Although it is conventional wisdom that once a Domestic Violence Final Restraining Order is entered it is permanent, New Jersey law provides a means for seeking a dismissal of the Order in certain circumstances. This was recently made clear by an Appellate Division decision in the case of J.M.F. v. G.M.F., decided on May 6, 2013.
In J.M.F v. G.M.F. a Final Restraining Order (FRO) was entered in August 2002 stemming from acts of domestic violence which occurred over a prior decade (the parties were subsequently divorced in December 2003). Significantly, the Court found that since 2002 there have been no further incidents or any violations of the FRO. The defendant completed the court-ordered “Alternatives to Domestic Violence” program, attended private therapy and met with clergy at his church. On various occasions the plaintiff had even hand-delivered letters to the defendant’s home, to include as recently as July 2012.
As a result, the defendant filed a motion to dissolve the FRO, which was opposed by the Plaintiff. The trial court denied the defendant’s application on the basis of the Plaintiff’s responsive papers stating that she was “still afraid of the defendant”. On appeal, the defendant argued that he was entitled to a hearing and the Appellate Division agreed. The Court confirmed that the legal basis to dismiss an FRO is “for good cause shown,” and directed the trial court to conduct a hearing at which both parties would testify. The collateral importance of this case is that it reaffirms the need for trial courts to hold hearings instead of relying upon written submissions when material facts are in dispute.