The horrifying case of a New Jersey women stabbed 27 times by her ex-boyfriend who ignored a restraining order is a powerful reminder of how important it is for every victim of domestic violence to be backed up by the legal system. In our work with clients affected by domestic violence, we know that understanding the process of obtaining a restraining order and what is needed to make a TRO (temporary restraining order) permanent and “final” are critical steps to staying safe.
If you are preparing to file for an order of protection, we offer (below) further tips and helpful information that you can use along with the more in-depth information we have put together on How to File Forms & Find Help with The Restraining Order Process in a Domestic Violence Case. You will also find visual aides, worksheets and PDFs to print out to help you with getting a restraining order in a domestic violence situation and the legal process it entails in New Jersey:
Gather Necessary Information
The process of obtaining an order of protection in New Jersey starts with the victim of domestic violence filing for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which can be done at a local Municipal or Superior Court, or local police station. Before submitting the order request to a judge, an intake officer will ask you (now known as the plaintiff) a number of questions as part of filling out the New Jersey Domestic Violence Civil Complaint and Temporary Restraining Order. If possible, have ready such information as the defendant’s basic contact information, physical description, and work address, since the TRO, if put in place, will need to be served. It is also helpful to include a recent photo of the defendant for identification purposes.
Next, be prepared to describe in detail the events that led you to file a restraining order. This includes any action on the part of the defendant that endangered your “life, health or well-being”. It’s okay if you don’t know the legal definitions of things like assault, harassment, stalking, and other criminal offenses. Just tell the officer in detail exactly what happened and when. For example, “On March 12 at 8 pm, [name] punched me twice in the face with a closed fist.” The officer will then be able to note the exact offense. Photographs of visible injuries may be taken at this time. In certain cases, this may lead to additional criminal charged being filed. You will also be asked whether you and the defendant have children and if you will require financial relief/support from the defendant.
It’s helpful to have information about previous arrests or jail time for the defendant and – this is VERY important – make it clear if there have been previous incidents of domestic violence. There is a box on the form to mark “YES” for prior assaults. If this box is not checked and there is a prior history, reported or unreported, you will not be permitted to testify at the final restraining order hearing about these prior incidents. Double check with the officer that this box is checked Yes if it should be.
Work With an Attorney
If after reviewing the Complaint, the judge grants the temporary restraining order, a future hearing date will be set to determine whether the TRO should become a final/permanent order.
At this point, if you haven’t consulted with one already, it is in your best interest to meet with a family law attorney, specifically a lawyer who has experience working with victims of domestic violence. Shelters and other non-profit agencies for victims are typically good sources for law referrals.
It will become your attorney’s job to obtain copies of relevant documents to be used as evidence at the hearing. This can include police reports, photographs, Victim Statements, prior restraining orders, prior criminal record, and witness subpoenas. If you are seeking financial support from the defendant, your lawyer will help you prepare the necessary documents. In short, your lawyer can help you build the strongest case possible and will be there to take care of all the red tape and requests. It is up to you to share information and be forthcoming with your attorney – remember, this person is on your side.
Report Any and All Violations Immediately
At the time a temporary or final restraining is issued, the judge will explain what type of contact between the plaintiff and defendant the order prohibits. Generally, this includes things like showing up at work or the home, keeping a certain distance away in other settings, and no phone and email contact.
If, at any time, you feel the TRO is being violated, call the police. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Having a restraining order against someone is serious business and, even if the contact wasn’t in direct violation of the order (for example, you entered a grocery store and saw the defendant grocery shopping), it is completely understandable that you would be concerned and have questions. In the case of the NJ mom involved in the recent stabbing case, she had received threatening text messages in the weeks before the stabbing, but had not reported them. From actual physical contact to texts, tweets, emails, and Facebook messages, report any and all contact and let the proper authorities decide how best to proceed. Depending on the nature of the contact, further charges may be filed. And, it’s important to note, inform your lawyer about the contact. Any instances of violating the TRO may very well become evidence at the final restraining order hearing.
If you are the victim of domestic or assault, please call 911 or New Jersey’s 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-572-SAFE (7233). During this confusing and emotional time, it is important to know that you are not alone. For legal representation in your domestic violence-related law matter and to discuss restraining orders, divorce and separation where domestic violence is involved, or any other family law issues, we invite you to schedule a completely CONFIDENTIAL consultation with one of our experienced attorneys – just call us at (973) 520-8822.