You had a fight with your neighbor, who now continually harasses you, calling the police to report noise anytime you have guests over, calling your landlord to warn them of illegal parties on the property, parking in front of your house to take up prime parking space for you, and other daily insults and angry exchanges. You may be wondering if you can get a restraining order to stop them from harassing you.
People in New Jersey often ask about restraining orders against harassing bosses, neighbors, grocery store clerks, and perfect strangers. But not all harassment or other crimes, qualifies the victim for a restraining order. To be eligible, the victim must be over 18 or an emancipated minor, who is or was in an intimate relationship with the person committing the abuse (also over 18). Basically, the abuser must have been someone the victim dated, married, lived with, or had a child or children with before they can be legally restrained from contacting or further committing crimes against the victim. As such, you generally cannot get a restraining order against a stranger, neighbor, or boss you never married, lived with, had a child with, or dated. There is one caveat to this, which applies to sexual assault survivors, who are eligible for sexual restraining orders against anyone who commits such sex crime acts against them.
Eligible Reasons for Protection Orders in New Jersey
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the Act) defines eligible victims and the applicable reasons for a protective order. Aside from age and relationship to the offender, a protective order applicant must be the victim of one or more of the crimes listed in the Act, which are: harassment, cyber-harassment, lewdness, stalking, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal mischief, sexual assault, burglary, criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, criminal trespass, criminal coercion, robbery, homicide, restraining order violation, assault, or any crime that seriously injures, or threatens harm or death. Only a victim of one of those crimes may obtain a restraining order in family court.
Since the Act establishes the crimes and parties to a restraining order, you cannot get a restraining order preventing just anyone from coming near you or contacting you. And even if the crime and relationship are covered in the Act, a victim applying for a restraining order still may be ineligible if the acts alleged in the restraining order petition do not rise to the level of domestic violence. A judge typically grants a temporary restraining order if the victim testifies to domestic violence by an intimate partner. At a hearing to finalize a restraining order, however, the judge must be convinced that the parties have a history of domestic violence between them and thus, the victim is reasonably afraid of further harm by the abuser.
For example, the plaintiff may not qualify for a restraining order if only one incident of violence occurred, say, a threat of violence, like the accused shouting, “I’m going to hit you if you say that one more time” in the heat of an argument, but it never happens. The judge needs to be convinced by evidence that the party seeking protection needs it due to a history of violence between the parties that would make the plaintiff’s safety fears reasonable. The past domestic violence does not necessarily have to be documented in a police report, however. Testimony under oath is evidence too. Ultimately, a judge will not issue a restraining order for someone who does not clearly demonstrate fear based on reasonable grounds. Courts especially look out for unlawful reasons for seeking a protection order, like revenge or a strategic ploy in a custody dispute.
Who can you get a restraining order against and under what circumstances?
First off, anyone you lived with, who later stalks, harasses, threatens, or sexually assaults you may be restrained. And it does not have to be a lover, partner, or spouse. You might restrain a former roommate or relative you lived with for committing one or more of the enumerated crimes in the DV Act. A person you dated for a time but ended the relationship with may be restrained if they stalk you, showing up at your home or workplace daily, threatening to harm you or your loved ones if you don’t change your mind about giving the relationship a chance. Even one date that goes terribly wrong could be the subject of a restraining order if there is extreme violence against you or your property that demonstrates to the court that the person to be restrained is dangerous and threatens your safety.
How can a Lawyer Help with my Domestic Violence Case?
If you need a restraining order, you may get one by yourself or with the help of the police if they are called out to the domestic violence scene or at the police station. But you might want someone by your side who is experienced in getting restraining orders and knows the court system, like an experienced restraining order attorney. You can take comfort in knowing that you are not taking any chances in getting the protection you need. And if you are the person sought to be restrained, you certainly want experienced legal counsel guiding you throughout the process, ensuring your version of the facts are best presented and your rights protected. Call our local Essex County law office at (201)-654-3464 for help with your restraining order case today. We can also assist with parenting time, custody, and issues concerning contact through civil restraints. Consultations are free and confidential, and an experienced domestic violence lawyer is available immediately to provide the assistance you need.