Social media has become a prevalent part of people’s lives. Many people post about how great their life is or about the good things that their children do (guilty as charged.) Others debate politics. Some post pictures of the pets, their meals, whatever. But can a bad social media post constitute domestic violence and lead to the entry of a Final Restraining Order.
In a word, YES.
This notion was reiterated again in the case if E.S. v. G.S., Jr. an unreported (non-precedential) decision released on February 8, 2024.
In that case, the parties were divorced in 2021. During the divorce, there were multiple TROs sought by each other. One TRO, resolved with a Consent Order in the divorce action, had the following language:
they shall have no contact with each other . . . . No texting, [e]mail, social media[,] or face[-]to[-]face communication shall be permitted, and a violation of this provision may be grounds for [h]arassment and the reissuance of a TRO against the offending party. There shall be no communication through third parties.
Thereafter, the defendant posted on Facebook, purportedly about a letter he sent his ex-wife “… after learning of her alleged extra-marital relationships and diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.” Plaintiff testified that after the post, she was inundated with phone calls and text messages from family and friends because of defendant’s Facebook post. As a result, she sought a TRO. At the trial, defendant admitted to publishing the post.
The trial court entered a Final Restraining Order (FRO) and the Appellate Division affirmed. Putting aside the prior Consent Order, the Appellate Division reiterated the statutory definition of harassment:
A person commits harassment if, with purpose to harass another, they:
a. Make, or cause to be made, one or more communications anonymously or at extremely
inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; …c. Engage in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
The court went on to note that, “”[A]nnoyance or alarm” has been said to mean “to disturb, irritate, or bother.” J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 477 (2011) (quoting State v. Hoffman, 149 N.J. 564, 580 (1997)).
In affirming, the Appellate Division boiled the issue down as follows:
Defendant’s contention that the court erred by finding a predicate act of harassment is not
persuasive. Defendant admitted he was responsible for the August 1, 2022 Facebook post in which he disclosed sensitive, private information about plaintiff, including her mental health diagnosis and his allegation she engaged in extra-marital affairs, intending to convey that information to people with whom plaintiff communicated. The court’s finding that defendant’s communication was made with the purpose to harass and annoy plaintiff is supported by adequate, substantial, credible evidence in the record, including credible evidence of a previous history of domestic violence between the parties. Moreover, the court found defendant’s Facebook post violated the Consent Order. Defendant expressly agreed a violation of the Consent Order may, in and of itself, support a finding of harassment. We discern no reason to disturb the court’s finding defendant committed the predicate act of harassment.
While the language in the prior Consent Order was not necessary to support the finding of harassment, as TROs are often resolved with such Consent Order, one should consider adding this language in the future for added protection.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Department 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 is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.