The Case of the Dad Arrested At Little League, And An Overbroad Restraining Order

Restraining orders protect victims of domestic violence from further abuse. They restrict the perpetrator’s contact with the victim. They can also limit the perpetrator’s physical presence in places where the victim frequently goes.

However, these restrictions must be reasonable. For example, in one recent case, a New Jersey family judge found that a gentleman whom we’ll call S.K. harassed his ex-wife. The judge issued a restraining order. The order prohibited S.K. from going to his ex-wife’s home or workplace. And, in court, that was everything the judge told S.K.  not to do.

However,  the written restraining order went further. The written order also banned S.K. from any other place where his ex-wife was located. That’s right: anywhere.

At some point, S.K. attended his children’s soccer game. By chance, his ex-wife was also there. She called the police. Next thing S.K. knew, he stood convicted of  contempt of court. S.K. appealed, claiming that he never knew the restraining order banned him from every place his ex-wife chose to be. S.K.  further argued that the restraining order was too broad.

The appeals court agreed, ruling that the law only allows restraining orders to ban either particular locations, or particular harmful conduct. The law does not allow for a blanket restriction on attending every location the protected person may be.

When criminal charges are involved, a person deserves to know exactly  what is required. Presumably, the restraining order here would have made S.K. subject to punishment for running into his ex-wife at the supermarket, or for stopping at the same red light as her.  That’s going too far, according to the court.