the ten days between the issuance of a TRO and the Final Restraining Order (FRO) hearing, you must detail an immense amount of information regarding your past, current lifestyle, and financial obligations to various court staff. If you've retained the help of an attorney, they will be with you every step of the way. If you haven't, read the following guide detailing the process, then call Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to guide you through the proceedings.
Final Restraining Order Hearing Process
If the court system has issued a TRO and the plaintiff has not resolved the dispute, settled through civil restraints, or the state wishes to pursue charges, the matter will progress toward a FRO trial. All FRO proceedings will take place in the Family Division of the New Jersey Superior Court before a judge.
If the plaintiff fails to appear at the FRO hearing, court staff will contact the party, including a welfare check by law enforcement. If the plaintiff cannot appear for “good cause,” arrangements will be made for a remote appearance on the record.
Yet, the court may issue an Order of Dismissal if the following terms are met:
- The plaintiff was contacted.
- The presiding judge hears satisfying explanations from both parties that the plaintiff's failure to appear was not the result of “coercion or duress.”
- Other findings pursuant to the Order of Dismissal were made.
However, if the defendant fails to appear at the FRO hearing, the court will proceed with a determination. If the court finds the defendant has not been served, a short postponement will be granted, and another hearing is scheduled through a Continuance Order or an Amended TRO. If it's unlikely the defendant cannot be served within a “reasonable” period, the court can issue an indefinite TRO.
Nevertheless, if both parties are present at the FRO hearing, the Family Division court staff will meet will each party separately prior to the hearing to review and determine if the case is likely to be a contested trial or a dismissal. The court must also ensure the plaintiff was offered access to a Domestic Violence Advocate (DVA) before the hearing.
Both parties must complete an IV-D application before the hearing, and the court must be aware and have supporting documentation of the following:
- Confidential Victim Information Sheet (CVIS)
- Any dissolution or non-dissolution standing orders
- Family Division electronic case management system history of the parties and children
- Prior domestic violence
- Relevant financial history
Accordingly, the plaintiff will present testimony, call witnesses, provide evidence, and be subject to cross-examination. The same due process rights are afforded to the defendant. The New Jersey Domestic Violence Procedures Manual states the court will consider the following factors:
- Immediate danger to person or property
- Financial circumstances of both parties
- Interests of children
- Previous domestic violence between the parties, including abuse, harassment, and threats
The defendant must provide the court with a factual basis for the plaintiff's admission of the alleged act of domestic violence. During the hearing, if the defendant alleges that the plaintiff committed an act of domestic violence, the defendant will be instructed to file a separate complaint. Only if the defendant files for and thus granted a restraining order can restrictions be placed against the plaintiff in the original complaint.
Sanctions and Post-Hearing Requirements
Once the judge hears arguments from both sides, the standard for proving the plaintiff's allegations is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning the judge is more than 50 percent convinced of the plaintiff's argument for a restraining order.
The following may be considered as sanctions:
- Permanent order restraining the defendant from subjecting the plaintiff to domestic violence
- Granting exclusive possession of a residence to the plaintiff
- Banning the defendant from entering the plaintiff's residence, property, school, or place of employment
- No-contact directives
- Required psychiatric evaluation
- Prohibiting the defendant from possessing any firearms or weapons
- Forfeiture of primary caregiver of minor children or dependents
- Monetary relief to the plaintiff
- An order requiring that law enforcement officers must accompany either party to a location to supervise the removal of personal belongings within a specific time
Defendants will also be fingerprinted via Live Scan when served with a FRO. Each New Jersey county will have a procedure to direct defendants to the police station to complete the fingerprint process, starting with the Fingerprinting Requirements Notice.
Furthermore, along with the defendant's fingerprints, their photograph will be filed in the state's Domestic Violence Central Registry. Although New Jersey's court website does not allow online access to the database, the registry is public information, and many online services will search it for a fee.
FRO Dismissals, Withdrawals, and Reopenings
Plaintiffs may seek to withdraw a TRO before entry into a FRO and don't have to wait until the final hearing to request a dismissal. As long as the DVA determines the plaintiff is not coerced, a judge will assess a Dissolution of Restraining Order to enter into a Certification to Dismiss.
The court may not initiate using “civil restraints” in domestic violence cases. Still, a plaintiff can move to dismiss a TRO at a FRO hearing through a civil agreement with the defendant through a consent order or a private arrangement. Notably, a defendant named in the provisions of civil restraints cannot be arrested for violating them. When the civil restraints are part of a court order, the judge must question each party regarding its admission, including their understanding of its contents, voluntariness, and intent to abide by the terms.
The defendant may request a FRO dismissal via a Notice of Motion accompanied by a brief and supporting documentation outlining “good cause shown.” Unless the defendant's claims are substantiated, the court cannot hold a hearing for dismissal unless the plaintiff is given notice and an opportunity to be heard.
The court shall consider the following as part of their determination:
- Age and health of the defendant
- Completion of court-ordered counseling
- Previous domestic violence allegations
- Involvement in drug or alcohol abuse
- Plaintiff consent
- Nature of the relationship between the parties
- Any other factors the court deems appropriate to assess whether the FRO should be modified or dissolved
Plaintiff requests to reopen a dismissed TRO or FRO require a motion for reconsideration. Reinstating the TRO or FRO does not immediately activate the order unless both parties are notified. The court will review the matter, conduct a hearing, make a determination, and then reinstate the order.
When a plaintiff seeks to reopen a dismissed or withdrawn TRO or FRO because of allegations against the defendant that placed the plaintiff in fear, the court will engage a new complaint. Still, the original claims of violence will be listed in the motion.
How Can Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Help You?
Regardless of whether you're a plaintiff or defendant, a FRO trial is a serious undertaking. You may believe you can withstand the amount of documentation required to prove your side and understand how the process works, but the other party's attorney knows the nuances of the law and can use it to provide a better result for their client.
Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm recognize the emotional toll this process can take on someone. They team their knowledge and experience with passion and empathy for their clients to uphold their rights and ensure a clear path toward relief. When domestic violence arises and you're involved, take the situation seriously and call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 for assistance or visit the confidential online consultation form. Your future depends on it.