Substance Abuse: An Underlying Factor in Many Restraining Orders

New Jersey law provides a restraining order as a mechanism for protecting a victim of domestic violence from further harm from their abuser. And while substance abuse itself is not among the 19 criminal offenses that can be grounds for issuing a restraining order, the court can include a requirement for the abuser—named as the defendant in the order—to obtain treatment or counseling. If you think you need a restraining order or have been served with one, it is important to seek the counsel of an attorney well-versed in the intricacies of this legal remedy.

Temporary Restraining Orders

In the restraining order procedure in New Jersey, filing a temporary restraining order (TRO) is the first step. In most cases, a domestic violence victim goes to their local county courthouse and submits a form that requests a restraining order naming them as the plaintiff and their abuser as the defendant. In emergency situations, the plaintiff's local police or emergency service can assist with obtaining the order.

TROs typically last about ten days or until a hearing is scheduled. Like final restraining orders (FROs), they typically include provisions to protect the defendant, including prohibiting contact or harassment by the defendant and the removal of firearms from the defendant's home. They can also address child custody and financial support.

Final Restraining Orders

At the hearing that takes place about ten days after the TRO is issued, the plaintiff and defendant can each testify and present evidence and witnesses. The requirements for a FRO include the following:

  • The parties have a qualifying domestic relationship
  • The defendant committed an act of domestic violence
  • There must be restraints on the defendant to prevent further acts of domestic violence against the plaintiff

If the judge decides the plaintiff meets the requirements, they grant an FRO, which is permanent unless one party successfully petitions the court to end or modify it.

There are three types of relief possible in an FRO:

  • Civil orders such as orders for the defendant to pay rent or child support
  • Orders that prohibit actions such as bans on the defendant harassing or contacting the plaintiff
  • Orders for the defendant to address behavioral issues by undergoing a mental health evaluation, counseling, or substance abuse treatment

An FRO is an enforceable court order, and if the defendant named in it fails to comply, they can be arrested and criminally prosecuted. Including substance abuse treatment as a possible relief in TROs reflects a recognition of the role that drug and alcohol use play in domestic violence.

Substance Abuse and Domestic Violence

Substance abuse, or at least the use of drugs or alcohol, is a significant factor in domestic violence. For more than three decades, the New Jersey State Police have tracked statistics related to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, and they include the number of reported incidents in which drugs or alcohol were involved. For example, in one recent year, more than 63,000 incidents of domestic violence were reported in New Jersey. Drugs or alcohol were involved in 21% of the incidents, a prior temporary restraining order was in place in 20%, and a new temporary restraining order was issued after 15% of the incidents.

More than half of domestic violence offenders struggle with substance abuse, and victims tend to have more serious injuries in domestic assaults that involve alcohol. If both parties have substance abuse issues, the likelihood increases that a verbal argument will escalate into an incident of domestic abuse. (The New Jersey State Police reports cited above do not provide a breakdown of which party had ingested drugs or alcohol—it could be one or both parties.)

Order for the Defendant to Obtain Substance Abuse Treatment

To be very clear, any type of relief included in an FRO has the force of a court order, and the defendant must comply. This includes orders to seek substance abuse counseling, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, or undergo treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

In New Jersey, the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) sets the policy for addiction treatment services. DMHAS describes four types of services:

  • Medication-assisted treatment - includes therapy and prescription medications
  • Inpatient services - require staying at a facility
  • Outpatient services - allow the participant to continue day-to-day activities, including working
  • Withdrawal management - treatment for acute intoxication; may prevent life-threatening complications

Why Counsel From an Experienced Attorney Matters

The court will grant a restraining order if the petitioner meets the requirements described above. Given that protecting the petitioner's physical safety is at the heart of a restraining order, it is especially important to have the guidance of an experienced attorney throughout the process.

And if you are the defendant named in a restraining order, a knowledgeable attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as contest any false allegations. Being named as a defendant in an FRO can have long-term effects, including on your ability to find work, see your children, or own a firearm.

Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, an attorney can clarify any requirements for the defendant to complete treatment for substance abuse and the ramifications for failing to comply.

Family law attorney Joseph Lento has the experience and knowledge to guide you through the restraining order process, whether you are the plaintiff or defendant. Call the Lento Law Firm toll-free at 888.535.3686 or contact us online.

Contact a Family Law Attorney Today!

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience practicing Family Law in New Jersey. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Family Law Attorney Joseph Lento will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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