Family law cases can get heated. When emotions run too hot, they can boil over into threats, violence, and stalking.

In New Jersey, a victim of domestic violence can file a domestic violence complaint with the Family Division of the local Superior Court. Upon receipt of the complaint, a judge can immediately issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) restricting the alleged abuser from contacting the victim.

The family court judge will schedule a hearing to hear from both sides regarding the allegations. At the end of the hearing, the judge can issue a final restraining order (FRO) that can place permanent limits on an alleged abuser’s rights.

Here is a quick guide for how to file and obtain a restraining order in New Jersey.

Conditions for a TRO

Judges can issue a TRO for many reasons. In a dispute over ownership of land, for example, a judge can issue a TRO that prevents a sale.

In family court, a domestic violence TRO restrains one party from taking any action that could endanger the life, health, or wellbeing of the other party.

Emergency Nature of a TRO

You can request a TRO when you need emergency protection from someone who has committed domestic violence against you. 

Because a TRO constitutes emergency relief, the court does not notify the accused person before issuing the TRO. Instead, the court will only hear your side of the story and determine whether good cause exists to issue the TRO.

To establish good cause, you must meet two conditions:

Relationship Between the Parties

Under New Jersey law, a family court judge can issue a TRO if the victim and accused have a familial relationship, including:

  • Current or previous marriage
  • Currently or formerly cohabitating in the same household
  • Have a shared child or pregnancy
  • Have (or had) a dating relationship

You cannot file a domestic violence complaint with the Family Division for any other relationship. For example, if a co-worker stalks and threatens you, you cannot obtain a TRO from the Family Division, but you could file a lawsuit for assault against your co-worker. The judge in the civil lawsuit could then issue a TRO against the co-worker.

Domestic Violence By the Accused

To obtain a TRO, you must show that the accused committed domestic violence against you. Family judges can only issue a TRO if the judge has good cause to believe the accusation of domestic violence. 

You stand a much better chance of getting a TRO if you have evidence of domestic violence, including:

  • Police reports
  • Witness testimony
  • Physical evidence, such as photos

This evidence must show that the person committed at least one offense enumerated in New Jersey’s domestic violence statute. 

These offenses include:

  • Homicide
  • Assault
  • Terroristic threats
  • Kidnapping
  • Criminal restraint
  • False imprisonment
  • Sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Lewdness
  • Criminal mischief
  • Burglary
  • Criminal trespass
  • Harassment
  • Cyber-harassment
  • Stalking
  • Criminal coercion
  • Robbery
  • Violation of a prior domestic violence order
  • Any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury

You only need to allege one act of domestic violence. But if you provide information about multiple incidents or multiple offenses, the judge will be more likely to issue the TRO.

Filing for the TRO

New Jersey courts provide a form to file a domestic violence complaint and request for a TRO. On this form, you must identify yourself and the person you want the court to restrain. You do not need to give your address. This avoids inadvertently telling the accused abuser where you live.

You must describe the details surrounding the prior acts of domestic violence against you. You can attach police reports and list criminal cases against your abuser to support your request.

You will also need to identify the form of relief you want. Some of the orders a court can include in a TRO include:

  • Staying away from you
  • Staying away from your residence, work, or school
  • Prohibiting contact with you you
  • Prohibiting stalking you

If the accused abuser owns a gun, the judge can issue a warrant to seize the gun and any gun permits.

The judge can also grant you temporary child custody and temporary possession of your home. The judge even has the authority to suspend child visitation with the accused abuser temporarily.

For cases involving a financial relationship, the court can order temporary child support and temporary spousal support in the TRO. The court can also order the accused abuser to maintain health insurance for you and your children.

Obtaining the TRO

Since a TRO constitutes emergency relief, the judge will usually not hold a hearing. Instead, the judge will review your filing and either grant or deny the TRO as quickly as possible.

The accused abuser will receive notice from the court when a judge grants the TRO. If the person knowingly violates the TRO, police can arrest them for contempt of court. This constitutes a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 months in jail.

Turning the TRO into a FRO

Under the U.S. Constitution, everyone has a right to be heard before a court issues an order. As a result, the emergency TRO will only last until the judge holds a hearing. At the hearing, both sides will present their cases to the judge for extending, modifying, or terminating the order.

If you did not hire a lawyer to help you prepare the request for a TRO, you should consider hiring a lawyer at this point. 

This hearing will determine whether the judge allows the TRO to expire or makes it permanent. The judge will need to hear legal arguments supporting the request to issue a FRO. The judge will also expect to see any additional evidence of the alleged domestic violence. 

To present your best possible case for a FRO, you may need an experienced family lawyer to assemble the evidence and present it to the judge.

Although TROs are not necessary in every case, they are essential in some cases. Fortunately, courts understand this and are willing to help requestors and their lawyers file them correctly.