Domestic Violence

What is domestic violence?

A person who has experienced domestic violence may ask the court for a restraining order.

  • What is domestic violence?
    • Domestic violence includes crimes by people who are, or were, in a family or romantic relationship or have ever lived together.
  • Who can get a domestic violence restraining order?
    • In general, people who are or were married, living together, or dating, and people with a child together, can qualify for a domestic violence restraining order.
  • What is a restraining order?
    • A restraining order bars someone from having contact with you and can provide other relief.
    • A “temporary” restraining order (TRO) is in effect until a court hearing can be scheduled for the judge to talk to both of the parties.
    • A “final” restraining order (FRO) is in effect permanently unless a judge grants the victim’s request to vacate the order.

Requesting a Restraining Order

  • Emergency: Call 911
  • During court hours: Go to the Family Division Office of the Superior Court in the county where you live or are staying, where the domestic violence happened, or where the other person lives.
  • When court is closed: Go to the police department where you live, where the domestic violence happened or where the other person lives.

To file a criminal complaint, in addition to requesting a restraining order, you must go to the muncipal court or the police department where the act of domestic violence happened.

Step 1: Apply for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)

  • At the courthouse, a staff person will sit with you and fill out an application. Then, you will go before a hearing officer or judge who will listen to you and decide whether to give you a TRO. The other party will not be present in the hearing.
  • If you apply at a police station, the police will contact a judge to decide whether to give you a TRO.
  • If the court issues a TRO, you will get a copy, and the court will send a copy to the police to give to the other party.
  • Another hearing will be scheduled within ten days. The other party can ask for an earlier court date. If that happens, you will be contacted.
  • At any time, you can ask to talk to a domestic violence advocate who can help you with the court process and safety planning.

Step 2: Go to the Final Restraining Order (FRO) Hearing

  • You must appear at the hearing for the FRO. The other party will be present and has the right to hire a lawyer.
  • You do not need a lawyer, but you can hire one if you choose. The court does not provide lawyers for these cases. If you want a lawyer, you can contact the Lawyer Referral Service or Legal Services of New Jersey.
  • If the other party does not appear and there is proof they were given the order, the judge can still hear the case.
  • If the other party did not get the order, the court will reschedule the hearing.
  • If you and the other party appear, the court will hear both sides and make a decision.
  • In addition to protection, the order also could address custody, child support, parenting time (visitation) and other issues.
    • In New Jersey, a Final Restraining Order (FRO) is permanent. It continues forever unless changed by the court.

How to Respond to a TRO

If a restraining order is filed against you

  • You cannot have any contact with the other person (or people) named on the restraining order. If you contact anyone on the order, you may be arrested.
  • Read the restraining order carefully. The order tells you what you cannot do and has a date for you to appear in court for a final restraining order (FRO) hearing.
  • If you do not show up at the hearing, the court can decide the case without you, and give the other person a Final Restraining Order (FRO).
  • You do not need a lawyer, but you can hire one if you choose. The court does not provide lawyers for these cases. If you want a lawyer, you can contact the Lawyer Referral Service.
  • At the hearing, the judge will hear both sides and make a decision.
  • In addition to protection, the order may also address custody, child support, parenting time (visitation) and other issues.

Where Do I Go?

The last page of the restraining order tells you where and when to appear for the final restraining order hearing. If you have questions, contact the Family Division Office.

What Happens Next?

Step 1: You are Served with a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)

The TRO tells you what you can and cannot do.

  • If you live with the other person, you might be allowed to go there with a law enforcement officer to get some of your things.
  • The police will take your weapons.
  • The order may include a temporary plan for custody and parenting time (visitation) for you and your child.
  • The order will include a date for a hearing within ten (10) days. You can go to the Family Division office to ask to change the date of the hearing.

Step 2: Go to the Final Restraining Order Hearing

  • You must show up at the hearing for the final restraining order (FRO). If you do not show up, the court can decide the case without you, and give the other person the FRO.
  • If both parties appear, the court will hear both sides and make a decision.
  • The FRO, if granted, does not expire.
  • The order can include child support, child custody, and parenting time (visitation).
  • A FRO requires that you be fingerprinted. It may also include penalties, such as payment of a fine and loss of weapons. Read the order carefully.

