In New Jersey, court-ordered restraining orders can help protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. A restraining order can protect victims, provide temporary custody and visitation, and provide financial support for a child or former partner. But if you're facing an unjust accusation of domestic violence, the entire restraining order process can seem overwhelming and stacked against you. A decision in a restraining order hearing can also affect the custody of your children, making it essential to have an experienced New Jersey family law attorney representing you in court during the restraining order process.
What is a Restraining Order?
In 1982, the New Jersey legislature passed a law known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. The law allows victims of domestic violence or certain other crimes to obtain a restraining order against an abuser. The restraining order can prevent an abuser from contacting the victim and award temporary financial support, custody, and visitation. But in some cases, having a FRO against you can permanently affect your custody and visitation rights.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Hudson County?
In Hudson County, restraining order hearings happen in Hudson County Superior Court. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Hudson County Superior Court
595 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
Custody matters happen in the Family Division in the Hudson County Vicinage Court.
William Brennan Courthouse
583 Newark Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07306
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Hudson County?
When someone applies for a restraining order against you in Hudson County, the first hearing with a judge will be ex parte, meaning the court won't notify you of the hearing, and you don't have the right to be present. If the judge decides to issue an order after the ex parte hearing, it will only remain in place for about ten days until the final hearing.
You do have the right to be present at the final restraining order hearing, and the police will serve you with notice of the hearing and the temporary restraining order. Both you and the plaintiff will have the chance to tell your story and present evidence and witnesses to the court. However, this hearing is a formal court proceeding and will be challenging to navigate without legal training. That's why it's important to have an attorney representing you in court.
Can I Still See My Kids with a Restraining Order in Place?
You may be able to continue to see your children with a restraining order in place, depending on the details of the order issued by the judge. The judge may include provisions to determine temporary custody and visitation in the temporary restraining order. In some cases, the TRO may prevent you from seeing your children until the full hearing.
During the final restraining order hearing, the judge may again make decisions about temporary custody and visitation. If the judge finds you responsible for domestic violence against your children or your ex-partner, the FRO may order only supervised visitation or award sole custody to your ex-partner.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before deciding to remove your visitation or custody rights during a FRO hearing, the court will look at several factors, including:
- Did the defendant direct the act of domestic violence at the child or parent?
- Is the defendant still a threat to the parent or child?
- Does the defendant have a history of violence or domestic violence?
- Has domestic violence happened more than once?
- Does the defendant have pending criminal charges or a record?
- Were there any injuries as a result of the domestic violence?
The court will also consider the testimony of police officers or any other witnesses during the FRO hearing.
Custody provisions in a FRO hearing are usually temporary. However, the family court will also consider the FRO against you when deciding custody or visitation. The judge will determine the arrangement in the child's best interest, evaluating many factors affecting the child, the parents, and the home environment. The court will look at:
- Any drug or alcohol use
- Whether there is a history of domestic violence
- Any mental illness
- What the child's relationship is with each parent
- The stability of each home
- Whether each parent is fit
See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016). The family court will also consider any findings of violence in the FRO hearing.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
Violation of the no-contact provisions in a restraining order is criminal contempt of a court order and a criminal offense under New Jersey law. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. A second violation of a FRO can get you 30 days in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30. Even what may seem like minor violations like a text message can end with your arrest. Violating a FRO and getting arrested can affect your custody rights.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Violating the custody provisions of a FRO can also affect your future custody rights. While violating the custody or visitation provisions may not be a criminal offense, willfully violating a court order is never a good idea. It could affect the family court's permanent custody and visitation decisions and prevent you from seeing your kids in the future.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
In some cases, you may be able to regain custody and visitation rights after a court issues a FRO against you. However, FROs in New Jersey don't typically expire. They remain in place until one or both parties ask the court to lift or modify the order. The court will then conduct another hearing to determine if there is still a need for the FRO to prevent future acts of violence. Your best chance of lifting a FRO or modifying a custody order after a FRO is with a skilled New Jersey family attorney with experience in handling restraining order litigation and appeals.
Hire an Experienced Restraining Order Lawyer
When you're facing a final restraining order hearing combined with custody or visitation issues, you need to bring in professionals. You need an attorney experienced in family law and restraining orders representing you in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Hudson County families through custody and restraining order issues. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.