USING THE LEGAL PROCESS FOR RESTRAINING ORDERS
HOW CAN THE LAW HELP TO PROTECT ME IF I HAVE BEEN A VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
In New Jersey, victims of domestic violence have aright to pursue civil remedies, such as a Restraining Order, or criminal penalties, or both.
WHAT IS A RESTRAINING ORDER?
A Restraining Order is a legally enforceable document that, among other things, prohibits the person who is abusing you from contacting you in any way, and requires the abuser to stay away from you, your home, and place of employment.
A Restraining Order does not result in the abuser having a criminal record but it can provide greater safety for you by ordering your abuser to stay away from you. Violating a Restraining Order is a crime
GETTING A RESTRAINING ORDER IS A TWO-STEP PROCESS:
- First, you apply for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) either at Family Court or at your local police department. The abuser is not present when you go to obtain a TRO. After you are issued a TRO, the police or sheriff’s officers (and not you) will attempt to serve the abuser with the TRO.
- Within approximately 10 days, you will be scheduled to appear in Family Court at a hearing to determine whether your TRO will be made final and converted to a Final Restraining Order (FRO).
HOW CAN I GET A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO)?
You may file in the county where the domestic violence occurred, where you live, where the abuser lives, or where you are sheltered.
Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can go to your county’s Family Court and tell a court employee that you are there to request a TRO. A Family Court intake employee will give you papers to fill out and ask you to describe what happened during the most recent domestic violence incident as well as any prior history of abuse. You will need to testify before a judge or hearing officer and show that you are in danger of domestic violence and that a Restraining Order is necessary to protect your life, health, and/or well-being.
The Family Court Domestic Violence Unit intake is closed on weekdays before 8:30 a.m. and after 3:30 p.m. and on weekends and holidays. When the Family Court Domestic Violence Unit intake is closed, you may go to your local police department to obtain a TRO through a municipal court judge. The police usually take the information for the complaint and call a municipal court judge. The judge will speak to you on the phone about the incident and any prior history of domestic violence. A TRO will then be issued if the judge thinks it is warranted. If the municipal court judge denies the TRO, you may go to Family Court and apply for a TRO during court hours.
WHAT CAN I ASK THE JUDGE FOR AT THE HEARING FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO)?
If you satisfied the requirements to get a TRO, you may ask for temporary relief that will remain in place until the next court hearing. The judge may order any or all of the following:
- The abuser is forbidden from coming to your home, even if you shared it with your abuser. It is important to know that your name does not need to be on the deed or lease to request the judge to order the abuser to leave your home.
- The abuser is forbidden from possessing any fire arms or other weapons. The judge may order a search and seizure of any such weapon.
- Theabuser is forbiddenfromcontactingyou by any method.
- The abuserisforbiddenfromcoming to your workplace, or any other place that you specify, such as your children’s school and daycare, and family members’ homes.
- You are given temporary custody of your children and the abuser’s parenting time is suspended.
- The abuser pay temporary emergent support, child support, support for you, as well as them or tagged or renter any other bills until the Final Restraining Order hearing is held.
- You are granted temporary possession of personal property such as a pet and/or a vehicle.
You can add additional people to be protected under the TRO, such as family members and non-shared children. You may also ask the judge to freeze all bank accounts.
WHAT DO I PUT IN THE COMPLAINT FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO)?
You must list all the facts of the incident that happened that made you file the complaint. For example, facts like: hitting; punching; threatening to kill; cursing; pulling hair; burning with cigarettes; throwing objects; following you to work, home, school, or a store should be included, if they happened. If the abuser used a weapon to hurt or attempt to hurt you, include this in the complaint. If you needed medical treatment for your injuries, this information should also be included.
Even if you have never filed a complaint or reported an incident before, it is very important to include in the complaint previous incidents of domestic violence or abuse committed against you. Be sure to include all of the incidents or you will not be allowed to testify about it in court. You should also include if the abuser uses drugs or alcohol.
The police or the court staff will interview you and prepare the complaint for the TRO. It is important to read the typed complaint carefully before signing it to make sure you do not miss anything and that the information is accurate.
If you would like further information on what to put in your complaint for the TRO, you may speak to a domestic violence attorney for free by calling the New Jersey Domestic Violence Legal Helpline toll free at 800-403-2111.
HOW LONG WILL I HAVE TO WAIT TO SEE A JUDGE?
There is no way to tell how long it will take for you to see a judge on any particular day. Go to the courthouse as early as possible. You may have to spend an entire workday at the courthouse, so notify your employer beforehand. Be prepared in the event your wait is a long one. Arrange for a safe place for your children to stay while you are in court.
CAN I GET A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO) IF I AM SICK AND CONFINED TO BED OR IF I HAVE A PHYSICAL OR MENTAL DISABILITY?
Yes. A judge may issue a TRO upon sworn testimony or the complaint of a representative of a victim who is physically or mentally incapable of filing
WHAT IF I AM NOT A U.S. CITIZEN?