What else can I do?

Note: A person who does not qualify for a domestic violence restraining order may be able to get other relief. If you have questions, contact the Family Division Office.

Violating a restraining order

A restraining order is a document issued by the court that sets out the terms that the defendant must follow.

A final restraining order will tell the defendant

  • Whom the defendant is not allowed to be in contact with;
  • locations where the defendant cannot go;
  • money that the defendant owes or child support that is due; and
  • all actions that the defendant is not allowed to take.

The order also will include a warrant for law enforcement to search and seize weapons for safekeeping.

If the defendant violates a restraining order

The restraining order is divided into two parts. Two different things will happen if the defendant violates the restraining order:

Part 1 contains restraints against contact.

If the defendant does not comply with Part 1 of the order, the plaintiff can report the violation to the local police. The police will arrest the defendant and file a criminal charge.

Part 2 deals with financial and parenting issues.

If the defendant is not complying with Part 2 of the order, the plaintiff must file for relief in the family court where the order was issued.

Domestic violence matters are serious. If you are unsure about any aspect of a restraining order, you should call the police or contact the family court.

Child Support and Custody

When you file for a restraining order, you can also request custody and child support, as a part of the restraining order. Court staff will provide a safe and confidential environment to a victim seeking custody or child support from their abuser. The location when you are staying can remain confidential.

If a child support order already exists, that order will remain in full effect during the proceedings for the restraining order. A victim can also request that an existing child support order be modified during the hearing for the final restraining order.

Go to the New Jersey Child Support website

Dismissing a Restraining Order

The victim can ask the judge to dismiss the restraining order at any time. The judge will make the final decision as to if the restraining order will be dismissed. If you are unsure about whether or not to dismiss your restraining order, you can speak to the intake worker at the courthouse, someone in the family court, a victim advocate or your attorney.

The victim should only sign the “Certification to Dissolve a Restraining Order” voluntarily.

Dismissal of a restraining order means that the legal restraints entered against the defendant to protect the victim will be removed.

  • The victim will no longer have the benefit of this legal protection against the defendant.
  • Dismissal of a restraining order will not dismiss any criminal charges that were filed by the victim or by the police. Those criminal matters will proceed.
  • This protection cannot be renewed unless there is another act of domestic violence.
  • If there is a new act of domestic violence, the victim must go to the courthouse or to the police station to file a new complaint and request a new restraining order.
  • Without a restraining order, the police are not required to arrest the defendant. This is true even if the defendant violates a "stay away" order as part of a divorce or child support case.

Resources for Victims

IF YOU ARE IN DANGER CALL 911 RIGHT AWAY

If you are experiencing abuse, help is available. You are not alone.

Every county in New Jersey has at least one domestic violence program with trained and caring domestic violence advocates who provide many services to survivors of domestic violence and their children.

Use the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NJCEDV) Guide to find the services closes to you

Frequently Asked Questions about Domestic Violence

1: What is domestic violence?

What crimes are covered by the 1991 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA)

Domestic violence occurs when one of the crimes listed below is committed against a person protected under the 1991 Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA). The crimes are listed below.

  • Homicide
  • Assault
  • Terroristic Threats
  • Kidnapping
  • Criminal restraint
  • False imprisonment
  • Sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual contact
  • Lewdness
  • Criminal mischief
  • Burglary
  • Criminal trespass
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Criminal Coercion
  • Robbery
  • Contempt of a domestic violence order
  • Crimes involving risk of death or serious bodily injury
  • Cyber-harassment

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2: What relationships are covered by the PDVA?

The parties must have had a specific relationship at present or in the past. The gender of the parties is not a factor. The relationships are listed below.

  • Marriage
  • Separation
  • Divorce
  • Living together in the same household now or in the past
  • Dating or dated in the past
  • Having a child in common
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3: Who is a defendant under the PDVA?

Under the PDVA, the defendant must be 18 years old OR the defendant is a minor who is considered emancipated for one of the reasons listed below.

