New Jersey is certainly a melting pot if people of different races, religious and cultures. What may be normal or acceptable in one religion or culture, may not fall within the acceptable laws or mores of our society. On July 23, 2010, the Appellate Division decided the case of S.D. v. M.J.R. which was a reported (precedential) opinion addressing just this issue.
In this case, the parties were citizens of Morocco and practiced the Muslim faith. They wed in Morocco in July 2008 in an arranged marriage when the wife was 17 and shortly thereafter, came to NJ for the husband’s employment as an accountant. Not long after, the wife sought a restraining order alleging harassment, assault, criminal restraint, sexual assault or criminal sexual. The trial judge found that harassment and assault occur ed, i.e. acts of domestic violence occur ed, but that the wife did not need a restraining order for her protection. Part of this was because he believed that there was a no contact order in connection with the corresponding criminal case and part because he thought that the parties would have little reason to see each other any more (a curious finding because the alleged sexual assault resulted in a pregnancy and there was going to be a custody litigation in Morocco.).
Despite stating that unwanted sexual relations occur ed, the trial judge did not find sexual assault or criminal sexual conduct to have been proven, stating:
This court does not feel that, under the circumstances, that this defendant had a criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault or to sexually contact the plaintiff when he did. The court believes that he was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited contact.
In other words, the judge found no criminal intent because religious custom clashed with the law. The Appellate Division reversed finding that the only necessary intent was to commit the sexual act, not the intent to commit a criminal act. Put another way, the fact that his religion may have permitted the conduct does not justify it legally. As such, the denial of the Final Restraining Order was reversed and an FRO was entered.