If you're facing a restraining order in New Jersey, you're undoubtedly concerned about what will happen next, how this will affect your life, and how it will affect your relationship with your children. While restraining orders can be necessary to protect victims of domestic violence, an unjust accusation of abuse could result in you losing custody and visitation of your children. A restraining order can result in the court ordering you not to contact your ex-partner, and you can lose custody or visitation. That's why it's important to hire a skilled New Jersey lawyer with experience in family law, criminal law, and restraining order litigation.
What is a Restraining Order?
In New Jersey, a 1982 law known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act allows victims of domestic violence and certain other crimes to obtain a restraining order to protect them from their abusers. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35. A restraining order can prevent you from contact your accuser, but it can also prohibit you from seeing your children in some cases.
There are two restraining orders in New Jersey, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). Both temporary and final orders can contain custody and visitation provisions and no-contact provisions preventing you from contacting your accuser. In New Jersey, FROs are permanent and remain in place unless one of the parties asks the court to lift the order or modify it.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Ocean County?
In Ocean County, restraining order and custody hearings happen in the Family Division of the Ocean County Superior Court. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Ocean County Courthouse
118 Washington Street
Toms River, NJ 08754
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Ocean County?
If someone applies for a restraining order against you in Ocean County, a judge will first review the application in an ex parte hearing. The court won't notify you of an ex parte hearing, and you don't have the right to be present. If the judge orders a TRO, it will remain in place for only about ten days until the final hearing.
The court will notify you about the final hearing, and you will have the chance to appear in court and tell your story. Both parties will have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence to the court in a formal hearing. Because this is a court proceeding, you have the best chance of success with an experienced New Jersey attorney representing you.
Can I Still See My Kids with a Restraining Order in Place?
Depending on the terms of the restraining order against you, you may be able to continue to see your children with a restraining order in place. In some cases, a TRO may prevent you from seeing your children until the final hearing. The judge can include provisions for temporary custody and visitation in both temporary and final restraining orders. In the hearing for the FRO, if the judge finds you responsible for domestic violence, the FRO may temporarily or permanently remove custody or visitation.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before deciding to temporarily or permanently remove your custody or visitation in the FRO hearing, the court will look at:
- Whether there is a history of violence or domestic violence
- Whether the domestic violence occurred more than once
- Any injuries that may have happened because of the domestic violence
- Whether the defendant directed the act of domestic violence at the parent or child
- Whether the defendant is still a threat to the child or parent
- Whether the defendant has any criminal charges pending or a criminal record
- The testimony of witnesses in the FRO, including police officers
The outcome of your FRO will also affect any family court decisions about your custody and visitation. The family court will look at the judge's findings, particularly the judge's decisions about whether any domestic violence occurred. Overall, the family court must determine the “best interests of the child.” As part of its analysis, the court will look at whether there is any drug or alcohol abuse, the stability of each home, whether each parent is fit, any history of mental illness, and any history of domestic violence. See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016). As a result, the FRO hearing will likely affect your custody and visitation rights going forward.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
Violating a New Jersey restraining order is criminal contempt of court and a violation of criminal law. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. If you violate a restraining order, it could result in your arrest, even for what seems like something small. If you violate a FRO a second time, you can get 30 days in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30. Either way, violating a restraining order could affect your future ability to see your children.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
If you violate the custody provisions of a FRO, it may not result in your arrest. However, it could affect your child custody and visitation rights. Willfully violating a court order is never a good idea.
Can I Get Custody Back After the Restraining Order Expires?
You may be able to regain custody or visitation rights after a court places a FRO against you. However, New Jersey FROs don't expire. One or both of the parties must ask the court to lift or modify the order. The court will have another hearing and review whether the FRO is still necessary to prevent future acts of domestic violence. You need an experienced New Jersey family lawyer by your side for the best chance of success at regaining custody.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you have a restraining order pending against you and you're concerned about custody of your children, you need a skilled New Jersey attorney with experience in restraining order litigation representing you in court. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Ocean County families through this process, and he can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.