If you're facing a restraining order hearing in New Jersey, you're probably worried about what may happen and how this may affect your ability to see your children. Restraining orders can be a useful tool to protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. A judge can order you to pay temporary child support, change your custody and visitation arrangements, and prevent you from contacting your ex-partner. While restraining orders serve a useful purpose, when you've been unjustly accused of abuse, the entire process can feel overwhelming. That's why you need an experienced family law attorney guiding you through the process.
What is a Restraining Order?
New Jersey's 1982 law, known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, allows victims of domestic violence and certain other crimes to apply for a restraining order for protection. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. But the court order can also prevent you from contacting or seeing your ex-partner and your children. New Jersey law permits two types of restraining orders, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A FRO is a permanent order, and it remains in place until one or both of the parties ask a court to lift or modify it. Both temporary and final restraining orders can include specific provisions to protect the defendant, prevent contact, and award temporary child custody and visitation.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Morris County?
In Morris County, restraining order and custody hearings happen in the Family Division of the Morris County Courthouse. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Washington and Court Streets
Morristown, NJ 07963
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Morris County?
When a judge in Morris County receives an application for a restraining order, the initial hearing will be ex parte, meaning only the applicant will be present. You don't have the right to appear, and the court won't notify you of the hearing. However, if the judge issues the restraining order in this ex parte hearing, it will be temporary and only remain in place until the final hearing in about ten days.
You will have the opportunity to appear at the final restraining order hearing, and both parties have the chance to tell your side of the story. However, a FRO hearing is a formal court proceeding, and it can be challenging to navigate without a lawyer by your side.
Can I Still See My Kids with a Restraining Order in Place?
You may be able to see your children with a restraining order in place, depending on the court order's provisions. Even if you can't be near your co-parent, the court may order visitation transfer through a proxy, supervised visitation, or regular visitation and custody. However, if the court finds you responsible for domestic violence in the hearing, you may lose custody and visitation temporarily or permanently in more serious cases.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before removing or altering custody and visitation during a FRO hearing, the court will ask:
- Does the defendant have a history of domestic violence?
- Were there any injuries from the domestic violence?
- Did the defendant direct the act of domestic violence at the child or the parent?
- Is the defendant still a threat to the parent or child?
- Did the domestic violence happen multiple times?
- Does the defendant have any pending criminal charges?
The court will also consider witness testimony during the FRO hearing, including the testimony of police officers.
In family court, the court will decide the “best interests of the child” when making permanent custody and visitation decisions. The court will look at many factors about each parent and their homes, including:
- A history of domestic violence
- Any drug or alcohol abuse
- Mental illness
- The fitness of each parent
- Each parent's relationship with the child
See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016). Even though the custody provisions in a FRO are typically temporary, the judge's findings in the FRO hearing will affect any permanent decisions of the family court regarding your custody and visitation rights.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
While violating any provision of a FRO is a bad idea, violating the no-contact provisions of a FRO is criminal contempt of court. This violation is a criminal offense and could result in your arrest. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. A second violation of a FRO could also result in an arrest and 30 days
in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30. Violations of the FRO could even include seemingly small things, like messaging someone on Facebook and sending a text message.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Violating the custody and visitation provisions of your FRO may not result in your arrest like a violation of a no-contact provision, but it's not a good idea. Willfully violating any provision of your FRO could result in loss of custody and visitation rights permanently.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
You may be able to get custody and visitation rights back after the issuance of a FRO or after a court lifts a FRO. However, FROs don't generally expire in New Jersey. Instead, one or both of the parties must ask the judge to lift or modify the order. If only you ask for a modification, the court will most likely schedule another hearing. During the hearing, the court will decide whether the FRO is still necessary to prevent further acts of domestic violence. Your best chance of regaining custody or lifting a FRO is with a New Jersey attorney skilled in family law and restraining order litigation.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you have a restraining order pending against you, you need a skilled New Jersey restraining order attorney to guide you through the process. If your custody and visitation rights are also on the line, you need an attorney who also understands New Jersey family law to help protect your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Morris County families through custody disputes and restraining order litigation and he can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.