The state of New Jersey aims to clamp down on domestic violence by issuing restraining orders. Someone who is the victim of domestic violence can file for a restraining order against the person who allegedly committed the violence. This protective order can only be effective if the supposed perpetrator complies, however. In order to enforce restraining orders, the state has implemented penalties for those who don't follow the rules of their restraining orders.
If you have a restraining order against someone else, you need to know what is considered a violation so you can adequately seek the protection you need. For those with a restraining order against them, even an accusation of violating the restraining order could have severe consequences. Both parties should know and understand what it means to violate a restraining order and what happens if a defendant—the person with the restraining order against them—violates the order.
What Does a Restraining Order Do?
A restraining order prevents the defendant from contacting or coming near the plaintiff (the person who filed the restraining order). This type of order can force the defendant to:
- Move out of their house, if they share it with the plaintiff
- Pay child support or emergency monetary relief
- Attend substance abuse counseling, if applicable
- Avoid contact in any form with the plaintiff
- Forfeit any weapons they possess
- Avoid sending someone else on their behalf to contact the plaintiff
The prohibitions in a particular restraining order will depend on the case, so it's important for each party to read the restraining order carefully. If you are served with a restraining order, you must be clear on what would constitute a violation. Seeking the advice of a family law attorney can help you understand what you are and are not allowed to do.
What Happens When You Violate a Restraining Order in New Jersey
A restraining order by itself is not a criminal matter; it's a civil one. Simply having a restraining order doesn't go on a defendant's criminal record. However, if they violate the terms of the restraining order, they could be charged with criminal contempt.
If it's the first time violating a restraining order, the defendant could pay fines of up to $1,000 and face up to 180 days in jail. If it's the second violation, there is a mandatory jail sentence of 30 days.
Keep in mind that sometimes prosecutors will charge restraining order violations as felonies. A felony carries fines of up to $10,000 or up to 18 months in jail. If the defendant is not charged with a felony, they could be charged with a disorderly persons offense, which carries less harsh penalties.
Charged With Contempt
Because each restraining order is different, it's hard to say exactly which actions will lead to a contempt charge. Here are some common examples of restraining order violations:
- Contacting the plaintiff
- Proximity to the plaintiff
- Entry to property
- Aggressive actions
- Failure to act (not paying monetary relief, for example)
If the defendant's behavior disobeys the order in any way, even for an honest mistake, they could be charged with contempt.
A conviction for contempt will go on a criminal record. If you are found guilty of violating a restraining order, it will show up on your record. In some situations, it may be possible to have this charge expunged from your record, but this process is far from guaranteed.
If you end up with a contempt charge on your criminal record, it could hamper future relationships or career opportunities. The risks are too high—if you don't understand how to fully comply with your restraining order, you should contact a family law attorney right away.
How to Prove a Defendant Violated a Restraining Order
If you are the plaintiff in a restraining order case and have reason to believe the defendant has violated their restraining order, you will have to prove it. An experienced attorney can assist you with your case, helping you show the following:
- The defendant knew there was a restraining order against them and knew of its restrictions
- The defendant deliberately violated the order
If a defendant comes within close proximity of the plaintiff without knowing, in a public place, for example, that mistake could lead to jail time for contempt if the prosecutor can prove it was somehow deliberate. Domestic violence and restraining order cases are very nuanced and complex, so even if, as a defendant, you are certain the violation was an error, you should still consult with a family law attorney to help you defend your case.
How to Defend a Charge of Violating a Restraining Order in New Jersey
When a defendant is accused of violating a restraining order, they are not automatically guilty. The plaintiff must prove contempt, and the defendant has the chance to defend themselves.
The plaintiff has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant knowingly violated the restraining order. This standard can be high, making it difficult for the plaintiff to prove their case. There may be insufficient evidence, or your attorney may be able to show that you didn't know about the restraining order at the time of the alleged violation. In these situations, the charges can be dropped.
An Experienced Family Law Attorney Can Help
Restraining orders are complicated, often emotionally-fraught issues. Dealing with a potential violation on your own is not recommended, as you may be unable to prove the violation happened and not have the protection you need. As a defendant, getting a contempt conviction on your record can have long-term impacts on your life that prevent you from pursuing professional and personal goals.
For assistance with a restraining order violation, call Joseph D. Lento. He's helped countless families in New Jersey with domestic violence and restraining order issues, and he can provide the support and guidance you need. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your restraining order violation.