Can Civil Restraints Prevent Me From Obtaining Another Restraining Order?

            No.  A Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey is focused on the testimony elicited from you by your attorney.  Simply put, New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act never prevents a potential victim from seeking protection only a restraining order may provide even if a prior temporary restraining order was resolved by way of a “civil” restraining order by your previous attorney.

In M.D. v. P.D., the parties were married in 1996 and had one child, a daughter, born of the marriage.  The wife was born in Brazil and moved to the United States sometime in 2004.  The wife works in Ocean County while the husband works at East Jersey State Prison for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.  At some point, the wife moved out of the marital home and the parties separated.  The husband filed for divorce after the separation. 

On March 4, 2015, the wife filed a complaint against the husband for domestic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 (“PDVA”).  The wife claimed that on February 28, 2015 the husband had repeatedly called and texted her, and that the husband unexpectedly and continually showed up to her apartment and workplace.  The wife also claimed that the husband placed a tracking device on her car without her knowing and without her consent.  In her complaint, the wife stated that there was a history of harassment and intimidation by the husband, and that the husband often used inappropriate and offensive language toward her.   She also stated that the husband believed she was romantically involved with another man and threatened to have prisoners “take care” of this man that she was allegedly having an affair with.  The wife was granted a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which temporarily prohibits the alleged abuser from contacting or communicating with the person who was granted the TRO.  Shortly after the TRO was granted, the parties agreed to dismiss the domestic violence complaint and entered into a Consent Order on March 24, 2015.  The Consent Order, which was agreed to by the parties, discussed all of the issues related to the divorce, such as child support, alimony, custody and parenting time.  The Consent Order also included a provision for civil restraints, which do not have the same protections as restraining orders, but limit or prohibit communication and contact between the parties.  In the provision, the parties agreed to only communicate by text message or email. 

However, on October 28, 2015 the wife filed another domestic violence complaint against the husband.  She claimed that the husband called her and accused her of being romantically involved with her boss.  She also stated that the husband threatened to “do something about this.”  The wife believed the husband made this threat because she was recently selected to be the parent of primary residence, meaning the parties’ daughter would live with her.  The wife also claimed that the husband came to the wife’s house uninvited an hour before the scheduled parenting time and tried to have a conversation with the wife’s mother, who does not speak English.  The wife stated that she was upset by the husband’s unannounced visit, and after the husband left, the husband called the wife and made inappropriate comments to her.  Lastly, the wife claimed that on September 25, 2015 the husband tried to cancel his scheduled visit with the parties’ daughter and found out that the wife had plans to go to a bar.  The wife claims the husband followed her to the bar and brought the parties’ ten-year-old daughter.  She stated that the husband called her offensive names and made inappropriate comments about her Brazilian background.

On November 9, 2015 and November 16, 2015, the Family Part of the Superior Court of New Jersey held a final restraining order (“FRO”) hearing to determine if a permanent restraining order against the husband was necessary.  At the hearing, both parties were represented by attorneys, and the trial judge found the wife to be credible but found that the husband was not credible.  The trial judge allowed the wife’s first domestic violence complaint, which was voluntarily dismissed, into evidence despite objections made by the husband’s attorney.  The trial judge found that the husband engaged in conduct that was intended to harass the wife within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a).  The trial judge found that a pattern was established under Silver v. Silver, which states that a previous crime or offense that is related to the crime or offense being alleged has occurred, and that a FRO is necessary to protect the victim from future abuse or harm.  The trial judge also found that if the FRO was not granted, the husband would most likely continue to harass the wife. 

On appeal, the husband seeks to vacate, or remove, the FRO because there was not enough evidence to prove that the husband harassed the wife.  The husband also claims that there was not enough evidence to prove that a FRO was necessary to prevent future abuse.  The New Jersey Appellate Division disagreed with the husband.  The Appellate Division noted that it must follow the factual findings of the lower court unless the facts are obviously inconsistent with credible or reliable evidence.  The Appellate Division found that the trial court judge carefully evaluated the parties’ evidence and testimony and made findings that are supported by that evidence and testimony.  The Appellate Division found no reason to disagree with the trial court judge in this case.  The Appellate Division also agreed that the wife’s initial domestic violence complaint should have been allowed into evidence because her dismissal of the complaint does not prove that no domestic violence occurred.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division found that the husband intentionally or purposely harassed the wife under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a) and that the FRO was necessary to protect the wife from future harm or abuse.