Is It Domestic Violence If I Am Prevented From Leaving My Own House?

            Yes provided the person who is in the wrong is a spouse, ex-spouse, someone you are dating or have dated, have a child with or is someone who presently or formerly dated.  It is the clear opinion of this restraining order lawyer that blocking your spouse or significant other would amount to harassment under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.  Certainly, the victim in such a situation has every right to feel harassed by such conduct.  Furthermore, clearly there was intent to harass on the part of the person blocking the other’s ability to leave the home, which the attorneys at our East Brunswick, New Jersey law firm would be sure to make clear when representing the victim in a final restraining order trial.

            In C.M.K. v. S.K., the parties were married for over sixteen years and were followers of the Orthodox Jewish religion.  The parties had six children born of the marriage.  S.K. acted as a Rabi for the parties jointly operated Chabad.  Prior to 2016, S.K. was made to resign as Rabi due to claims of sexual misconduct.  On August 10, 2016, C.M.K. filed for divorce.  The parties reached a verbal agreement, with the help of counsel, to sleep in separate bedrooms in the parties’ home.  C.M.K. filed for a temporary restraining order on October 5, 2016 against S.K.  C.M.K. alleged that S.K. harassed and falsely imprisoned her during three acts of domestic violence on September 7, September 29, and September 30, 2016. 

            At the final restraining order hearing at the New Jersey Superior Court Family Part on January 5 and January 12, 2017, C.M.K. stated that on September 30, 2016, S.K. invited his parents to the parties’ home on Friday night, which was right before the Sabbath.  Since the parties do not make phone calls or drive once the Sabbath starts, C.M.K. instructed the children to get ready to leave once she learned of S.K.’s parents’ arrival.  C.M.K. testified that she wished to leave because her in-laws demonstrated abusive behavior and had not been to the parties’ home in years.  When S.K. found out that C.M.K. planned to leave with the children, he ran up the stairs and began to threaten C.M.K. and the children.  Allegedly, S.K. told C.M.K. that she was not going anywhere, and even pinned one of the children to the wall shouting the same.  C.M.K. then ran downstairs to find an exit, but S.K. blocked her at the doorway.  She then ran to another door, but was unable to leave when her mother-in-law blocked her.  At that time, C.M.K. allegedly assaulted her mother-in–law.  C.M.K. and the children then got in the car and C.M.K. drove to a friend’s house.  S.K. tried to stop C.M.K. from leaving by hanging onto the car door, but he eventually let go and C.M.K. drove away.  C.M.K. then had her son call the police. 

            C.M.K. also testified that due to the verbal agreement the parties reached with their respective attorneys, the parties were not sleeping in the same bed or even in the same room in the house.  Despite the agreement, S.K. continuously entered C.M.K.’s room on September 7, 2016.  C.M.K. asked S.K. to respect her space and to leave the room, but S.K. refused and stated that there was no agreement and that C.M.K. cannot tell him what to do.  Additionally, C.M.K. stated that there was a history of domestic violence.  In March 2016, S.K. threatened numerous times to show up at C.M.K.’s work events, which forced C.M.K. to cancel those events.  In July 2016, S.K. threatened to and did embarrass C.M.K. at the parties’ son’s Bar Mitzvah.  In the summer of 2016, C.M.K. awoke to S.K. touching her sexually under the blanket.  In August 2016, S.K. violated the parties’ agreement by being in or near C.M.K.’s room. 

            The trial court entered a final restraining order against S.K. after finding S.K.’s testimony was not credible.  The court stated that C.M.K.’s testimony was very credible and adequately described the escalating harassment.  Furthermore, the trial court found it difficult to believe that C.M.K. would violate the Shabbat by taking her children and driving to a friend’s house without shoes on if she did not feel threatened by S.K. in her home.  Although the trial court found that S.K. did not falsely imprison C.M.K., it did find that acts of harassment did occur on September 7 and September 30, 2016.  The trial court further found that S.K. committed such acts with the intent to annoy or alarm C.M.K.  Additionally, the trial court found that S.K. harassed C.M.K. on September 7, 2016 by threatening C.M.K. and stepping into C.M.K.’s bedroom in violation of the agreement, which S.K. testified did, in fact, exist.  The trial court found that a final restraining order was necessary to protect C.M.K. from further abuse due to the steady stream of escalating domestic violence, which caused C.M.K. to become fearful of S.K.

            On appeal, S.K. claimed that the trial court was wrong to find that he harassed C.M.K. and that a final restraining order was not necessary to protect C.M.K. from further harm or abuse.  The New Jersey Appellate Division stated that it gives great deference to the factual findings of the trial court.  The Appellate Division stated that the trial court’s decision should not be reversed unless its conclusions are so inadequate and unsupported that it would be unjust not to reverse its decision.  The Appellate Division noted that it must give such great deference to the trial court because the evidence involves the credibility of the parties’ testimony as well as witness testimony.  The court explained that the trial court should first determine if a predicate act has been committed.  A predicate act is an earlier offense or wrongdoing that is similar to the offense or wrongdoing being claimed.  The Appellate Division stated that upon making such a determination, the trial court must then determine whether a final restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from further harm or danger.  The Appellate Division explained that a person commits the predicate act of harassment if the person engages in communication, offensive touching, or conduct meant to alarm or annoy with the intent to harass the victim.  The court stated that the purpose to harass must be supported by evidence of the abuser’s intent to alarm or annoy, which can be inferred from the evidence presented and common sense. 

            The Appellate Division stated that the trial court found that S.K.’s conduct on September 7 and September 30, 2016 constituted harassment.  The Appellate Division found that the trial court’s determination was supported by credible evidence since S.K. ran up the stairs threatening C.M.K., which was meant to alarm or annoy C.M.K.  Furthermore, the Appellate Division stated that since harassment is a predicate act, the need to prevent future harassment is sufficient to determine that a final restraining order is necessary to protect C.M.K.  The Appellate Division agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that S.K.’s escalating harassment was enough to establish a final restraining order was necessary.  Ultimately, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court and found there was substantial and adequate evidence to show that S.K. harassed C.M.K. and that a final restraining order was necessary to prevent C.M.K. from further harassment. 

            If you or a loved one is facing a situation involving domestic violence, please contact our office today.