If you're facing a restraining order hearing in Sussex County, you're probably worried about what might happen. The entire process can feel overwhelming and frightening, especially if you're concerned about how this might affect your children. Restraining orders are a valuable tool under New Jersey law to help protect victims of domestic violence from abusers. But if an ex-partner unjustly accused you of domestic violence, it could feel like the process, and the judicial system is working against you. That's why you need a skilled New Jersey restraining order attorney guiding you through the process.
What is a Restraining Order?
In New Jersey, the law allows victims of domestic violence to obtain a restraining order to protect them from their alleged abusers. Under the 1982 law known as the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, a restraining order can keep you from contacting or coming near your ex-partner and your children. See N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:25-17 - 25-35.
New Jersey law creates two types of restraining orders, both temporary (TRO) and final restraining orders (FRO). A final order is generally permanent and remains in place until one of the parties requests that the court lift the order or modify it. Both types of orders may include clauses protecting the plaintiff, awarding temporary child custody, providing financial support to a partner or child, and prohibiting the defendant from contacting or harassing the plaintiff.
Where Do FRO and Custody Hearings Happen in Sussex County?
Restraining order and custody hearings in Sussex County happen in the Family Division of the Sussex County Superior Court. The county courthouse is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Sussex County Courthouse
43-47 High Street
Newton, NJ 07860
How Do Restraining Orders Work in Sussex County?
If an ex-significant other applies for a restraining order against you in Sussex County, the judge will first examine the application in an ex parte hearing, meaning only the plaintiff will be present. If the judge issues a TRO in this hearing, it will only remain in place until the final hearing in about ten days.
You will receive notice of the final hearing, along with the terms of the TRO. At the final hearing, you'll have the opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony to tell your story. The plaintiff will have the chance to do so as well. However, the FRO hearing is a formal court proceeding, and both parties must comply with court rules and the rules of evidence. As a result, your best chance of success is with a lawyer experienced in restraining order litigation by your side.
How Does a Judge Determine Custody in a Restraining Order Hearing?
Before a judge decides to modify or restrict your parental rights in a FRO hearing, the court will look at several factors, including:
- Do you have a history of violence or domestic violence?
- Are you still a threat to the parent or child?
- Was the domestic violence directed at the child, parent, or both?
- Did the domestic violence occur multiple times?
- Do you have pending criminal charges or a record?
- Were there any injuries as a result?
The court will also consider the testimony of witnesses in the FRO, including police officers.
The custody provisions of a restraining order are usually temporary, leaving final decisions about custody to the family court. However, the court will consider the findings from your FRO hearing. If the court finds that you were responsible for domestic violence or that you're still a threat to your child or your co-parent, you may find your parental rights restricted by the family court as well.
Overall, the family court must make a custody decision in “the best interests of the child,” making the child's safety a priority. To make this decision, the court will evaluate many factors related to both parents and the fitness of their homes. These factors include:
- A history of domestic violence
- A history of mental illness
- A history of drug or alcohol abuse
- The stability of each home
- The fitness of each parent
- The parent's relationship with the child
See N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4A (2016). But if the FRO court enters a restraining order against you, it will likely affect your custody decision in the family court.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO?
Violating a restraining order in New Jersey is criminal contempt of a court order, and it is a criminal offense. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9. Violating the order a second time can get you 30 days in jail. See N.J.S.A. § 2C:25-30. Even what seems like a small violation, like a call or text message, can result in your arrest.
What Happens if I Violate a FRO Custody Order?
Willfully violating a court order is never a good idea. However,
if you violate the custody or financial provisions of your FRO, you may not necessarily end up in jail. But, violating the FRO can affect any custody or visitation decisions of the family court.
Can I Get Custody Back After the FRO Expires?
You may be able to get custody or visitation back after a FRO. However, New Jersey final restraining orders don't expire. A FRO stays in place until one of the parties asks the court to remove the order or modify it. If both parties ask the court to vacate the order; it may be an easy matter. If you ask the court alone, the court may hold another full hearing to determine if the FRO is still necessary to protect your ex-partner or child from further domestic violence. Your best chance of success to lift a FRO or to regain custody after a FRO is with a skilled New Jersey attorney with experience in restraining order litigation.
Hire an Experienced FRO Attorney
If you're facing an upcoming restraining order hearing, you need an experienced attorney guiding you through the process as soon as possible. If your custody or visitation rights are at issue, hiring a lawyer is even more urgent. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Sussex County families through the restraining order process, and he can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.