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Protecting Children from an Abusive Parent in New Jersey

Restraining Orders

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented major challenges to New Jersey’s child protection system. Social workers who typically rely on in-person visits to identify and address abuse and neglect have been left to rely on video conferences and phone calls. Teachers and coaches, sometimes the first to spot mistreatment, are no longer regularly interacting with children who may be at-risk. Experts opine that not only are child abuse incidents likely on the rise, child protection workers are increasingly in the dark.

If you are trying to extract yourself from an abusive relationship or protect your children from an abuser, know that there are avenues of help are still available. A Freehold family law attorney experienced in matters of domestic violence and restraining orders can help you explore your options and map out the legal means you have to protect your child.

If a marriage ends at least in part because of domestic violence, the hope is the divorce settlement will reflect the threat your former spouse presents to you or your child. Unfortunately, that is not always so. If you are concerned that joint custody or unsupervised parenting time has left your child vulnerable to abuse or neglect, we can help.

Even though divorce settlements are legally binding, they can be altered with a post-judgment modification. Per N.J.S.A. § 9:2-4, there are numerous criteria the courts will consider when deciding whether to alter an existing parenting time order – all of them boiling down to what is in the best interest of the child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Abuse and neglect are obviously contrary to a child’s best interest.

Options for New Jersey Restraining Order

In New Jersey, there are two different types of restraining orders: Temporary and final. Both types bar the defendant from having contact with the person who filed it or on whose behalf it was filed.

If a restraining order filed on behalf of a child is granted by a judge, it will override an existing parenting time or child custody order. It would allow the child in question to remain in your custody until further notice from the court.

Temporary restraining orders (also known as TROs) are intended for emergencies, and generally provide quick and easy resolution. After filing a domestic violence complaint, TROs can be requested from police (judges can even issue them over the phone) and a hearing date will be set for a final restraining order trial. Police officers typically serve defendants with TRO papers and confiscate any firearms defendant may have.

Hearings for a final restraining order (FRO) must be held within 10 days of when the TRO is issued. If a defendant is a no-show for the hearing, it can proceed without them. Judges exercise great discretion in issuing FROs and aren’t quick to do so. The person seeking the FRO must present evidence of why it is necessary. A family law attorney can help you build a more solid case.

Disregarding Parenting Time Order to Protect Child from Abuse

One of the most difficult situations for parents working to protect their kids from abuse involves trying to obtain a TRO while running up against a parenting time deadline. As parents, we would go to the ends of the earth to protect our children. But we must urge extreme caution before giving into the temptation to skip a scheduled parenting time visit.

The problem is that if you disregard court-ordered parenting time, you may be charged with criminal interference of a New Jersey child custody or parenting time order (a fourth-degree crime per N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-9, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000) or even parental kidnapping (a third-degree crime per N.J.S.A. §2C:13-4, punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum $15,000 fine).

Defenses to these charges require proof that there was an imminent threat of domestic violence and you had contacted the police, child protective services or a local prosecutor’s office within 24 hours to make them aware of the child’s location. You can also show you held a sincere belief you had the consent of the other parent to deviate from the parenting time order or that your child is older than 14 and left of his or her own volition. However, you are much better situated to protect your children if you don’t see the inside of a jail cell. Our team will work toward rapid intervention and securing an emergency hearing.

If you are not sure where to turn or what your legal options are, our dedicated family law attorneys can help.

Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.

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