When Good Orders Go Bad

Yesterday, my colleague posted a blog regarding the permanency of a Final Restraining Order (FRO) in New Jersey. This caused me to start thinking about the practical difficulties of living with an FRO between parties in situations where they must inevitably still communicate, such as when they have children in common. Many times I will encounter clients that say I need to keep my spouse away from me, but he, or she, is not a bad parent so I do not want to interfere with them seeing the kids.

In cases like these, it often becomes problematic to craft an FRO with enough specificity that a parent is not completely barred from his or her children as a result. Take, for example, the case of State v. S.K., an unpublished Appellate Division case which finally infused some common sense into this type of scenario. The FRO stated that S.K. was barred from “any other place where plaintiff is located.” Major problem. This would technically mean that S.K. could never be at any sporting event or school function (i.e. graduations, concerts, award ceremonies) if his ex-spouse was already there. This would trump his ability to attend meaningful activities in his children’s lives because the FRO was simply not specific to a particular location.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and the Court agreed that this was overly broad. While the conduct of parties in an FRO can be barred, such as no harassing communications, the location of the person should not be the focus. The Court stated that “defendant should not be compelled to abandon his lawful presence in a public or other location only because his ex-wife also chooses to be present in the same general location.” To find otherwise, the Court recognized would subject Defendant to possible arrest for watching his children play soccer or going to the grocery store.

A properly crafted Order could have avoided all of the confusion and adversity experienced by this Defendant when all S.K. was doing was watching his child play a sport. It is important to discuss all possible scenarios with your attorney so that you know you will be covered in all foreseeable circumstances.

Posted By Elizabeth A. Calandrillo, Esq.