You are entitled to obtain a Restraining Order even if you are not a U.S. citizen and even if you do not have legal status to be in the U.S. The law in New Jersey was written for the protection of all victims of domestic violence. It is important that you seek legal advice from a lawyer who specializes in immigration law You can find contact information for organizations that specialize in immigration law on our Helpful Resources page.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER I RECEIVE A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (TRO)?
A TRO is a legal document that contains the orders of the judge. You will receive a copy that you should keep in your possession at all times. The police department and the court receive a copy. You do not serve the TRO. The abuser must be served by law enforcement with notice of the TRO and of the date for the final hearing. The abuser must be served with the papers in order to know to stay away from you, your children, and others named in your complaint.
You should give copies of the TRO to your children’s schools and other relevant parties.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)HEARING?
Usually within 10 days of the date of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), you will have to appear in Family Court for the final hearing. You will have the opportunity to tell the judge all of the things that happened that caused you to get the TRO and the history of domestic abuse that you have suffered. The abuser will probably be in court at this time and have an opportunity to testify. There will be protection for you in the courtroom and in the courthouse. If you are fearful because the abuser is there, tell the court officer. If you need an escort to accompany you out of the courthouse because you are afraid of the abuser, ask the court officer to provide one for you.
If your abuser does not appear in court at the final hearing, the judge may still grant the FRO after hearing your testimony, as long as there is proof that the abuser has been served notice of the hearing. If there is no proof that the abuser has been served, then the judge may issue an Indefinite TRO. An Indefinite TRO gives you as much protection as an FRO. If the abuser is ever served with the TRO, the court will notify you to appear for an FRO hearing and you must go to court.
If you change your address, it is very important that you notify the Domestic Violence Unit at the court so that you can be contacted. If you do not appear in court at the final hearing, the judge may reschedule a second hearing or may dismiss the case. If there is a reason you cannot attend the hearing, contact the judge’s chambers or the Domestic Violence Unit to inform them of the reason. If you do not appear a second time, the judge may dismiss the case.
If you would like further information on what to expect at the FRO hearing, you may speak to a domestic violence attorney for free by calling the New Jersey Domestic Violence Legal Helpline toll free at 800-403-2111.
DOINEEDALAWYERAT THE FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO) HEARING?
You do not need a lawyer (sometimes called “attorney” or “counsel”) for an FRO hearing, but it is always helpful to have one with you or to get legal advice before you go to court. If your abuser has a lawyer, or if it is a complicated case, it is advisable to bring a lawyer with you. If you appear in court without a lawyer, you may ask the judge to adjourn your case to give you time to get a lawyer.
WHAT MUST I BE PREPARED TO TELL THE JUDGE AT THE FRO HEARING?
Be prepared to tell the judge in detail:
What the abuser did that caused you to file for a TRO. This may include any of the acts or series of acts of abusive behaviors listed on pages 6-7.
- Any emotional effect of the abusive behavior.
- Any physical injuries, if applicable, such as bruises, swelling, redness, pain, hair loss.
- Any other times when the abuser hurt you, or made you afraid, or threatened you in any way, no matter how long ago, and even if it was not reported.
- Why you need the protection of the court to stop the abuse from happening again. If you are afraid of the abuser, tell the judge why you are fearful.
- Whether the abuser owns or has access to weapons, even if they were never used against you.
- Whether your children saw and/or heard the abuse or were abused themselves. If the judge finds that the children were exposed to domestic violence, the court may contact the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
To support your claims of abuse, it is helpful if you can bring any evidence such as:
- Witnesses to the abuse (not a letter from the witness).
- Medical reports.
- Police reports (present and past).
- Voicemails or audio/video recordings.
- Print outs of texts, e-mails, or phone logs.
- Photographs of injuries, printed out if possible.
Tell the judge if you need financial support from the abuser for you and your children. You should bring your abuser’s pay stubs and your ownemployment pay stubs or other proof of income, including recent tax returns, W-2s, and social security statements which can be particularly useful to show the abuser’s income.
If you would like further assistance preparing for your FRO hearing, you may speak to a domestic violence attorney for free by calling the New Jersey Domestic Violence Legal Helpline toll free at 800-403-2111.
WHAT CAN I ASK THE JUDGE FOR IN THE FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)?
Once the judge has decided that you are entitled to an FRO, the judge will order the following:
- The abuser is prohibited from committing future acts of domestic violence.
- The abuser must stay away from you, your residence, and place of employment.
You may also ask the judge to require the abuser to stay 500 to 1000 feet away from you; other people that you request; and other locations you are concerned about, such as your children’s school or daycare, or family members’ homes.
- The abuser is prohibited from having any oral, written, personal, electronic, or any other form of contact or communication with you.
You may also ask the judge to prohibit communication with others that you specify, such as friends and family.
If you have children in common, you may ask the judge to include in the FRO permission for some communication between you and the abuser to discuss the needs of the children and visitation arrangements. (We recommend that this be done in writing via text or email, or through a third party. All communications should be brief and polite.)
- The abuser is prohibited from making or causing anyone else to make harassing communications to you.
You may also ask the judge to prohibit the abuser from making or causing anyone else to make harassing communications to anyone you specify.
