If you are a victim of domestic violence in New Jersey, you can go to court to obtain a domestic violence restraining order. Under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), there are special protections in place for victims, and you can—and should—utilize these protections if you need to. Here, an experienced New Jersey restraining order lawyer explains the process for obtaining an order of protection:
Step 1: Make Sure You Are Eligible for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
Before you go through the process of seeking a domestic violence restraining order, you should make sure you are eligible. While you most likely are, it is worth making sure—as you may need to pursue a different option if you don’t qualify.
To qualify for a domestic violence restraining order, you must be a victim of domestic violence as defined by the PDVA. You are a victim if you have experienced an act of domestic violence committed by:
- A current or former spouse or domestic partner;
- A current or former boyfriend or girlfriend;
- Someone with whom you have a child in common or are expecting a child; or,
- Any other current or former member of your household.
Acts of domestic violence include (but are not limited to):
- Criminal coercion
- Criminal restraint
- Criminal sexual contact
- Criminal trespass
- False imprisonment
- Robbery or burglary
- Sexual assault
- Terroristic threats
What if you aren’t eligible for a domestic violence restraining order? In this scenario, you may be entitled to another form of protection. For example, a New Jersey restraining order lawyer may be able to help you obtain a sexual assault restraining order or an extreme risk protective order. It is also possible to obtain restraining orders against certain types of criminal conduct that do not qualify as domestic violence.
Step 2: File a Complaint in Court
Assuming you are eligible to obtain a domestic violence restraining order in New Jersey, the next step is to file a complaint in court. During business hours, you can file a complaint in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. You can either visit the court in the county where you live, where the abuser lives or where the domestic violence occurred—and you can find the location of each Superior Court on the New Jersey Courts website.
After business hours, you can file a domestic violence restraining order complaint at the municipal court if it is open, or if necessary, you can call the police. It is standard practice during the hours that courts are closed for local police departments or New Jersey state police barracks to assist victims of domestic violence with obtaining temporary restraining orders. In any case, you should have your ID with you, and you should bring as much information about the abuser as possible. This includes the abuser’s address, phone number, license plate number and current employer. Before going to court, it is also helpful to write down any and all prior acts of domestic violence between you and your abuser. If possible, try to specify dates and times. If you can’t recall specific dates and times, try to generalize them (i.e., “around the 4th of July weekend last year” or “ a few days after Christmas in 2020”).
When you go to the courthouse, you will go to family court and be interviewed by a probation officer. Here, you will be provided with the form you need to file your domestic violence restraining order complaint. To obtain a domestic violence restraining order, you should allege in your complaint that:
- You have experienced a “predicate act” of domestic violence. This means that the act of domestic violence must have just happened most recently;
- You have suffered a prior history of domestic violence, or the “predicate act” is extremely serious (a prior history is not required in every case, but if there is a history, you must mention it in your complaint); and,
- You reasonably fear for your safety and a restraining order is necessary to protect your well-being.
Step 3: Domestic Violence Interview and Temporary Restraining Order Hearing
The next step after filing your complaint is to sit for a domestic violence interview. If you file your complaint in court, this interview should occur while you are there. As explained in the New Jersey Courts’ brochure, A Guide to the Most Frequently Asked Questions, once you file your complaint with the clerk’s office:
“A domestic violence staff member will interview [you] and ask specific questions that pertain to the incident that has brought [you] to court and about past incidents of domestic violence. After the interview, there will be a hearing with a domestic violence hearing officer or judge.”
Your initial domestic violence restraining order hearing will be conducted ex parte, which means that it takes place without the abuser being present. After the hearing, you will either receive a temporary restraining order (TRO), or the domestic violence hearing officer will determine that a restraining order is not warranted. If this happens, you can immediately request another hearing before a judge. If you are requesting a temporary restraining order at a municipal court and the municipal court judge denies your application, you can immediately appeal that denial in superior court on the next business day. If you are already in superior court and a hearing officer denies your application, you can request to have your appeal heard by a superior court judge.
Step 4: Service of the Temporary Restraining Order
If you receive a temporary restraining order, the police will serve the TRO on the abuser. At this point, the abuser will be bound by the TRO—and the abuser will face criminal penalties if he or she violates the order. The TRO will also contain information for you and the abuser regarding the next court date. It is critically important that you show up for your hearing or contact the court if you cannot make it. Failure to follow up may result in the dismissal of your case.
Step 5: Attend a Second Hearing to Obtain Your Final Restraining Order
To secure protection beyond the duration of your TRO, you will need to go back to court for another hearing to obtain your final restraining order (FRO). This is called a final restraining order hearing. The abuser has the right to be present at this hearing if he or she so chooses. At this hearing, the judge will hear the evidence from both sides to determine whether an act of domestic violence has occurred and then either issue or deny a final order. If the judge issues a final restraining order, the FRO may provide long-term protections and other forms of relief including (but not limited to)
- Protection against the abuser committing further acts of domestic violence
- Protection against the abuser entering your household or visiting your work
- Protection against the abuser having contact with you or your children
- Protection against the abuser staking, harassing or threatening you or your children
- Protection against the abuser possessing firearms or other weapons
- Monetary relief, temporary child custody and mandatory counseling for the abuser
Speak with a New Jersey Restraining Order Lawyer in Confidence
While you can file for a domestic violence restraining order on your own, you can also hire a lawyer to help you. When you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will prepare your complaint for you and represent you during your TRO and final hearings. To properly prepare your case, an experienced attorney at Helmer Legal will interview you, gather appropriate evidence in a format presentable in court and possibly subpoena important witnesses for your case (including police officers). We represent domestic violence victims statewide, and if you have questions about how to protect yourself, we encourage you to call 877-435-6371 or contact us online to speak with an experienced New Jersey restraining order lawyer in confidence.