In New Jersey, “restraining orders” help protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. Victims of domestic violence can seek a restraining order from the court to prevent an abuser from contacting them, provide temporary custody of children, and order the abuser to provide financial support. But if you're unjustly accused of domestic violence by a current or former partner, the restraining order process can affect your child custody and visitation permanently. That's why it's essential to have a New Jersey family law attorney by your side during this process.
What is a Restraining Order?
In New Jersey, a restraining order can protect victims of domestic violence and certain other crimes with restraining orders under New Jersey's 1982 law known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. See N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. A court-ordered restraining order can prohibit you from contacting or coming near another person for a set period or permanently.
In New Jersey, there are two types of restraining orders, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A New Jersey FRO is permanent, and the order will remain in force until one of the parties asks the court to either lift the order or modify it. Both TROs and FROs can include provisions to protect the defendant, award temporary child custody, provide financial support to a significant other or child, and prohibit the defendant from contacting or harassing the plaintiff.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen?
In Atlantic County, custody and restraining order hearings happen in family court in the Atlantic County Civil Courts building. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Atlantic County Civil Courts Building
1201 Bacharach Blvd.
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Atlantic County?
When someone applies for a restraining order in Atlantic County, the judge will evaluate the application in an ex parte hearing, meaning only the plaintiff will be present. If the judge issues a temporary restraining order, it will only remain in place until the final hearing, in about ten days.
At the final hearing, both parties may present testimony and evidence to show their story. However, the FRO hearing is a formal court proceeding that must comply with court rules and the rules of evidence. That's why it's crucial to have a lawyer experienced in restraining order litigation by your side.
Can I Still See My Kids with a Restraining Order in Place?
Both temporary and final restraining orders in New Jersey can contain provisions providing for temporary custody and visitation of children and financial support for children. In some cases, a TRO may prevent you from seeing your children until the full hearing. During the final restraining order hearing, if the judge finds that you committed acts of domestic violence, the court may order only supervised visitation with your children. In some cases, the court may even temporarily or permanently remove your custody and visitation and order that you pay financial support as well.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
In deciding whether to remove or restrict a parent's visitation rights during a FRO hearing, the court will evaluate:
- Whether the defendant directed the act of domestic violence at the child, parent, or both
- Whether the defendant accused of domestic violence is still a threat to the parent or child
- Whether the defendant has a history of violence or domestic violence
- Whether the domestic violence occurred multiple times
- Whether the defendant has pending criminal charges or a record
- Any injuries that may have occurred because of the domestic violence
- The testimony of witnesses in the FRO, including police officers
While custody and visitation provisions of a FRO are often temporary, the family court will also consider the judge's findings from your FRO hearing when making or modifying a permanent custody or visitation determination. The family court will look at the child's best interests, making the child's safety a priority. To make this determination, the court will evaluate many factors, including any history of domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, the child's relationship with each parent, the stability of the home, and whether each parent is fit. But another court's findings of domestic violence from a FRO hearing will affect this custody and visitation decision. See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016).
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
If you violate the no-contact provisions of a New Jersey restraining order, it is criminal contempt of a court order, which is a criminal offense. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Even small restraining order violations like a text or email to the plaintiff can result in your arrest. If you violate an order a second time, you can end up in jail for 30 days. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Violating the custody or financial provisions of a FRO is a civil offense rather than criminal. One of the parties will need to file a petition in Atlantic County family court to enforce the order. However, willfully violating a court order regarding custody could affect the family court's permanent custody and visitation decisions.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
It is possible to regain custody or visitation after a court lifts a FRO. Final restraining orders, however, generally don't expire. Instead, one of the parties to the order will need to ask the court to lift or modify the FRO. Before lifting or modifying an order, the court will hold another hearing. Once again, the court will evaluate whether there is a need for restraints to prevent further acts of domestic violence. Your best chance of modifying or ending a FRO is with a criminal defense attorney well versed in family law issues by your side.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you're facing a custody dispute or a possible restraining order, you need an experienced New Jersey family law attorney by your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has been helping Atlantic County families through custody disputes and restraining order litigation for years. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.