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What Happens If Someone Violates a Restraining Order in New Jersey

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Whether temporary or permanent, domestic violence restraining orders are entered by the court to protect someone’s safety and well-being.
Restraining orders typically ban contact between the plaintiff (protected party) and defendant (accused party), and failing to follow the restrictions of a restraining order can be a criminal violation with potentially significant consequences. 

If you’ve violated a restraining order or someone you have a restraining order against has violated the conditions of the order, we recommend contacting an NJ restraining order attorney.

What is a restraining order?

A restraining order is designed to protect a person from continued domestic violence, which includes a wide range of crimes, from kidnapping to cyberharassment to lewdness. 

A restraining order legally requires that the accused party not engage in certain acts against the party who obtained the order, which can include, but may not be limited to:

  • Coming within a certain physical distance of the plaintiff, their family, or employer
  • Coming to certain locations where the plaintiff, their family, or employer may be, such as a residence, school, office building, etc.
  • Contacting the plaintiff, their family, or employer, or having someone contact them on the defendant’s behalf

Types of restraining orders

There are two primary kinds of restraining orders: Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Final Restraining Orders (FROs).

Temporary Restraining Orders

A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued quickly, with minimal evidence requirement, and typically lasts for about ten days. The purpose of a TRO is to provide immediate protection for the victim.

A TRO is typically only in place for ten days, at which point there will be another hearing to determine whether the TRO needs to be dropped or converted into a Final Restraining Order.

Final Restraining Orders

Final Restraining Orders (FROs) are permanent and have lifelong implications. Approximately ten days after a TRO is issued, the court will hold a hearing as to whether or not a FRO is needed.

Unlike the issuance of a TRO, the hearing for a FRO requires evidence and often includes witness testimony, cross-examination, and more.

What does it mean to “violate a restraining order”?

Violating a restraining order in New Jersey is considered criminal contempt. If a defendant violates a final restraining order or if a violation is alleged, the violation or alleged violation requires a mandatory arrest. The defendant may then face contempt charges (and more) for violating the restraining order.

This statute describes “contempt” in the following way: 

“A person is guilty of a crime . . . if he 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.”

What’s more, once a restraining order has been issued, the defendant needs to comply with all restraining order requirements, even if it prohibits the defendant from taking actions that are beyond the scope of the plaintiff’s original allegations.  

For example, the court may enter an order restraining the defendant from coming to the plaintiff’s place of employment, but the original allegations may be that the defendant used vulgar words when speaking to the plaintiff on the phone. 

Consequences for violating a restraining order

Courts in New Jersey take restraining orders very seriously because they protect someone’s safety, and potentially, their life. Violating a restraining order can result in significant consequences. 

Contempt charges for violating a FRO are prosecuted by the Domestic Violence Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office. The charges are under the Family Court, but it’s handled as a type of criminal proceeding. If a TRO has been entered, but a FRO is still pending in the Family Court, and the TRO is violated, the contempt charges will be handled separately from the pending hearing as to whether a FRO should be issued.

The consequences for contempt charges are as follows:

  • First offense: up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine
  • Second offense: mandatory minimum of 30 days in county jail
  • If an additional crime is committed while violating a TRO or FRO, depending on the crime (ex: battery, assault), the defendant can face a 4th-degree felony charge, up to 18 months in prison, and fines up to $10,000 according to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9. If the additional crime is a misdemeanor, there may be other municipal court charges pending

In New Jersey, a contempt charge needs to be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that it must be shown in court that the defendant knew what they were doing when they violated the restraining order and that they did it on purpose.

Additional charges for violating a restraining order

The defendant doesn’t just face contempt charges when they violate a restraining order. For example, suppose the defendant violates a restraining order by, for example, hitting the protected party. In that case, the defendant may face two charges and two sets of legal consequences: the first for violating the restraining order and the second for the battery. The original allegation of domestic violence that led to the issuing of the Restraining Order (if temporary) will still be adjudicated by the Court.

It’s important to note that the Court considers violating a Restraining Order as a separate act of domestic violence from the behavior that prompted the violation. So, if you have a TRO in place, you can be tried for three things: the original behavior that led to the TRO, the conduct which qualifies as contempt, and the contempt itself, which is also considered an act of domestic violence. 

Additional charges for violating a restraining order

Violating a restraining order comes with significant consequences. If someone has violated a restraining order, we strongly recommend getting legal advice from an NJ restraining order attorney.

Violating a TRO

It’s essential to adhere to the restrictions of both a TRO and a FRO, but a violation of a TRO is handled differently than that of a final restraining order. 

Because TROs are processed quickly, a defendant might not have received notice of the restraining order. If the defendant hasn’t been served and they can reasonably claim they didn’t know about the restraining order, they may not be held accountable for violating the TRO. 

If a TRO is in place and a FRO is pending when a violation occurs, the defendant may not be found in contempt of the TRO. However, the Family Court will still move forward with determining whether a FRO should be issued.

However, once the defendant has been served with a TRO or a FRO is established, the courts will hold them accountable for following the prohibitions.

Can a restraining order be violated if we’ve reconciled?

If a defendant and plaintiff reconcile and begin to see each other again—or even live together—the defendant may still face contempt charges for violating a restraining order unless the plaintiff chooses to dismiss the restraints. In the past, New Jersey courts have decided both ways in the matter, so nothing is guaranteed. It’s entirely possible that the defendant would face stiff fines and jail time if the violation was reported. 

Part of the reasoning behind this is that the courts are particularly aware of how a victim of domestic abuse may be manipulated into reconciling with the accused party. This is also why it’s so hard to get a FRO removed once it’s in place. Whether you are the victim or the alleged abuser, it’s crucial to know the repercussions of certain choices while a restraining order still exists.

Who do I call if someone has violated a restraining order in NJ?

At Jacobs Berger, our family law attorneys have extensive experience in working with clients on restraining order issues. We’ve successfully represented victims of domestic violence seeking protection and those who have been wrongly accused.

We pride ourselves on understanding that each client’s situation is unique and proceeding with legal strategy that meets their specific needs. 

If you have concerns about a restraining order violation, contact us today for a strategic planning session. Our knowledgeable attorneys can guide you through the process.

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 confidential consultation with Amy or any other experienced team member today regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.