When someone believes they're under threat of violence, harassment, or stalking, the New Jersey courts take the matter seriously. An individual can file for a restraining order to legally bar a threatening person from coming near them or contacting them. As of 2016, there were 63,420 domestic violence cases reported to police in the state of New Jersey. The number increased by three percent from the previous year—and those cases are only the reported cases. According to non-profit 180 Turning Lives Around, an act of domestic violence occurs every 7.29 minutes in New Jersey.
Victims of violence and abuse can protect themselves and their children by filing for a restraining order against their abuser. They can get a temporary or “ex parte” restraining order (TRO), without informing the defendant, to have immediate protection. After 10 days, however, the courts must schedule a hearing to either dismiss the TRO or issue a final restraining order (FRO). An FRO lasts a lifetime.
When you're falsely accused of domestic violence or abuse
The TRO and FRO exist to help victims of violence and abuse. Unfortunately, these tools are sometimes used to manipulate someone else or exact revenge. Someone might lie to get a restraining order, portraying an innocent person as an abuser. Being falsely accused of domestic violence or abuse not only creates emotional turmoil, but it also throws your daily life into upheaval.
How Easy Is It to Get a Restraining Order in NJ?
Before an individual requests a restraining order against someone, they have to meet certain requirements. The courts would rather err on the side of protecting a potential victim, so they've removed significant barriers to getting a restraining order.
Requirements for a restraining order in NJ
- There needs to have been a recent act of domestic violence, including assault, harassment, terroristic threats, etc.
- In most cases, a victim must show both a recent incident of domestic violence and the defendant's history of violence. Prior history of domestic violence isn't always necessary, however.
- The victim requesting the TRO needs to show that the restraining order is the only way for them to remain safe from the defendant.
Most of the time, plaintiffs must prove all three of the above factors to obtain a restraining order. The plaintiff must also meet one of the following criteria:
- The plaintiff and defendant must be either current or former dating partners
- The plaintiff and defendant reside together or used to
- The plaintiff and the defendant have a child together
Ten days after a TRO is served there's a hearing for the FRO. If the judge grants the plaintiff an FRO, the defendant could face several serious consequences.
Potential consequences of a final restraining order in New Jersey (from the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act)
- Defendant is barred from plaintiff's residence, place of employment, or other places
- Defendant is prohibited from contacting the plaintiff in any form
- Defendant cannot harass or stalk the plaintiff (or ask someone else to)
- Defendant cannot stalk, follow, or threaten to harm plaintiff
- Defendant is ordered to pay child support
- Defendant must pay emergent monetary relief
- Defendant must attend substance abuse counseling (if applicable)
- Defendant is prohibited from possessing weapons
What happens if you violate a restraining order in NJ?
If you don't follow the conditions set forth in a restraining order, you'll be charged with criminal contempt. New Jersey restraining orders comprise two parts. Part 1 contains the restraints against contact and Part 2 deals with financial and parenting issues. If you violate any of the restrictions in Part 1, related to contacting the plaintiff, the plaintiff has the right to go to the police station and sign criminal charges. If you aren't complying with the financial or parenting provisions of the restraining order, you won't be criminally charged but the case will go through Family Court.
If you're convicted of criminal contempt, you could face jail time and fines. This conviction might also interfere with any Family Law proceedings you have ongoing, such as divorce or a child custody case.
Can a restraining order be modified?
If you're served with a temporary restraining order, you have the possibility to appeal it before the FRO hearing under New Jersey law. An appeal will get you a plenary hearing before the Family Division Judge who issued the order or one who has access to the reasons for issuing the order.
An FRO can be terminated or modified as well, under certain conditions. Circumstances that allow changing or lifting an FRO are:
- When the FRO is no longer necessary to protect the plaintiff
- When the FRO no longer accomplishes the plaintiff's needs
- When the FRO puts an unreasonable burden on the defendant
Unless you file the appropriate petition with the New Jersey Family Court, the FRO will remain in effect and enforceable for the rest of your life. If you file a petition to have an FRO terminated, the courts will review your case very critically, and hold a hearing to fully dismiss the restraining order.
Stressors Related to Restraining Orders
Since the New Jersey courts take domestic violence and spousal abuse as a grave matter, the penalties for the defendant are significant. The restrictions imposed on you if you're subject to either a TRO or an FRO are enough to spike your stress levels. It's possible you were experiencing strife with the person who requested the restraining order against you beforehand, which likely already put stress on your daily life.
The restrictions of a TRO are severe and immediate; the plaintiff doesn't have to inform you that they're getting a restraining order. You might receive the order then have to vacate your home, leave your partner, or leave your children immediately.
