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How to Get a Domestic Violence Restraining Order

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Domestic violence can include a wide range of behaviors, such as harassment, assault, and stalking. In fact, the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act defines nineteen different actions as domestic violence.

Restraining orders seek to provide the victim—who, in court, would be referred to as the plaintiff—with a greater level of protection. (The person accused of domestic violence is the defendant.)

Restraining orders vary on a case-by-case basis, but they can:

  • Bar the defendant from certain places, such as the plaintiff’s residence or place of employment
  • Prohibit the defendant from having oral, written, personal, or electronic contact with the plaintiff and others
  • Prohibit the defendant from getting someone else to harass the plaintiff or others

Grounds for a restraining order in New Jersey

New Jersey defines nineteen grounds for a domestic violence restraining order. The list includes:

  • Assault: The threat, attempt, or infliction of physical harm or unwanted contact—assault doesn’t just mean physical contact
  • Criminal restraint: Physically preventing a person from going where they want to go
  • Stalking: Stalking can include following someone, sending unwanted messages, or unwanted online or social media contact
  • Sexual assault: Sexual contact or behavior without consent
  • Criminal sexual contact: Forced or uninvited touching of another’s body
  • Harassment: Unwanted communication (generally, a pattern of such behavior) that is repeated, anonymous, or sent at inconvenient times and is intended to cause stress or fear
  • Cyber harassment: Electronic harassment, including using social media to harm or threaten someone’s character
  • Lewdness: Showing private parts or committing lewd and offensive actions without consent
  • Threats: Threat to cause physical harm
  • Kidnapping: Holding someone captive and/or abducting them
  • False imprisonment: Preventing someone from going where they please, such as through gaslighting
  • Robbery: Taking something that belongs to someone else through force or fear
  • Burglary: Illegal entry with the intent to commit a crime
  • Criminal mischief: Damaging someone’s property
  • Contempt of a restraining order: Ignoring the requirements of a restraining order
  • Homicide: Murder

The grounds listed above are all crimes on their own. They also become forms of domestic violence when they happen between two people who live together, have dated or had a sexual relationship, or have or are expecting a child.

In other words, a stranger who steals your phone may be charged with robbery, but not domestic violence. However, if your partner takes your phone to try to prevent you from leaving the house during an argument, and a couple of weeks ago they took your car keys against your will or threatened to email your boss inappropriate information about you, this may be part of a pattern of domestic abuse.

Additionally, to seek a restraining order, you must be eighteen or an emancipated minor.

Types of restraining orders

In New Jersey, there are two types of domestic violence restraining orders: Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs).

Temporary Restraining Order

Temporary Restraining Orders are intended to quickly provide protection. They aren’t permanent. Instead, the goal is to keep someone safe and protect their well-being until there’s time for a comprehensive hearing where a judge will make a final decision.

To get a TRO, you can go to your local courthouse and file a complaint. You will first speak to an intake officer, who will document all of your concerns and any history of domestic violence between you and the alleged abuser. The intake officer will forward your documents to the judge, who will hear your case that day. You don’t have to tell the person you’re getting the restraining order against (the defendant) that you’re seeking an emergency protective order until after it’s happened. If there’s an urgent reason why you can’t go to the courthouse yourself, your sworn testimony can be used.

If the courts are closed and you need a TRO immediately, call 911. Your municipality should have an on-call judge who can issue a TRO based on your sworn testimony. If the municipal court judge won’t grant you emergency protection, you can ask to have the matter heard by an on-call Family Court judge.

If either judge grants your request, you’ll be given a court date about ten days later for a full hearing on a Final Restraining Order, which the defendant will also attend.

Final Restraining Order

While it’s always a good idea to have legal advice when filing for a TRO—if you can contact a lawyer quickly—having legal representation during a Final Restraining Order hearing is extremely helpful.

Why? Temporary Orders can be granted based on your sworn testimony, but the court hearing for a Final Restraining Order involves both sides trying to prove their case through testimony, evidence, and witnesses.

A final domestic violence restraining order can last forever and have a huge impact on someone’s life, so the judge wants to be sure they’re making the right decision.

That said, if an FRO is granted, the plaintiff or the defendant can file a motion to modify or end the court order at any time. Similarly, the defendant can appeal the outcome, but in order to be successful, they must have grounds to do so.

Is there a difference between a restraining order and a no-contact order?

Domestic violence restraining orders and no-contact orders function similarly, but legally, they progress through different channels.

A domestic violence protective order is the result of a civil complaint, which is different from a criminal complaint. Criminal charges may be filed, too (and often are filed as a result of domestic occurrences which result in TROs or FROs), but they don’t have to be.

By contrast, if someone is facing criminal charges and is released on bail, a no-contact order may be issued against them. These orders vary on a case-by-case basis, but they’re designed to protect the alleged victim. If charges are filed, TROs or FROs and no-contact orders may exist simultaneously.

Like domestic violence restraining orders, no-contact orders can limit contact or make certain places off-limits to the alleged perpetrator. They have an end date but can be extended.

How to file for a domestic violence restraining order in NJ

To file for a Temporary Restraining Order, you should go to your local courthouse. If it’s after-hours and the courthouse is closed, call 911.

You’ll need to answer questions for the courthouse staff member or law enforcement official who fills out the form. Even though it may be difficult to talk about, try to be as specific as possible about where, when, and how the incident or incidents occurred, particularly about any pain or injuries you experienced.

The person filling out the form will literally need to check boxes for criminal offenses. (See the “grounds” above.) Some categories are very similar in their definitions and the particular details of a situation may determine whether something is categorized as, say, stalking versus harassment.

You’ll also be asked if the defendant has a prior history of domestic violence against you. Even if you haven’t reported anything before, you should still report anything that happened between you which you believe could be relevant, including any prior incidents. If the prior history box isn’t checked, you won’t be allowed to testify about it at the Final Restraining Order hearing.

What happens if a restraining order is violated?

Violating a Temporary or Final Restraining Order is a criminal offense that requires the police to take action against the person breaking the domestic violence restraining order, including by arresting them.

This person can be found guilty of criminal contempt, face up to six months in county jail, and be fined up to $1000.

Additionally, the act which caused the violation is, by itself, another act of domestic violence, and the Court can consider the violation an act of domestic violence. This can factor into any criminal penalties or jail time that the abuser may face.

Work with a trusted domestic violence lawyer in NJ

At Jacobs Berger, LLC, our family law attorneys have more than 25 years’ combined experience in representing clients who are seeking legal protection against domestic violence—and those who are seeking to defend themselves against false allegations and the lifelong consequences a domestic violence restraining order can have.

If you need legal advice or representation for a domestic violence matter or restraining order, contact us for a strategic planning session—and protect your future.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.