Step 1: Go to the courthouse to get the necessary forms.
You can file a complaint for a restraining order with the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court in the county where you live, the county where the abuser lives, or the county where the violence occurred.1 (To find courthouse contact information, see our NJ Courthouse Locations page.) Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver’s license or a picture I.D.) with you to court. It is also helpful if you can bring information about the abuser (such as addresses of residence and employment; phone numbers; a description and plate number of the abuser’s car, any history of drugs or gun ownership).
Note: If you need an order outside of regular courthouse hours, you can file at the municipal court (if it is open) or you can call the police who will contact an on call judge who can issue a TRO.2 See What types of restraining orders are there? How long do they last? for more information.
At the courthouse, the clerk of court will be able to provide you with the forms that you need to file for a restraining order. The clerk may assist you with filing the papers but will not be able to give you legal advice.3 The necessary forms are also available at municipal and state police stations, and you will find links to online versions at our NJ Download Court Forms page.
Note: If there are emergency circumstances that make it impossible for you to appear in court to file for a temporary order, a judge can still issue a temporary restraining order based upon your sworn complaint or based on the testimony of someone who represents you (if you are physically or mentally incapable of filing personally).4
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(a),(f)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(f)
3 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(c),(d)
4 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(h)
Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms.
You will need to fill out the necessary forms including the complaint requesting the restraining order. On the complaint, you will be the “plaintiff” and the abuser will be the “defendant.”
Read the forms carefully and ask questions to the courthouse staff if you don’t understand something. Describe in detail how the abuser (defendant) injured or threatened you. Be specific. Include details and dates, if possible. Explain when and where the abuse or threats occurred, if s/he used or threatened you with a weapon and any injuries you suffered. When writing about the incidents of violence, use descriptive language (e.g., slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. When writing about threats, include the words that s/he said to you, if possible.
Do not sign the form until you have shown it to a clerk of court. You might need to sign the form in front of a notary or a judge at the courthouse.
Step 3: A judge will review your complaint and may grant you a temporary restraining order (TRO).
Your petition for the restraining order will be given to the judge. If the judge believes that you’re in immediate danger, s/he can give you a temporary restraining order (TRO). This order will stay in effect until the full hearing is heard (usually within ten days) at which time you can be granted a final restraining order.1
If the judge grants you a TRO, the police will serve the abuser with the TRO and the complaint, which will notify the abuser of the date for the full hearing for the final restraining order.2
Remember to keep a copy of the temporary order with you at all times.
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-29(a)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(l)
Step 4: The full court hearing
At the hearing, you will have the chance to testify in court and present evidence and witnesses to prove that the abuser committed an act of domestic violence against you. The abuser will also be allowed to be present evidence and testify in the hearing to defend himself/herself. You may want to get a lawyer to represent you at that hearing, especially if you think the abuser will have one. Go to our NJ Finding a Lawyer page for a listing of free and paid lawyers. The judge will decide whether or not to give you a final restraining order.1 See the Preparing Your Case page for ways you can show the judge you were abused.
It is very important that you attend the court hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary restraining order will expire and you will have to start the process over.2 If you find out you absolutely cannot attend, contact the clerk or court immediately and ask how you can get a “continuance” for a later court date. If you are granted a “continuance,” be sure to ask to have your TRO extended until the new hearing date.
If the abuser does not attend the hearing, the court may issue a “default judgment” against him/her and you may receive a final restraining order in his/her absence. The judge also may decide to pick a new hearing date to give the abuser another chance to come to court. If this happens, be sure to ask the judge to extend your TRO if you have one.
1 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-29(a)
2 N.J. Stat. § 2C:25-28(i)