Vague Wording Can Lead to an Ineffective Restraining Order

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Although New Jersey has the lowest divorce rate in the nation (1), break-ups do happen and when they do, tempers can flare. Sometimes those tempers get out of control. Restraining orders are designed to offer protection from a former or current partner who poses a threat. (2) If, after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer to assist you with a similar situation regarding restraining orders, contact the family attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm.

New Jersey offers three types of restraining orders. Emergency orders offer immediate protection when courts are closed. Temporary restraining orders (TROs) are issued prior to a full hearing provided a judge finds sufficient evidence of potential harm. Final restraining orders are those issued after a full hearing at which each party is given a chance to present their side. They can stay in effect indefinitely; in fact, they do not terminate unless a judge sets an expiration date or either party files a motion to end or amend the terms of the order. (2)

Normally restraining orders spell out explicitly where the person against whom the order is written can and cannot go. Unless the order is written specifically, though, confusion can arise, causing problems for all involved. Take the case of a New Jersey man who was arrested and charged with contempt and harassment for attending his child’s soccer game.

About a year after their divorce, the man’s ex-wife sought a restraining order against him following a confrontation over support payments. The judge hearing the case issued a final restraining order specifying that the man could not contact his ex-wife and must stay away from her home, workplace and “any other place” she may be. (3)

When the man showed up at his child’s soccer game, his ex-wife, who was also in attendance, called the police to report him in violation of the restraining order. He was charged with contempt and harassment and held in custody briefly. Eventually the man was sentence to one day already served and a penalty of $125. Since the order did not specifically name the “other” places from which the man was barred, he appealed. (3)

According to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, restraining orders can keep a person away from the home, school or place of employment of another, as well as from any other place specified in the order. This is usually a place the victim is known to visit often. (3)

Last month a state appeals court ruled in favor of the man, noting the order against him failed to specifically define “any other place.” Because of the vague wording, the court ruled the man could not deliberately violate his restraining order by attending his child’s soccer game. In order to comply with such a broadly worded restraining order, the onus would be on the man to know where his ex-wife was at all times. This, it was noted, could almost be considered stalking which, in itself, is a form of domestic abuse. (3)

Restraining orders are designed to protect, but they can be ineffective if the wording is too general. If you or someone you know needs assistance with restraining orders, particularly in Hunterdon County, contact the family law attorneys at The Rotolo Law Firm in Lebanon, N.J.




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