How to File a Restraining Order for Harassment in New Jersey

Blue pen laying on a blank restraining order on desk.
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There are two types of restraining orders under New Jersey law. The first is a temporary restraining order (TRO), which restrains the abuser until the court can schedule a final restraining order (FRO) hearing. The court usually schedules the final restraining order hearing within 10 days, and an FRO is in effect permanently. Either party can move to have the FRO dismissed.

A victim should carry a copy of the restraining order with them at all times. If they are harassed by the abuser, they should show the police the restraining order and explain how the abuser is violating the order.

What a Restraining Order Does

A restraining order, sometimes called a protective order, prevents the abuser from having contact with the victim, the victim’s relatives and household members, including children that the abuser and the victim may have in common. It can also prohibit the abuser from visiting the residence where the victim lives, and the court can award the victim exclusive possession of the residence and temporary custody of the children. The court may order the defendant to have specified hours of visitation with children and require the abuser to pay temporary child support to the victim.

The court may also order the abuser to pay rent on the property in which the victim lives. It will forbid the abuser to possess a firearm or weapons. If the abuser caused the victim to suffer injuries, the court will require them to pay the victim’s medical expenses related to such injuries, and forbid the abuser from committing further acts of domestic violence.

The court may order that the victim be granted possession of certain personal property, both on a temporary basis and when the matter is heard for a FRO. Personal property may include a car and computer. If an abuser is ordered to leave the residence, the court decides whether to allow them to retrieve specific property from the residence. An officer is directed not to accompany the abuser to a specific place to retrieve specific personal property unless the court authorizes this action.

How to Prove Harassment

A victim proves that an abuser is harassing them by revealing the details of incidents that show the abuser has engaged in one or more acts that constitute physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. Acts of domestic violence may include threats, intimidation, isolation and financial control. Domestic violence can occur between people who are spouses, former spouses, family members or roommates who live together.

Domestic violence can also occur between romantic partners, whether they are married, living together or dating. A victim of domestic violence should show that the abuser attempted or actually harassed them and the incidents became more severe over time. A victim qualifies for a restraining order if they are 18 years or older or an emancipated minor.

What Constitutes a Violation

The abuser is the person restrained by the order. Any contact that the abuser or a person acting on their behalf makes to the victim or a member of the victim’s family constitutes a violation of a restraining order. A text message, phone call, social media post, or knock on the door can be a violation of a restraining order.

If a victim contacts their abuser, they will not suffer a penalty because the victim is not the party restrained by the order. When an abuser violates the no contact portion of a TRO or FRO, the victim can report the violation to the local police. When an abuser violates the order with respect to financial matters, such as failing to pay child support, the victim must file for relief in the Family Court in which the order was issued.

Violation of a Restraining Order

A restraining order is an order from a civil court judge, yet a violation of a civil restraining order is contempt of court, which is a criminal offense. An individual who violates a restraining order will be arrested; the penalty for a second violation includes up to 30 days in jail.

The court may decide to delay a jail or prison sentence because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court will give the victim a chance to respond to the proposed delay. It is unlikely the court will stay the rest of the sentence, which may include payment of fines and license suspensions. Probation officers attend sentencing hearings. If a judge delays sending an abuser to jail because of COVID-19, the defendant may be supervised by probation.

Form for Temporary Restraining Order

The first page of the TRO is the domestic violence complaint. The victim must share information about their identity and their address. They must also provide the abuser’s identity, description and address. The first page also asks the dates on which the incidents occurred and a description of the incidents.

The second page of the TRO shares what relief the victim can expect to see. The form provides what relief the victim is entitled to under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The form discusses both the relief provided by a TRO and an FRO.

Weapons Information on a TRO

The third page of the TRO asks for information that a judge may use to complete a search warrant. This section must be filled out in detail to satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment should the judge authorize a search for, and seizure of, weapons. The victim should describe the places to be searched and the objects to be seized.