- The abuser is prohibited from stalking, following, or threatening to harm, to stalk, or to follow you.
You may also ask the judge to prohibit the abuser from stalking, following, or threatening to harm, stalk, or follow anyone you specify.
- The abuser will be prohibited from possessing any and all firearms or other weapons and must immediately surrender these firearms and weapons.The abuser must also surrender permits to carry firearms, applications to purchase firearms, and firearms purchase ID cards.
Tell the judge if you know if the abuser has any weapons or permits.
Listen closely to what the judge orders. You may also ask the judge to include the following in the FRO:
- You are granted possession of the home if you both live there.
- When and how the police must accompany you or the abuser back to the residence to pick up personal possessions.
- You are granted temporary custody of the children.
- The abuser must pay ongoing child support to you.
- The abuser must pay spousal support to you if you are married and entitled to support.
- The abuser must pay basic financial needs (rent/mortgage payments, daycare,etc.) as well as other expenses (medical bills, health insurance, car/home insurance, car payments, car repairs, gas and electric, phone, etc.)
- You are given possession of specific property, such as a car and pets.
- The abuser must pay for property damage, medical bills, legal fees, and other costs resulting from the abusive behavior.
- The abuser must enter a treatment program for batterers, a substance abuse treatment program, or get other appropriate counseling.
If you and the abuser have children in common, the FRO should include:
- Arrangements for visitation by the noncustodial parent that are appropriate for the children and provide for your safety.
You may ask the judge to order supervised visitation by the court or by a third party if you are concerned for the safety of the children. You should explain your concerns about the children’s well-being to the judge.
In certain cases, you may ask for the suspension of all parenting time pending an investigation of the abuser’s ability to parent, particularly if the abuser has a serious substance abuse problem or has abused the children.
- You may also request a risk assessment to evaluate the safety of the children during visitation with the abuser.
- The FRO should provide for a way for you to discuss the issues concerning the children with the other party directly (for example, e-mail or text messaging) or through a third party.
WHAT SHOULD I DO AFTER I RECEIVE A FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER(FRO)?
You will receive a copy of the FRO after the hearing. The FRO is enforceable throughout the United States.
It is important that you consider doing the following:
- Review the order BEFORE you leave the courtroom. If something is wrong or missing, ask the court clerk to correct the FRO before you leave.
- Keep a copy of the FRO with you at all times.
- Make several copies of the FRO to leave in safe places in case you need it. You may attach a photo of the abuser to each copy of the FRO that you give to others.
- Keep a copy at your job, one at your home, one in your car, one at your children’s school, one with the babysitter and/or daycare program.
- Give a copy to the security guard where you live and/or work.
- Give a copy to a trusted neighbor and/or friend.
- Give a copy to friends or relatives who are named and protected in the FRO.
- Make sure your local police have a copy of the FRO.
Also see the Safety Planning section entitled “SAFETY WHEN YOUR ABUSER NO LONGER LIVES WITH YOU OR NEVER DID”.
WHAT IF I NEED TO CHANGE MY FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)?
If circumstances have changed in any way since the court issued the FRO, you may request to modify it. Examples of reasons to modify include changes in:
- Custody and visitation arrangements.
- Financial needs and obligations.
- Issues that were not addressed at the original FRO hearing.
HOW DO I MODIFY MY FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)?
In order to modify your FRO, you may file a Motion for Modification. If you need to request an emergency change in the terms of the FRO, you may file an Order to Show Cause. On either of these forms, you will write out your reasons for wanting the court to review and amend your FRO. Go to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Family Court that issued your FRO and tell them what you now want to do. They will help you file your motion and set up a future court date.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE A FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO) AND THE ABUSER DOES NOT LEAVE ME ALONE?
A violation of the stay away and no contact provisions of the FRO is a crime. If the abuser contacts you or tries to contact you in any way or commits a new act of domestic violence, call the police immediately. The abuser must be arrested.
WHAT IF THE ABUSER DOES NOT FOLLOW THE OTHER TERMS OF THE FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)?
You may ask the Family Court to enforce the terms of the FRO, such as attend counseling or pay child support or other expenses if the abuser does not follow the FRO. Contact the Domestic Violence Unit at the Family Court and they will advise you on how to proceed.
If you would like further information about how to modify your FRO, you may speak to a domestic violence attorney for free by calling the New Jersey Domestic Violence Legal Helpline toll free at 800-403-2111.
WHAT IF I CHANGE MY MIND AND WANT TO DROP THE FINAL RESTRAINING ORDER (FRO)?
In New Jersey, FROs do not expire. If you want to dismiss the FRO, you must go back to court specifically to request a dismissal. Because the court system wants to make sure that you are making this decision of your own free will and are not doing it because you are being coerced or threatened in any way, the court will arrange for you to speak privately with a trained domestic violence advocate who will explore with you your decision to request dismissal of the FRO. You will need to show a photo ID. You will then appear in front of a judge who may ask you questions to ensure that you have not been coerced.
DO NOT agree to dismiss your FRO unless you have been provided with the opportunity to speak to a trained domestic violence advocate who can help you determine if this is the course of action you truly want to take.