  • Military service
  • Being pregnant or having a child
  • Emancipation by a court or an administrative agency.
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4: What is a restraining order?

A restraining order is an order issued by the court that is intended to protect a victim of domestic violence from a defendant with whom the victim has or had a relationship.
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5: Who can qualify for a restraining order?

A victim of domestic violence is a person who is 18 years of age or older, or who is an emancipated minor. The victim has suffered domestic violence by one of the persons listed below.

  • A spouse or former spouse
  • A present or past household member
  • Someone with whom the victim has had a child or is expecting a child
  • Someone whom the victim is dating or has dated
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6: How do I apply for a restraining order?

A person can file in the county

  • -where the defendant lives,
  • -where the plaintiff lives, or
  • -where the plaintiff is sheltered or staying temporarily.

  • Go to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Superior Court Family Division at the county courthouse. Offices are open every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

    Weekend, evenings, and holidays, go to your local police department to file a complaint.
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    7: Will criminal charged be filed?

    The victim can choose to file a criminal complaint with the police.
    If the victim chooses not to file a complaint, the police are required to file a criminal complaint if there are visible signs of injury.

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    8: What happens when the restraining order is requested at the courthouse?

    • A domestic violence staff member will interview the plaintiff and ask questions about the event that brought them to the courthouse. They also will ask about past incidents of domestic violence.
    • After the interview, there will be a hearing with a domestic violence hearing officer or judge. The defendant does not need to be present.
    • The plaintiff will be issued a temporary restraining order TRO if the hearing officer agrees that one is needed. If the case is heard by a hearing officer who does not recommend a TRO, the plaintiff can ask to have a judge hear the case.
    • If the judge or a hearing officer issues a TRO, the plaintiff will be given a date to return for a final restraining order (FRO) hearing within 10 days.
    • Copies of the TRO will be sent to law enforcement for personal service on the defendant. The plaintiff and defendant need to appear on the scheduled day of the final hearing.
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    9: What happens at the Final Restraining Order hearing?

    • The judge will hear testimony from both parties.
    • The judge will decide whether an act of domestic violence occurred, whether a final restraining order (FRO) should be issued and if so, what types of relief will be granted.

    Relief could include the following prohibitions:
    • The defendant might be barred from future acts of domestic violence.
    • The defendant might be barred from the plaintiff’s residence, place of employment or other places.
    • The defendant might be prohibited from having any oral, written, personal, or electronic contact with the plaintiff or others.
    • The defendant might be prohibited from making or causing anyone else to harass the plaintiff or others.
    • The defendant might be prohibited from stalking, following, threatening to harm, stalk, or follow the plaintiff or others.
    • The defendant might be ordered to pay child support or emergency funds.
    • The defendant might be ordered to attend substance abuse counseling or other evaluations.
    • The defendant will be prohibited from possession of weapons.

    • The plaintiff might be issued exclusive possession of the residence, temporary custody of children, support, medical coverage, damages, and other items.
    • If the FRO is issued, the defendant will be photographed and fingerprinted and will be ordered to pay a penalty of $50 to $500, payable through the court’s finance department.
    • A copy of the FRO will be given to both parties. It is important to review the order before leaving the building to ensure accuracy.
    • The Family Division will forward a copy of the order to the police department in the municipality where the plaintiff lives.
    • The plaintiff also should provide copies to work, daycare centers, schools, and any other places of significance.
    • The plaintiff should keep the FRO in his or her possession at all times. If lost, additional copies can be requested at the domestic violence unit where the order was entered.

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    10: Should the parties bring anything to the Final Restraining Order hearing?

    You might choose to hire an attorney, but an attorney is not required for either party.

    Bring anything you want the court to consider. This could include the following:

    • Witnesses. The court cannot accept written testimony.
    • Photos of injuries and property damage.
    • Medical documents.
    • Receipts related to property damage.
    • Financial information if you want the defendant to pay housing expenses, spousal support, or child support.
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    11: What if the plaintiff appears for court and the defendant fails to appear?

