Hot off the press! A published (precedent setting) trial court decision, E.S. v. C.D. confirms that live-in childcare providers qualify as household members under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”). What does this mean? A restraining order can be entered against an employee who has lived with their employer even though the parties do
I have now blogged a few times about the importance for due process in domestic violence matters. The Appellate Division just gave us another unpublished case, B.L.F. v. T.G.C., to remind litigants and practitioners that the plaintiff in a domestic violence action is limited to the four corners of the Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) and,…
In the recent unpublished decision of L.G. v. T.G.. the Appellate Division addresses an issue that we are dealing with more and more – tracking one’s spouse through a hidden GPS on their car. GPS in terms of domestic violence isn’t necessarily “new” – you can read about the beginnings in Eric Solotoff’s 2011 …
In 2009, Eric Solotoff did a blog post on the Abuse and Misuse of the Domestic Violence Statute. Recently, I too have seen a rash of reversals in the Appellate Division as to alleged offenses that the trial court has found to constitute domestic violence. It got me thinking; is overuse and misapplication, and…
In the unpublished (non-precedential) recent case of N.G. v. N.B.G., the Appellate Court declined to enforce a provision in the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement that permitted the parties to retain a Parenting Coordinator to resolve co-parenting issues, due to the existence of a Final Restraining Order (I note that the FRO was in existence…
If I were to tell you that the victim of domestic violence was put out of the marital home and the abuser was granted temporary custody of the kids, you would say I was crazy. The Appellate Division would agree and in reported (precedential) decision released on October 19, 2012 in the case of J.D. v. M.A.D.(ironically), reversed such a holding by a Camden County trial court.
In this case, the defendant’s discovery of the victim’s infidelity lead to an act of domestic violence. The victim, however, wanted to remain in and work on the marriage. The defendant wanted "space" and somehow convinced the victim to leave the home and sign a document giving him primary custody of the children. The parties later reconciled and the victim returned to the house. However, unable to control his anger over her affair, a number of additional acts of domestic violence occur ed, culminating with the entry of a TRO against the defendant. At the Final Restraining Order hearing, the judge then entertained argument "as to who should have possession of the marital home and as to who should have
temporary custody of the children." The trial judge decided that it should be the defendant, finding that the anger only occur ed when the parties were together and as such because the defendant had been the primary caretaker, he was awarded temporary custody and the victim was excluded from the marital home.
The victim appealed and the Appellate Division reversed, holding:
The trial court’s findings, set forth in the beginning of this opinion regarding the events over the course of the seven months following defendant’s discovery of his wife’s extramarital affair, are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and we do not disturb them. The facts as found, however, do not overcome the presumption embodied in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29b(11), governing the court’s award of temporary custody
in a proceeding under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, "that the best interests of the child are served by an award of custody to the non-abusive parent." Moreover, these facts cannot support an order granting exclusive possession of the marital home to the party the court has found to have perpetrated the abuse.
As family law practitioners who frequently represent parties in domestic violence actions, we are often confronted with clients who, having been the victim of domestic violence, seek to prohibit their spouse’s presence at any location where they will also be present. Until just recently, the law remained silent as to whether a restraining order could provide such broad prohibitions. On January 17, 2012, the legal silence ended by way of the matter of State v. S.K., Docket No. A-1488-10T1, which has been approved for publication and is, therefore, binding law upon the trial courts of our state. As established in S.K., a provision in a domestic violence restraining order that prohibits a defendant from “any other place where plaintiff is located” is not generally not enforceable as The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act does not authorize such non-specific restraints. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35.
In addition to the more ‘common’ relief of barring defendant from plaintiff’s place of residence and employment, the final restraining order in S.K. went one large step further by prohibiting defendant from “any other place where plaintiff is located”. Over five years after the restraining order was entered, defendant attended the soccer game of the parties’ children at a local high school that plaintiff also attended. While plaintiff sat in the bleachers, defendant stood near the bleachers, watching the game. Upon seeing defendant, plaintiff telephoned the police and advised them that defendant was in violation of the final restraining order. At no time did plaintiff accuse defendant of communicating or contacting her in any way. No action was taken by the police at that time.
The day following the soccer event, plaintiff filed a “citizen’s complaint” against defendant for violation of the restraining order. In response, the police filed a formal complaint, charging defendant with “disorderly persons contempt” in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9b, as well as “petty disorderly persons harassment”, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a. Accordingly, defendant was arrested and processed and released from custody. Trial was held six months later, wherein the State offered defendant a plea agreement in exchange for serving no jail time. Defendant agreed to plead guilty to the contempt charge conditioned upon the State dismissing the harassment charge.
Finding in favor of plaintiff, the Appellate Court reversed plaintiff’s conviction and remanded to the trial court for dismissal of the complaint filed by the Sate and consideration of an appropriate amendment of the final restraining order to delete the invalid provision.
The times, they are a’changing – at least when it comes to how the judicial system approaches harassment as an act of domestic violence in light of advanced technology used for communication. In the newly reported (precedential) Appellate Division decision of L.M.F. v. J.A.F., Jr., the Court addressed the use of electronic communications, specifically text messages, as a form of harassment. Those claiming an act of harassment based on electronic communications might not like what the Appellate Division had to say, as detailed further below, but the decision provides a breadth of noteworthy language in shaping what is an extremely sound, rationale and common sense methodology to approach such cases in the future.
As a refresher, harassment is defined by New Jersey statute as follows:
[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. 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;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
Addressing the struggles faced by courts in addressing harassment as an act of domestic violence, the Appellate Division noted
The facts presented here exemplify the complexity of human interactions and the strain they place on the Family Part judges as they struggle to distinguish between the cases that merit judicial intervention and those that do not.
Further addressing such difficulties in the context of modern technology and the facts at issue, the Court first provided an online definition of “texting” from www.netlingo.com as:
[t]he act of typing and sending a brief, electronic message (less than 160 characters) via a wireless network to another person so that they can view the short message on any number of mobile or handheld devices.
Harassment under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act can take on many forms, one of which, under a given set of facts and circumstances, can involve an individual placing a victim in fear of losing her job. Recently we handled a matter where the defendant was contacting the victim’s employer and threatening to tell the employer very private details about the victim’s personal life. Whether the victim would have actually lost her job was one thing, since, more importantly, she had a reasonable fear based on the defendant’s harassment that it would occur.
The facts in J.J. v. J.M. were relatively similar (as each case carries its own details and nuances), as the Appellate Division affirmed in this unpublished (not precedential) case that the defendant’s actions in placing his former girlfriend in fear of losing her job constituted harassment meriting issuance of a Final Restraining Order.
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.