If you're facing a restraining order in Bergen County, you're probably concerned about what will happen next but also worried that this can affect custody and visitation of your children. And there is cause for concern. While a New Jersey “restraining order” can help protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers, it can also impact child custody. Both temporary and final restraining orders can provide a court order to prevent an abuser from contacting a victim, temporary custody of children, and financial support. However, if a current or former partner unjustly accuses you of domestic violence, the restraining order process can alter your child custody and visitation arrangements permanently. That's why it's so important to have an attorney experienced in handling restraining order litigation by your side.
What is a Restraining Order?
A New Jersey restraining order allows the courts to protect victims of domestic violence with court orders created by New Jersey's 1982 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. See N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. One of these restraining orders, whether temporary or final, may prevent you from contacting or coming near another person while it's in force. In some cases, a restraining order can also prevent you from contacting your children.
New Jersey law provides for two types of restraining orders, both temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A final restraining order is permanent, remaining in force until one of you asks the court to lift or modify the order and the court agrees to do so. Both TROs and FROs may award temporary child custody, order you to pay financial support to your current or former significant other and your children, and keep you from contacting or approaching the plaintiff and your children.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Bergen County?
In Bergen County, custody and restraining order hearings happen in the Family Division and are handled by the domestic violence unit in the Bergen County municipal court building. The office is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Bergen County Superior Court (Family Division)
Bergen County Justice Center
10 Main Street
Hackensack, NJ 07601
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Bergen County?
When your ex-partner applies for a restraining order in Bergen County, the judge will first conduct an ex parte hearing to evaluate the application. In an ex parte hearing, only one party – the petitioner – is present. If the judge decides to issue a TRO, it will remain until the final hearing, typically about ten days.
During the final restraining order hearing, both parties will have the chance to tell their side of the story by presenting evidence and witness testimony. The FRO hearing is a formal court hearing, and both sides must follow the rules of evidence, which can be difficult to do without an experienced legal advocate. So, it's essential to have a skilled lawyer representing you during the hearing.
Can I Still See My Children if a Restraining Order is in Place?
A New Jersey restraining order can contain provisions that award temporary custody to one parent. The order can also affect visitation arrangements and financial support. In some cases, a TRO will prevent you from seeing your kids until the final hearing is resolved. During the final hearing, the judge may again modify custody or visitation. In some cases, if the judge finds that you committed acts of domestic violence, they may order supervised visitation or permanently remove custody and visitation.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a FRO Hearing?
New Jersey courts don't restrict visitation rights lightly. When evaluating visitation and custody during a FRO hearing, the court will ask:
- Did the defendant direct the act of domestic violence at the child, parent, or both?
- Is the defendant still a threat to the parent or child?
- Does the defendant have a history of violence or domestic violence?
- Did the domestic violence occur multiple times?
- Does the defendant have a criminal record or pending criminal charge?
- What is the nature of any injuries inflicted because of domestic violence?
The court will also consider the testimony of police officers and any witnesses during the FRO.
If you have custody issues pending in family court, the family court will consider whether a FRO is in place and the circumstances leading to the restraining order. Overall, the family court evaluates the child's best interests, including a history of domestic violence, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, the relationship of each child with the parents, and the fitness of each parent. See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A(2016).
What Happens if I Violate a FRO in Bergen County?
Violating a FRO in New Jersey is a serious criminal matter. It is criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Even what seems like a minor violation, such as texting your accuser or a “like” on Facebook, can result in your arrest. Violating a FRO a second time can land you in jail for 30 days. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order in Bergen County?
Violating any financial or custody provisions of your FRO isn't a criminal offense, but it's still not a good idea to do it intentionally. Violating a court order can affect your permanent custody and visitation determination by the family court. But to enforce the provisions of a FRO regarding custody and visitation, one of the parties will need to file an action in family court.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
If you lose custody due to a restraining order, it is possible to regain custody later. However, FROs don't typically expire in New Jersey. Final restraining orders remain in place until one of the parties asks the court to lift or modify the order. If you ask for a modification of the order, the court will hold another hearing to determine whether it's still necessary to keep the order in place to prevent further domestic violence. Your best chance to get custody back or modify a restraining order is with an attorney skilled in restraining order litigation.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you're facing a restraining order and are concerned about custody, you need a skilled New Jersey lawyer guiding you through the process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has been helping Bergen County families navigate restraining orders and custody disputes for many years. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.