Being forced out of your home
Having to vacate your home with little or no notice is a stressor in any situation. When you have to do so because you're subject to a restraining order, it doubles your worry. Not only do you have to gather your things and find a place to stay, but you must also do so quickly so you're not in violation of the restraining order.
If you've been wrongfully accused and want to defend yourself or prevent the issuance of a final restraining order, you only have 10 days to prepare. If the FRO is granted at the final hearing, then these sudden changes you had to make to your life become permanent. The pressure can weigh on you and cause your stress to rise.
Stopping all contact with the person who asked for the restraining order
Being forced to cease all forms of contact—in-person, via email, text message, social media, or through another person—might not seem tough at first. Especially if the plaintiff is someone you don't get along with anymore. Stopping contact for the purposes of a restraining order is different, however. If you plan to defend yourself, you must be able to prove that you didn't initiate contact with the plaintiff in any form. Even if the plaintiff contacts you first, you still have to keep them shut out completely.
In today's digital age, with numerous ways to communicate with others, putting a stop to absolutely all contact may take extra vigilance on your part. If the plaintiff is someone that you regularly saw or spoke with before the restraining order, then cutting out contact completely will be incredibly taxing.
Being away from your children
If the plaintiff has accused you of domestic violence and filed a restraining order, they can prevent you from seeing or contacting your children if they feel you're also a threat to the kids. Being wrongfully accused of domestic violence and having to stay away from your children might be one of the most vexing parts of dealing with a restraining order. If you're close with your kids and used to seeing them every day, separation from them will cause you anguish.
Unfortunately, some people use restraining orders to get custody of their kids, by lying about the other parent of their children and saying they're a threat or abusive. If you're subject to a restraining order granted under false pretenses, the worry you feel over yourself and your children can take its toll on you. When you're emotionally drained, you might act rashly. Hasty, emotion-fueled decisions are the last things you need if you're hoping to defend yourself against a restraining order.
How to Deal with the Stress of a Restraining Order
There's no doubt being the subject of a restraining order causes you intense distress. It's important to mitigate the stress you feel during this process, for the sake of your own mental health. If your goal is defending yourself, you must try to stay as calm and patient as possible.
Stay away from the person filing the restraining order
The first thing you can do to reduce stress is what you're legally required to do—stay away from the plaintiff and make no contact with them. It seems like a burdensome thing to do initially, but if you want a favorable outcome, you must comply with the restrictions of the restraining order. Knowing that you're following the order exactly and that you're not creating more problems for yourself later on will help assuage some of the worries you have at first.
Build your case against the restraining order
If you want to defend yourself at the FRO hearing and prevent a final restraining order from being issued, you have to prepare. Consulting an experienced family law and defense attorney right away is the best solution for building a case. While you're waiting for the hearing, don't sit idle and let the stress eat away at you. Keep yourself busy by gathering documentation that could disprove the plaintiff's false claims. At the hearing, you can introduce relevant testimony, evidence, and witnesses such as photographs, phone records, voicemails, text messages, social media posts, emails, or statements the plaintiff made to third parties.
Be patient and keep your cool
Patience will benefit you if you want to fight a TRO based on false claims. Instead of focusing on your frustration at the situation, think about the actions you can do to defend yourself. Always consult with your attorney if you have questions or concerns, and never do anything without listening to their advice first. Don't let your temper get the better of you. Remember, you're trying to prove that you're not a threat to the plaintiff's safety. Losing your cool and acting out won't put you in a good light for the hearing.
Find a confidant
Having someone to speak to during a stressful time can help you overcome your struggles. Talking through how you feel with a trusted friend, family member, or qualified therapist can help you understand the inner turmoil this restraining order is causing you. You don't have to speak about the details of the case. Express how the situation makes you feel and let the other person listen in a non-judgmental way. It's important to find someone you trust, who won't betray your confidence and is willing to listen.
Whether you're facing a TRO and waiting for the final hearing or you're subject to an FRO, you must avoid the temptation to contact the plaintiff or others covered by the restraining order. If the plaintiff has asked for a TRO in bad faith, they might try to “bait” you into contacting them by initiating contact, or saying they changed their mind. Receiving these communications will be distressing because although you'll want to respond, you must not. If you do, you'll violate the restraining order.
Hire a Family Law Attorney
The best way to reduce your stress when faced with a restraining order is hiring an experienced family law attorney who knows the ins of outs of restraining orders and how to defend against domestic violence allegations, whether false or otherwise. Your lawyer will prepare a defense strategy for you and ensure your rights are protected. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm represents clients in family law matters, with a focus on restraining orders and domestic violence cases, throughout New Jersey, with a track record for success. Call the Firm today at 888-535-3686 for an initial consultation.