Amending a Restraining Order in New Jersey
What Does Amending a Temporary Restraining Order Mean?
When an individual files for a restraining, he or she usually speaks to a police officer or family clerk and explains why they need an order of protection. Typically, the person articulates the most recent act that drove them to file for an order and sometimes, he or she will describe another event. From there, a Judge will be contacted and a temporary restraining order will be issued. On the Order, it will state what the person said to the officer or clerk. For instance, if a person contacted the police and stated, my spouse struck me in the face. The temporary restraining order will provide that the plaintiff was struck in the face by the defendant.
If an amendment is made to the order, it generally means that the individual added additional claims or clarified the accusations. For example, the same person who contacted the police and claimed that her spouse struck her in the face, could later amend the order and assert that her spouse also pushed and kicked her. She may also say in the past, my partner assaulted me, punched holes in the wall, and sent harassing text messages. In addition to amending the claims, the person who sought the order can also add other parties to the order. Generally, a restraining order only protects the party who filed for the order. However, if needed, a person can request protection for their children, family members, and sometimes, even friends.
Why Should I Amend My Temporary Restraining Order?
A temporary restraining order is exactly how it sounds, temporary. The temporary order will not become a final or permanent restraining order until a hearing is held. At the hearing, both the plaintiff and the defendant are permitted to testify, call witnesses, and present any relevant evidence they may have to help prove their respected cases. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge will either enter a final restraining order if the Judge is convinced that an order of protection is warranted, or, he or she will dismiss the matter.
With that in mind, the burden of proof lies with the person seeking the order. He or she must present sufficient proof to convince the Judge that a protective order is warranted. To that end, the plaintiff cannot simply tell the Court whatever he or she desires. In fact, the plaintiff is only allowed to testify to what he or she listed in the temporary restraining order. Meaning, if the plaintiff filed for an order and indicated that her partner choked her on January 1st, but discussed nothing further. However, in reality, her partner actually choked her multiple times on different dates and also has a history of controlling and manipulating behavior. This information would be very relevant and important for the Court to hear, nevertheless, if the plaintiff did not specify such conduct in the temporary restraining order, he or she cannot testify to it at the hearing.
The temporary restraining order serves as a form of notice for the defendant. It tells the person not to contact the plaintiff and it also informs the defendant about the nature of the allegations so he or she has a fair opportunity to defend themselves. As such, when the hearing begins, if the plaintiff begins discussing claims not mentioned in the temporary order, it is deemed unfair and a violation of the defendant’s due process rights.
How Do I Know If the Temporary Restraining Order is Accurate?
After a temporary restraining order is issued, the plaintiff will receive a copy. Upon receipt, make sure you thoroughly read the document. More specifically, make sure you examine two very important sections on the first page. The first section will contain the most recent act of abuse (known as the predicate act of domestic violence). It will be listed in a box that looks like a grid that contains a date, time, and detail column. Again, read that portion of the order carefully to ensure that it is accurate. The second section is the history portion of the order. It is labeled as box 1 and states, “any prior history of domestic violence reported or unreported.” This section should contain any past events that were explained to the police or court clerk. Similar to the first section, make sure you thoroughly review this box to ensure it is accurate and contains every past act of abuse.
How Do I Amend My Temporary Restraining Order?
Prior to the health epidemic, litigants had to visit the court in person to change their Order. A plaintiff would visit the Family Division’s Office and inform the clerk that he or she would like to amend their restraining order. From there, they would meet with a staff member and express what changes they desired to make. Presently, the courts are closed to the public and consequently, a person cannot enter the courthouse to amend their Order. However, as of December 2020, a plaintiff can visit the New Jersey Court’s website and submit their amendment request online.
Soon after, the Court will send a copy of the amended order to the plaintiff and moreover, the police will serve the defendant with the updated version of the order.
When Should I Modify the Temporary Restraining Order?
As soon as possible. One, the order itself has to be changed and the defendant has to be served. This takes time and resources, which is something the Court never wants to waste. Two, if you take too long to amend the court, it calls into question the validity of the claims. For example, if a plaintiff files for a restraining order on January 1st and says the defendant sent me a series of harassing text messages. Then, a month later, the plaintiff amends the order and claims that the defendant also assaulted me. On its face, it looks like the plaintiff is trying to bolster their case as opposed to telling the truth. Lastly, if the amendment is made a day or two before the hearing date, the trial will very likely be adjourned. As stated above, the defendant needs to be given fair notice of the allegations and moreover, he or she must also be granted sufficient time to prepare if new claims are added to the restraining order. Once the hearing starts, it will be too late to amend your restraining order.
With all that said, if you or someone you know needs assistance filing a restraining order, please contact the firm for immediate help.