    The judge could issue an FRO against the defendant, if there is proof of service or testimony that the defendant was aware of the hearing date.

    If there is no proof that the defendant has been served, a new date might be scheduled, and the TRO will remain in effect. A law enforcement officer will serve the defendant with a copy of the final order.
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    12: What if the defendant is not abiding by the order?

    The restraining order is divided into two parts:
    Part 1 contains restraints against contact. If the defendant does not comply with Part 1 of the order, the plaintiff can go to the police station and sign criminal charges.
    Part 2 deals with financial and parenting issues. If the defendant is not complying with Part 2 of the order, it must be enforced through family court.
    Domestic violence matters are serious. If you are unsure about any aspect of a restraining order, you should call the police or contact the family court.
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    13: What happens if the plaintiff wants to dismiss or modify an existing restraining order?

    Any request to dismiss or make changes to an existing order must be done in person and heard before a judge. Restraining orders cannot be dropped or modified by telephone.

    If the plaintiff reconciles with the defendant, it does not mean an automatic dismissal of an order. If the plaintiff wishes to reconcile with the defendant, the plaintiff must appear before a judge in the Family Division of Superior Court to request a dismissal.

    Contact between the plaintiff and defendant in advance of a court order subjects the defendant to criminal prosecution. If the restraining order is dismissed, there still might be pending criminal charges that need to be addressed separately in the appropriate municipal or criminal court.
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    14: What happens to child support if the plaintiff asks for the FRO to be dismissed?

    If the FRO is dismissed, the plaintiff can request a new order to continue the child support.
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    15: What if the parties want to attend counseling?

    The parties can not attend counseling together if there is an order in effect. There is no mediation of any kind if there is a restraining order in effect or a history of domestic violence.
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    16: Does the FRO expire?

    FROs do not expire in New Jersey. Additionally, the Full Faith and Credit provisions of the Federal Violence Against Women Act requires all states, U.S. territories and commonwealths to enforce restraining orders. This means if you leave New Jersey, your order is enforceable in every state, U.S. territory, and commonwealth. Keep the order with you at all times.
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Glossary of Terms

Child in Common:  The child(ren) that the plaintiff and the defendant have together.

Criminal Complaint:  Formal charge against a person under the Code of Criminal Justice of New Jersey.

Defendant:  A person at least 18 years old or emancipated who is alleged to have committed or has been found to have committed an act(s) of domestic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA).

Domestic Violence: The occurrence of one or more of the following criminal offenses upon a person protected under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, and stalking.

Domestic Violence Complaint: The court filing that says the defendant committed an act of domestic violence. The complaint asks the court to grant a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the defendant from harming the victim again.

Ex parte: This Latin phrase refers to court testimony taken from one party without the other party being absent. For example, a judge might issue a temporary restraining order after speaking to the victim, without the defendant being present.

Final Restraining Order (FRO):  A restraining order under the PDVA that does not expire. restraining defendant; entered after a hearing when defendant has been served with a TRO;

FV or FO docket number:  Domestic violence cases are assigned to the FV docket, and the case docket number will be “FV-XXXXX.” If criminal charges also are filed, that case is assigned to the FO docket and that docket number will be FO-XXXXX."

PDVA:  The federal Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which was enacted in 1991. This law lays out the legal definition of domestic violence and sets up protections for victims of those crimes.

Personal Service: Service that requires a law enforcement officer or other authorized person to hand-deliver a restraining order to the defendant or plaintiff.

Plaintiff: A person who seeks or has been granted relief under the PDVA.

Petitioner:  Plaintiff or victim from outside New Jersey who seeks to enforce or register an order of protection from outside the state.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO):   A order entered as a result of domestic violence that temporarily bars the defendant from contacting or harming the plaintiff. A TRO is in effect until a hearing for a final restraining order is held, usually within 10 days.

Victim Advocate:   Also known as domestic violence program liaison, a victim advocate is trained to work with victims as part of a project, program, or shelter.

Weapons:   All weapons are taken away from the defendant when a restraining order is filed. Those could include guns and knives, but also other items that could be used to hurt someone.