You may be familiar with the line, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” from William Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet”. This famous quote refers to Juliet's love for Romeo, which remains unchanged even after discovering he is from the rival house of Montague. In a larger context, it could refer to how various entities are essentially the same, regardless of differences in name and origin. This is a relevant concept in the practice of law, where widely varying actions and degrees of conduct can represent the same offense, punishable by the same set of penalties and sanctions. It's even more relevant in family law, which tends to focus on individual behaviors and circumstances.
However, family law proceedings are governed by strict court rules and legal statutes. Furthermore, court orders resulting from these proceedings must be upheld to the fullest extent. Violation of a court order can result in one or more court sanctions, and possible jail time. Offenders may also find themselves guilty of a fourth degree crime for contempt, the offense of disobeying or disrespecting a court of law or any of its officers. Contempt charges, by the way, apply to violations of any restraining order, not just an FRO (final restraining order). Many people are surprised to find out about this – usually, the hard way – since emergency and temporary restraining orders don't seem to carry the gravitas of a final restraining order. Adding to the confusion is the fact that a restraining order can be issued without filing criminal charges. Hence, if you are not charged with a non-criminal offense, it may seem illogical that you can still be charged with criminal penalties.
Domestic violence prevention laws are indeed very complicated, and there are a lot of gray areas. However, one thing is clear: the violation of any and all restraining orders is a crime of the fourth degree. Depending on the nature of the violation, a jail sentence is possible even for a first offense. Furthermore, a jail sentence of 30 days is mandatory for second and subsequent offenses. Hence, it's extremely important to respect the terms of a court order, and to follow it to the letter. This can be challenging for parties who live in this same town or have children in common, but you must do your absolute best to avoid contact with the other party. It's also important to understand that reconciliation between the parties is not a viable defense for as long as the restraining order is in place.
In essence, violating the terms of a restraining order results in a criminal record, even if you avoid jail time. As you know, a criminal record has many damaging consequences for one's professional and personal life. It makes everything difficult, from getting a job to finding a place to live. That's why it's important to speak to an attorney about your rights and legal options if you are currently under the terms of a restraining order.