What is the legal definition of domestic violence in New Jersey?
This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a restraining order. Domestic violence is when an adult (or an emancipated minor) who has the relationship to you that is described here commits one of the following crimes against you:
- terroristic threats;
- criminal restraint;
- false imprisonment;
- sexual assault;
- criminal sexual contact;
- criminal mischief;
- criminal trespass;
- criminal coercion;
- contempt of a domestic violence order, which constitutes a crime or disorderly persons offense (see section “b” of the statute); or
- any other crime involving risk of death or serious bodily injury.1
Note: An emancipated minor is someone who is under 18 but who has been married, has entered military service, has a child, is pregnant or has been emancipated by a court.2
If you are a victim of sexual assault and do not have a relationship with the abuser, you may be eligible for a sexual assault restraining order.
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-19(a)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-19(e)
What types of restraining orders are there? How long do they last?
In New Jersey, there are two types of restraining orders:
Temporary restraining order (TRO)
When you file a complaint for a restraining order, you can ask for a temporary ex parte restraining order (TRO) to be issued immediately. A judge can grant you a TRO if s/he finds that it is necessary to protect your life, health, or well-being. The order will last until the hearing for a final restraining order, which is generally scheduled within 10 days.1 (An “ex parte” TRO means that the judge will make this decision based only on the information you provide, without the abuser being in court and without prior notice to him/her.)
If you cannot be physically present in court, a judge can issue a TRO upon:
- your sworn testimony or complaint; or
- upon the sworn testimony or complaint of a person who represents you if you are physically or mentally incapable of filing personally.
The judge must believe, however, that there are sufficiently urgent (exigent) circumstances to excuse your failure to appear personally in court.2
Note: If you need immediate protection when the courts are closed (regular courthouse hours are usually M - F, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm), you can:
- file at the municipal court (if it is open); or
- call your local police department or 911.3
Generally, there is an “on call” municipal court judge who can issue you a TRO and schedule the court date for the final restraining order hearing. If a municipal judge denies you the TRO, you can re-file your petition in the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court when the court reopens based on the same incident.3
Final restraining order
After a hearing in which you both have an opportunity to tell your side of the story through testimony, evidence, and witnesses, a judge can grant you a final restraining order. A final restraining order has no end date and can last forever – or until one of one of the parties files a legal motion in court asking the judge to end or modify (change) the order and the judge agrees.4
1 N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:25-28(a),(f); 2C:25-29(a)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(h)
3 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(f),(i)
4 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-29(d)
In which county can I file for a restraining order?
You can file a petition in the county:
- where you live;
- where you are temporarily living if you’ve left home to avoid further abuse;
- where the abuser lives; or
- where the abuse occurred.1
However, if you left your home and want to keep your new address confidential, filing in the county to where you have fled would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(a)
What protections can I get in a temporary ex parte restraining order (TRO)?
A temporary ex parte order can:
- forbid the defendant from returning to the scene of the domestic violence (except with a police officer to pick up personal belongings at a specific time/date);
- forbid the defendant from possessing any firearm or certain other weapons (unless s/he is a law enforcement officer or in the military - then s/he can possess firearms while on duty);
- order the police to search for and take any weapon (and firearms permit) at any location where the judge has reasonable cause to believe the weapon is located;
- give you possession of any animal owned or kept by you, the defendant, or a child who lives in either household; and/or
- order anything else the judge believes is appropriate, which often includes:
- giving you temporary custody of your children; and
- giving you exclusive possession of the home that you share with the abuser regardless of whose name is on the lease or whether or not the home is jointly owned.1
If the judge orders that the abuser cannot have firearms, then the judge must require that a law enforcement officer accompany the abuser (or go without the abuser if necessary) to any place where any firearm or other weapon is located and take possession of them. If the restraining order prohibits the abuser from going to the place where firearms or other weapons belonging to the abuser are located, the law enforcement officer will go without the abuser and seize (take) them.2
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(j), (k)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(j)
What protections can I get in a final (permanent) restraining order?
A final restraining order can order the abuser to:
- not commit domestic violence against you and not to threaten to harm, harass, or stalk you or anyone else named in the restraining order;
- stay away from the home, property, school, work or any other place that is named in the restraining order of you and your family or household members;
- pay (in full or in part) the rent or mortgage on your home if the judge decides that the abuser has a duty to support you or your children;
- not make any contact that is likely to annoy or alarm you, including contact in person, by telephone, in writing, or through a third person with you or your family members, employers, other workers, etc;
- pay you for reasonable losses resulting from the abuse (some examples of this are loss of earnings or support, the cost of injuries, moving or travel expenses, the replacement or repair of property damaged or taken by the abuser, attorney and counseling fees, compensation for pain and suffering, etc.);
- be prohibited from purchasing, owning or possessing a firearm or other weapons, and order the search for and seizure of any firearm or other weapons at any place where the judge has reasonable cause to believe a weapon is located;
- attend domestic violence counseling;
- undergo a psychiatric evaluation; and
- report to the court to monitor that the abuser is following the terms.1
A final restraining order can also give you the following:
- sole possession of the home where you both live (in other words, remove the abuser from the home). The judge can order this even if the home is owned or leased only by the abuser, not you. If, however, it is not possible for you to stay in the home, the judge can order the abuser to pay your rent for a new place if the abuser has a duty to support you;
- temporary custody and decide how often the abuser can see your minor children, specify the time and place of parenting time, and require supervision or the participation of a third party. Note: If the abuser is granted parenting time and then threatens the safety and well-being of your children in some way, you can apply for an emergency hearing and the judge will consider suspending the abuser’s parenting time;
- temporary possession of personal property such as a car, checkbook, health insurance documentation, identification, a key, and other personal items; (these items can be given either to you or the abuser);
- emergency financial support from the abuser, including support for your minor children;
- an order that a law enforcement officer must accompany you or the abuser to your home or shared workplace to supervise the removal of personal items;
- possession of any animal owned or kept by you, the defendant, or a child who lives in either household; and
- any other appropriate relief you request for you or your dependent children.1
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.
If the judge orders that the abuser cannot have firearms, then the judge must require that a law enforcement officer accompany the abuser (or go without the abuser if necessary) to any place where any firearm or other weapon is located and take possession of them. If the restraining order prohibits the abuser from going to the place where firearms or other weapons belonging to the abuser are located, the law enforcement officer will go without the abuser and seize (take) them.1
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-29(b)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.