Victims of domestic violence who require the protection of a restraining order may apply for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) with the Family Part of the Superior Court. The police may also assist in obtaining a TRO before a municipal court judge on holidays, weekends and other times when the Superior Court is closed.
When applying for a TRO, victims should list all predicate acts of domestic violence that form the basis of the Complaint. In addition, a detailed account of all prior acts of domestic violence should be included in the Complaint. Under the Domestic Violence Act, prior history of domestic violence is both relevant, and often crucial, in determining whether a FRO should be granted.
• Prior history may include incidents that did not result in the police being contacted and did not result in the issuance of a TRO or criminal complaint;
• It’s important to include all acts and prior acts of domestic violence because failure to do so may preclude introducing evidence or testimony regarding the particular incident at the final hearing.
After a victim applies for a TRO, a hearing is conducted, usually without the defendant (the person accused of domestic violence) being present. Due to the fact that these hearings are unopposed and the Court hears only the victim’s version of events, TRO’s are usually granted so long as a prima facia case of domestic violence is established. A TRO provides victims immediate protection by prohibiting the defendant from having any contact or communication with the victim, as well as other ancillary relief that the Court deems necessary.
After a TRO is issued and served on a defendant, a final hearing is scheduled to determine whether a FRO should be entered. At the final hearing, both parties present testimony and evidence regarding the allegations of domestic violence. If a Court determines that an act of domestic violence has been proven by a preponderance of the evidence and that the issuance of a final restraining order is necessary to prevent further acts of domestic violence, the Court will issue a FRO.
Although the issuance of a FRO does not constitute a conviction of a criminal offense, New Jersey Courts have recognized that it, “has serious consequences to the personal and professional lives of those who are found guilty . . .” For example, once a FRO is entered, a defendant is fingerprinted, is required to forfeit firearms and weapons and is included in the central registry maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Furthermore, violation of a TRO or FRO constitutes contempt, and a second or subsequent non-indictable domestic violence contempt violation requires a minimum jail term of 30 days imprisonment. The issuing Court may also impose a number of other wide-reaching sanctions.
Due to the serious consequences that can result from the issuance of a FRO, our Courts have reiterated that the Domestic Violence Act is intended to assist those who are truly victims of domestic violence and that the process should not be trivialized. Furthermore, our Courts have stressed that “domestic contretemps” or marital bickering should not be mistaken for matters of consequence warranting the protections afforded by the Domestic Violence Act.
Due to the fact that certain relief afforded by FRO’s impact issues that are often the most contentious between divorcing spouses (custody, parenting time and financial support), our Appellate Division has expressed concern that parties may attempt to misuse the Act in order to gain an advantage in a companion matrimonial action. Clearly, the Domestic Violence Act was not intended for such purposes and our Courts serve as “gatekeepers” to filter out complaints that fail to constitute true domestic violence.
If you have any questions about domestic violence and the legal process, it is important that you seek legal advice to be sure that you are informed of all of your rights in light of the serious consequences involving domestic violence law in New Jersey. You can reach me at (609) 275-0400.