The victim should attempt to provide the types of firearms that the abuser owns. It may be overly broad for an officer to say they want to seize "all weapons" or "all firearms." The victim should attempt to provide the general locations of the firearms.

For example, if the firearm might be in the abuser's home, the victim should give a detailed description. In other words, a unit should be described as Apartment 4 at 201 Main Street with a stoop and side entrance, rather than simply as 201 Main Street.

Court Information on the TRO

The fourth page of the TRO indicates whether the court has granted or denied the TRO. When the court grants a TRO, the it schedules a final hearing. It will put the date of the hearing in the Notice to Appear section. After the court grants the TRO, the defendant must be served the form and sign the bottom to confirm receipt.

What Happens in Court

A victim who applies for a TRO in the Family Division typically appears before a judge to explain the incidents of concern and why the abuser is a danger to them. The victim usually appears without the abuser present. When the victim returns to court for a hearing, the abuser may be present They may have a victim advocate present to support them through the hearing.

At the hearing, the victim and the abuser each have the chance to speak. Either or both parties may have attorneys present. If the abuser does not appear, the judge may continue the temporary order until they can be brought to court. Alternatively, the judge may enter a FRO if there is proof the abuser was served with the TRO. The sheriff or police should have proof of service.

The court may not request or tell the victim to serve the abuser with documents. If the victim does not appear and has not made arrangements with the court to reschedule the case, an officer of the court will attempt to contact the victim by phone at home or work. They may also send the victim a certified letter if the victim does not have a phone. If the court cannot locate the victim, it will dismiss their request for a restraining order and they will not have the protection granted in the TRO.

Denial of a TRO

An on-call municipal court judge may deny a victim's request for a TRO. An officer completing the Notice to Appear section in the final part of the form must tell the victim that if this occurs, they can refile the domestic violence complaint in Family Part based on this concern. The victim can then receive an emergent hearing, or emergency hearing, before the Family Part judge when court is in session.

Filing Criminal Charges

A victim of a crime such as stalking, battery, sexual assault, property damage or child abuse can file a criminal complaint as well as seek a TRO. Police are required to file a criminal complaint if there are visible signs of injury. The criminal complaint initiates a case at criminal court.

The conditions for a defendant’s release before trial may include a requirement to stay away from the victim. If a defendant violates this condition before the case is resolved, the court may issue a warrant for their arrest.

The court's issuance of a no contact order in the criminal case is separate from a restraining order issued in civil court. The abuser can violate both orders at the same time and suffer penalties for each violation.

Obtaining a Restraining Order

An individual in the state of New Jersey who has an income level that places them above the poverty line can hire a private attorney to help them file a restraining order. An individual who is indigent or cannot afford the services of an attorney on their own, should visit a legal aid office to request assistance with filing a restraining order. A legal aid staff member who is not an attorney can help a victim file for a restraining order, but they are not able to offer legal advice.

A victim can call about getting a restraining order to the Family Part of the Superior Court in their county between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. On weekends, holidays and after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays, they can request a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the municipal court in their area. The victim should call their state or local police station or the statewide domestic violence hotline at 800-572-SAFE (7233).

Court Orders During COVID-19

Court operations regarding domestic violence have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. New Jersey courts have a low number of judges and court staff working on site every day. Courthouses and court facilities are not open except to attorneys, litigants and members of the public with scheduled proceedings or appointments. An individual seeking a domestic violence restraining order can come to court with an appointment.

An individual who does not have an appointment should call or go to the county courthouse during normal court hours. A victim can go to court in the county where they live, where the defendant lives, where the act of violence took place or in the county where they are seeking shelter. A victim who wants to apply for a restraining order remotely can call the Family Division in their county.

A victim who needs a restraining order after normal court hours should contact their local police department. The police department can help ask a municipal court judge to issue a TRO. Attorneys and self-represented litigants may submit documents through the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) system.