If you're facing a restraining order in Cumberland County, you're no doubt concerned about the process and what will happen next, but also how this may affect custody and visitation issues for your kids. While a restraining order can be a valuable tool to help the courts protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers, if someone unjustly accuses you of abuse in this process, it can feel like the courts are stacked against you. That's why it's necessary to have a skilled New Jersey family lawyer with experience in restraining order litigation representing you through the restraining order process.
What is a Restraining Order?
New Jersey's 1982 law, known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, created a process for victims of domestic violence to apply for a restraining
order to protect them from their abusers. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. This court-ordered document can prohibit accused abusers from contacting or approaching their alleged victim and sometimes even their children.
The New Jersey law allows for two restraining orders, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A FRO is a permanent court order that remains in place until one of the parties requests that the court lift or modify the order. The court may include provisions to award custody and visitation, financial support, and protect a victim of domestic violence from contact or harassment from their abuser.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Cumberland County?
In Cumberland County, custody and restraining order hearings happen in the Family Division in Cumberland County Superior Court. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Cumberland County Courthouse
60 West Broad Street
Bridgeton, NJ 08302
856-878-5050 ext. 15720
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Cumberland County?
If someone applies for a restraining order against you in Cumberland County, a judge will evaluate the application in an ex parte hearing. An ex parte hearing involves the judge and only the applicant of the restraining order. The court won't notify you of the hearing, and you don't have the right to attend. If the judge issues the order, it will be temporary and only remain in place for about ten days until the final hearing.
Both you and the applicant can present witnesses and evidence to support your case during the final hearing. But the FRO hearing is a formal court proceeding, and both parties must comply with court rules and the rules of evidence. As a result, it's a good idea to have an experienced restraining order litigator with you in the courtroom.
Can I Still See My Children with a Restraining Order in Place?
You may be able to see your children, depending on the terms of the restraining order. The judge can award temporary custody and visitation in the terms of a FRO. But if the judge finds that you committed an act of domestic violence, depending on the severity, the FRO may temporarily or permanently prevent you from seeing your children.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before removing custody or visitation from a parent in a FRO hearing, the judge will examine:
- Whether the defendant accused of domestic violence is still a threat to the parent or child
- If the defendant directed the act of domestic violence at the child, parent, or both
- If either party has a history of violence or domestic violence
- How often the domestic violence occurred
- If there are any pending criminal charges or if the defendant has a record
- Any injuries from domestic violence
- The testimony of police officers and other witnesses in the hearing
The custody and visitation provisions of a restraining order are typically temporary. But in a pending custody action in family court, the family court will also look at the judge's findings from your FRO hearing. Ultimately, the family court must determine the child's best interests, making their safety a priority. To determine the child's best interests, the court looks at many factors, including:
- Any history of alcohol or drug abuse
- Any history of domestic violence
- Any history of other violence
- Mental illness
- The fitness of both parents
- The child's relationship with each parent
What Happens if I Violate a Final Restraining Order?
Violating the no-contact provisions of a New Jersey FRO is a criminal offense and criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Even minor violations of the FRO, such as a comment or message on social media, can result in your arrest. Moreover, with a second violation, 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?
It's never a good idea to willfully violate any part of a final restraining order. However, violations of the custody and financial provisions of the FRO aren't criminal but are civil in nature. To enforce the order, one of you will need to take action in Cumberland County family court. But violating the custody or visitation provisions of a FRO could affect future decisions in the family court.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
You may be able to get custody back after the issues the FRO or after a court lifts a FRO. However, final restraining orders in New Jersey don't expire. One of the parties will need to ask the court to modify or remove the order to get the FRO lifted. Before lifting the order, the court will hold a hearing and once again evaluate whether the order is needed to prevent further acts of domestic violence. You have the best shot at getting custody back and lifting the FRO with an experienced attorney.
Hire an Experienced Restraining Order Attorney
When you're facing a restraining order with a possible custody dispute, you need a skilled attorney experienced in family law, criminal law, and restraining order litigation to guide you through the process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Cumberland County families through the restraining order process and custody and visitation disputes. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.