About a month ago, I blogged on a case that held that putting a GPS in a spouse’s car was not an invasion of privacy because cars travel on public roads and there is no expectation of privacy. That said, invasion of privacy is a tort so this case really did not address the domestic violence/stalking implications of the conduct. In fact, at the end of the post, I said:
Now, should people going through a divorce take this as a green light to start placing GPS devices in their spouse’s vehicle. Perhaps not. There have been some that have argued and some judges have found that that conduct would amount to domestic violence – perhaps harassment or stalking. Of course, that begs the question of how the alleged victim could demonstrate the requisite fear or be alarmed, if the did not know of the placement of the GPS and similarly, how it would be stalking if the person did not know that the GPS was recording their movements. I have no doubt that there will be more to come on this.
Little did I know that more was going to come so soon. That is, until I read L.J.V.H. v. R.J.V.H., an unreported Appellate Division opinion decided yesterday. In that case, the court found that the putting a GPS device in an ex-wife’s new boyfriend’s car was stalking and thus domestic violence.
Apparently, this was not the defendant’s first foray into the use of a GPS. At the commencement of the original divorce a year prior, the defendant had put a GPS on the wife’s car. She obtained a TRO which was ultimately resolved by a consent order in the divorce case for restraints, including restraints on stalking.
Defendant’s claim that he was doing this to prove cohabitation as that could impact other issues was rejected. Does this mean that you cannot use a private investigator, as is often done to prove cohabitation? I don’t think that the holding in this case can be taken that far but it should be considered.
Interestingly, the court did not find the conduct to be harassment. The Appellate Division noted as follows:
The judge’s reasons for finding that defendant’s conduct did not constitute harassment lend further support to the basis for her determination that he did commit stalking. Because defendant acted "covertly" and did not want plaintiff to "find out about it[,]" the judge determined that defendant did not have a purpose to annoy or alarm plaintiff, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a). The very nature of that "covert" and secretive conduct,
however, is consistent with the offense of stalking.
Would the result be different if this was Pre-judgment as opposed to post-judgment? Would the result be different if the GPS device was on the ex-wife’s car as opposed to her boyfriend’s car? Would this be stalking if a private investigator was hired to surveil the ex-wife as opposed to placing a GPS device? Would the result be different if the husband hadn’t done this before?
Again, the advancement of technology creates new issues in family law, whether it is impact of social media or advanced electronics. Stay tuned for more.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric practices in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.