Facing a restraining order hearing in New Jersey can be frightening and overwhelming. You're probably wondering what the process is, how you can defend yourself, and how this might affect the custody and visitation of your kids. While restraining orders can be a valuable tool to protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. If you've been unjustly accused of abuse, you can feel like the entire justice system is working against you. That's why it's so important to have a New Jersey lawyer with experience in restraining order litigation representing you in court.
What is a Restraining Order?
Under New Jersey law, a restraining order can protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers either temporarily or permanently. Using the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, an applicant to a restraining order can keep you from contacting or approaching them for a set period or permanently. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35.
There are two restraining orders under New Jersey law, temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A FRO in New Jersey is permanent, with the order remaining in place until one or both of the parties asks the court to lift or modify it. Both TROs and FROs can contain conditions to protect the applicant, award temporary financial support, provide temporary custody, and prohibit the defendant from contacting or approaching the plaintiff.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Passaic County?
In Passaic County, restraining order and custody hearings happen in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Passaic County Superior Court. The courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30
Passaic County Courthouse
77 Hamilton Street
Paterson, NY 07505
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Passaic County?
If someone requests a restraining order against you in Passaic County, the court will review the application in an ex parte hearing, meaning only the plaintiff is present. The court won't notify you about the hearing, and you don't have the right to appear. If the court issues a temporary restraining order after this hearing, you'll receive notice of the final hearing. The TRO will remain in place for about ten days or until this final hearing.
At the FRO hearing, you'll have the chance to appear before the court and tell your story. Both you and the plaintiff can present evidence and witnesses in support. The FRO is a formal court proceeding, which means that both parties must follow the rules of the court and the rules of evidence. This formality can make a FRO hearing challenging to navigate without an experienced attorney 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 provisions of the order the court issues. A TRO or a FRO can have provisions for temporary custody and visitation of your children. As a result, a TRO may sometimes prevent you from seeing your kids until the final hearing.
While the custody provisions of a FRO are typically temporary, the court's findings during the hearing can affect the permanent custody decisions of the family court. In some cases, if the judge believes that you are responsible for acts of domestic violence, you may lose your visitation rights permanently.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before a court removes or restricts your parental rights in a FRO hearing, the judge 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 accused is an ongoing threat to the parent or child
- Whether the defendant has pending criminal charges or a record
- Whether there were any injuries from the domestic violence
- The testimony of police officers and witnesses in the FRO
When making more permanent decisions about custody in family court, the judge will need to determine the “best interests of the child.” To make this decision, the court looks at many factors, including:
- A history of domestic violence
- Any drug or alcohol abuse
- Any mental illness
- The relationship the child has with each parent
- The stability of each home
- Whether each parent is fit
See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016). But a judge's findings of domestic violence in a FRO hearing will affect this custody and visitation decision.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
Violating a restraining order is criminal contempt of a court order and is a criminal offense. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Violating a restraining order a second time can result in 30 days in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30. Even small violations like a phone call, text, or message can violate your FRO.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Violating a custody provision in your FRO is not a good idea. While you might not end up in jail, it can affect future family court decisions concerning custody and visitation.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
After you have a FRO in place against you, you may be able to regain custody or visitation in family court. You may also be able to regain custody if the court lifts the FRO. However, in New Jersey, FROs don't expire. One or both of the parties will need to ask the court to modify or lift the order. If only one of you asks, the court will probably hold another hearing to determine whether the order is still necessary to protect the plaintiff or any children. You'll have the best chance of regaining parental rights with an experienced attorney guiding you through the process.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you're facing custody and visitation complications resulting from a restraining order, you need a skilled New Jersey attorney with experience in family law, criminal law, and restraining order litigation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is just such a triple threat. He's been helping Passaic County families through restraining order litigation and custody issues for years, and he can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.