“Civil Restraints” are a way to resolve pending domestic violence cases without a trial or the entry of a formal restraining order. After an initial Temporary Restraining Order (T.R.O.) is granted, a case is scheduled for a trial to determine whether or not that temporary order is to be made “final”. A Final Restraining Order (F.R.O.) in New Jersey is permanent.
Civil Restraints do not expire and will only be dismissed with the consent of the victim or by application of the defendant under a very strict set of standards. When a final restraining order is entered a defendant is forever barred from owning or carrying a weapon, may face professional license forfeiture or security clearance revocation, and may be prevented from doing such things as teaching or coaching sports teams. The consequences can be severe.
For this reason, parties may see it as mutually beneficial to dismiss the formal restraining order and enter into “civil restraints.” If they are willing to do so, the parties negotiate (through their attorneys or a third party) specific terms by which they will abide. This can include a “no contact” provision, limited contact by email or text message, and restricted contact only for specific reasons (such as the children). This may also include specific prohibitions against being at certain locations (including the home), and against future harassment or other such offensive contact.
It is important to note, however, that while civil restraints are binding and enforceable and everyone is expected to abide by the agreement, they are not enforceable in the same manner as a restraining order. A violation of an active restraining order is a criminal offense. It is punishable by fines and possible imprisonment and the police will arrest a defendant when a violation occurs. A violation of civil restraints is not likely to result in consequences unless a motion is filed with the court to enforce the order. At that time, a Judge has the power to impose penalties, including financial or other sanctions. While jailing the violating party is an option, it is rare.
Nothing prevents a victim of domestic violence from filing for a new restraining order if a new act occurs. As such, civil restraints are a useful option for less severe domestic violence circumstances where the parties can benefit from a “cooling off” period and where the entry of a final restraining order may financially or otherwise devastate the entire family. This option, however, must be employed with caution and with a clear understanding that the victim is losing the full protections of the Domestic Violence Act.
Drew Molotsky, Esq. has over 20 years’ experience in Family Law, handling matters involving divorce, custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution and domestic violence and has been certified as a Matrimonial Law Attorney by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.