I have found that the most difficult harassment cases to prove under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act are the cases in which there is no direct communication between the alleged victim and the alleged aggressor. However, it is not impossible for the victim to prevail and obtain a Domestic Violence Final Restraining Order so long as the acts alleged are presented to the Court properly.

For example, one of the most difficult cases that I have had involved an ex-spouse calling the boyfriend of his former spouse, my client, during a three day period. The ex-spouse never called my client. Moreover, although he called my client’s boyfriend, the calls were never answered. It was imperative in this case to prove to the Court that the calls were being made for the intent to harass my client– and not the significant other–and that the communications (or attempted communications) fell within the prohibited types of communications under the Domestic Violence Act. It was not an easy case but my client prevailed because the Court was presented facts that lead the Court step-by-step to a finding of an intention to harass via prohibited communications.

The Domestic Violence statute incorporates N.J.S.A 2C:33-4, “Harassment,” as an act of domestic violence when it is inflicted upon a person protected by the Act. Even when there is no direct communication or direct contact between the aggressor and the victim, the applicable provisions of the harassment statute still provides that a person commits an act of domestic violence if, “with purpose to harass another”, s/he “makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously, or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm” or “engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person”. N.J.S.A 2C:33-4 subsection, (a) and (c).

Therefore, in the example used above, background testimony was provided to the Court that the defendant had continuously called my client for eight months at her work number and that on numerous occasions, plaintiff’s counsel forwarded letters to defendant’s attorney demanding that the calls cease.  Further, testimony was provided that my client had moved, changed her employment and changed her telephone numbers keeping her contact information confidential from her ex-husband for the purpose of cutting off all ties. Testimony was further provided to the Court that the ex-husband had access to her boyfriend’s contact information although the ex-husband had no relationship with the boyfriend whatsoever. The Court was also presented with testimony indicating that the ex-husband’s telephone number came up on Caller ID consistently during a three-day period. Testimony was also elicited from ex-husband that the only reason that ex-husband was calling the boyfriend was to discuss sensitive personal information about his ex-spouse that most people would view as not only personal but also potentially embarrassing. Based upon these facts, the Court found that although the calls were not answered and although the calls were not made to the victim directly, the ex-husband’s purpose in making the calls and attempting communication was to harass his ex-spouse. Because the calls were consistent during the three-day period and because ex-husband’s stated reason for the contact was to discuss personal information about his ex-wife, the Court found that he was engaging in prohibited communications pursuant to N.J.S.A 2C:33-4 subsection, (a) and (c).

In short, even without direct communication, a Court is still authorized to enter a Final Restraining Order under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act if the attempted communication was made with the intent to harass.   However, many litigants make the mistake of focusing only on the communication and often fail to present the facts underlying the communication.  Had my client merely testified that she was seeking a Final Restraining Order because her ex-husband called her boyfriend’s number on a number of occasions, it is unlikely that she would have prevailed because based on those facts alone the Court could not find an intent to harass nor could the Court have found that the unanswered telephone calls were communications made “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm” or that ex-husband attempts at calling were “acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person”.

(As an aside, the ex-husband noted above filed an appeal of the Court’s entry of the Final Restraining Order which ex-husband lost.)

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