If you're facing a restraining order hearing in Hunterdon County, you're probably worried about what will happen next. If you have kids, you're undoubtedly concerned about how this will affect them and your custody and visitation. While restraining orders are a useful tool that helps protect victims of domestic violence under New Jersey law, if you're unjustly accused of abusing an ex-partner or your child, the entire process can feel like it's working against you. That's why it's so important to hire an experienced New Jersey attorney skilled in restraining order litigation and family law.
What is a Restraining Order?
In New Jersey, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act allows victims of domestic violence to obtain a restraining order to protect them against their abusers. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. If a court issues a restraining order against you, it can prevent you from contacting an ex-partner or family member or your children.
Under New Jersey law, there are two restraining orders, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A final restraining order is permanent, with the order remaining in place until one of the parties asks the court to lift or modify the order. However, both temporary and final orders may contain provisions protecting the plaintiff, providing temporary financial support for children and ex-partners, and award temporary custody and visitation.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Hunterdon County?
In Hunterdon County, restraining order and custody hearings happen in the Family Part of the Chancery Division in the Hunterdon County Superior Court. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Hunterdon County Superior Court
65 Park Avenue
Flemington, NJ 08822
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Hunterdon County?
If someone applies for a restraining order against you in Hunterdon County, the judge will review the application in an ex parte hearing, meaning only the plaintiff will be present. The court won't notify you of this first ex parte hearing, and you don't have the right to appear. If the judge issues a TRO, it will only remain in place about ten days until the final hearing.
You do have the right to appear at the final restraining order hearing. Both parties will have the chance to present testimony and evidence and tell their story. But this hearing is a formal court proceeding that can be difficult to navigate without legal training. It's essential to have an experienced New Jersey lawyer representing you in court to have the best chance of success
Can I still See My Kids with a Restraining Order in Place?
Depending on the terms of the FRO, you may be able to continue seeing your children with the restraining order in place. While both TROs and FROs may contain child custody and visitation provisions, they are usually temporary, leaving final decisions to the family court. However, in some cases, a TRO may prevent you from seeing your children until the court resolves the FRO hearing.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before restricting or removing your parental visitation or custody rights in a FRO hearing, the court will look at:
- Whether the defendant has a history of violence or domestic violence
- Whether the defendant directed the act of domestic violence at the child, parent, or both
- Whether the domestic violence occurred multiple times
- Whether the defendant accused of domestic violence is still a threat to the parent or child
- Whether the defendant has pending criminal charges or a record
- Any injuries that may have occurred because of the domestic violence
The court will also consider the testimony of witnesses in the FRO, including police officers.
The family court typically makes permanent custody and visitation decisions. However, the court will consider a FRO in place against you, including any domestic violence findings by the court. Overall, the family court will determine what is in the “best interests of the child,” keeping safety as a priority. To decide this, the court will look at:
- Any history of domestic violence
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Mental illness
- The child's relationship with each parent
- The stability of the home
- If each parent is fit
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
Violating the no-contact provisions restraining order is a criminal offense in New Jersey and is considered criminal contempt of a court order. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. A minor violation like a message on Facebook or a text could end up with you facing an arrest. Violating a FRO order a second time can result in 30 days. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Even though violating the custody or visitation provisions of a FRO may not be a criminal offense, intentionally violating a court order is never a good idea. It could affect more permanent custody and visitation decisions by the family court.
Can I Get Custody Back After the Restraining Order Expires?
It is possible to regain custody or visitation after a court puts a FRO in place or after the court lifts it. However, FROs don't generally expire in New Jersey. One or both of the parties need to ask the court to lift or modify the order. The court may hold another hearing to determine if the order is still necessary to protect the plaintiff or your children from further acts of domestic violence. Your best chance of lifting or modify an order, or regaining custody, will be with an experienced New Jersey family lawyer by your side.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you're concerned about custody of your children while a restraining order is pending against you, you need professional help. You need a skilled New Jersey lawyer with experience in restraining order litigation and custody issues by your wide. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many people in Hunterdon County through custody disputes and the restraining order process. He can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.