The most critical part of a restraining order is understanding what it applies to and its prohibitions. Instances of domestic violence are highly emotional challenges for all parties involved, unexpectedly disrupting family life, work schedules, and even caring for children.
A temporary restraining order (TRO) a defendant receives is a formal court order served by law enforcement that contains pages worth of legalese that is a daunting task to understand if you're worried about keeping your family together. Moreover, TROs can be issued ex parte, meaning a judge can impose a restraining order without the defendant present in court to provide an argument themselves.
Defendants will have an opportunity to be heard at the final restraining order (FRO) hearing, but it can be as many as ten days before the proceedings begin. Even if the defendant is ultimately found not to have committed an act of domestic violence, they can be prosecuted for violating the terms of the TRO. Penalties for disobeying a restraining order can be significant. Therefore, here are the things you should not do when served with a restraining order.
Don't Contact the Plaintiff
Since TROs are issued in cases where domestic violence affects someone with whom the victim has a child in common, has a dating relationship, or is married, both the plaintiff and defendant share a major portion of their lives. While communication is a part of any relationship involving work schedules, friends and family, and finances, contacting the plaintiff will violate your restraining order.
Prohibited contacts include:
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- Postal communications
- Social media
- Signs or placards
- Contact through third parties, such as coworkers, friends, and children
Don't Contact the Defendant
Unless a court grants both parties protective orders—also known as cross restraints—a restraining order only protects one party (plaintiff) from being contacted by the other (defendant). However, if you're the plaintiff for a restraining order, contacting the defendant is a bad idea, too. You may jeopardize the enforceability of your restraining order. If you need to contact the defendant to facilitate child visitation, it's best to reach out to your attorney, who will communicate with the court.
Don't Go to the Plaintiff's Residence
Even if you may have lived with the plaintiff and the residence is in your name, a TRO will typically grant the plaintiff temporary privilege over a home. You may have personal effects at the plaintiff's home since it's where you reside. However, when a court imposes a TRO, there will be requirements upon issuance for removing belongings from the residence.
There will be a short period where the defendant may enter the plaintiff's home, but only when accompanied by law enforcement officers. Even if you know the plaintiff is not at the house when you plan to be there, it violates the order.
Injunctions also apply to a plaintiff's place of employment, school, daycare provider, and any other location named in the TRO. Always err on the safe side when you're issued a TRO and speak with court officials or your attorney before you think you'll be in a shared location with the plaintiff.
Don't Skip Your FRO Hearing
Although TROs are issued ex parte, defendants will be served with the necessary documentation by law enforcement officers following the plaintiff's petition to the court. The FRO hearing will take place within ten days in front of a Family Division judge, and the court will proceed with a determination even if the defendant isn't present.
There are some forgiving procedures if the defendant fails to appear at the FRO hearing. If the court finds the defendant has not been served, they will grant a short postponement, and another hearing is scheduled through a Continuance Order or an Amended TRO. If it's unlikely the defendant cannot be served within a “reasonable” period, the court can issue an indefinite TRO. If you cannot be present at the FRO hearing for extenuating circumstances, you must contact the court. If you fail to appear, it's highly likely a FRO will be entered against you.
Don't Disregard a TRO or FRO Because the Plaintiff Said They Were Dismissing It
Since restraining orders are carried out for and against family members and those with close relationships, a plaintiff may begin to discuss dismissing the TRO or FRO after a while. However, only a judge may dismiss a restraining order.
If the court's Domestic Violence Advocate (DVA) determines the plaintiff is not coerced in their motion to petition for dismissal, a judge will assess a Dissolution of Restraining Order to enter into a Certification to Dismiss. Unless the defendant has been served documentation regarding a hearing to discern a dismissal, there is no reason to believe the restraining order has been lifted.
Consequences of Violating a Restraining Order
Although a civil court issues a restraining order, violating a restraining order is a criminal offense, punishable under New Jersey's contempt statute. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, violating a restraining order is a fourth-degree felony wherein a defendant “purposely or knowingly disobeys a judicial order or hinders, obstructs or impedes the effectuation of a judicial order or the exercise of jurisdiction over any person, thing or controversy by a court, administrative body or investigative entity.”
The defendant will be arrested if law enforcement officers have probable cause or a reasonable basis to surmise that the defendant violated the restraining order. If convicted, defendants face up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Penalties are doubled for a second violation and tripled for a third violation of the restraining order.
How Can Attorney Joseph D. Lento Help You?
You should not wait until you're worried about violating a restraining order to retain an attorney. A TRO or FRO will not only derail your interpersonal relationships and public reputation but also threaten your future.
Violations of restraining orders, temporary or not, can result in severe penalties. The offense will produce a criminal record, meaning it will be linked to you during a job search and found through employer background checks. Moreover, if you're subject to felony parole or probation, you will lose your right to vote in New Jersey.
Don't wait until it's too late—partner with a proven attorney with the skills to safeguard your rights and reputation. Contact Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or visit the confidential online consultation form.