Under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Are Women Ever Found to be the Abuser?
As a family lawyer some of the most difficult situations that comes across my desk is a case involving serious offense domestic violence. That is why it is essential to hire an attorney who is both well versed in New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the trial experience dealing with Final Restraining Orders. However, I have had men who have clearly been to victim of abuse yet are hesitant to pursue their rights. Some are embarrassed while others think they simply have no chance because they are “the man.” The recent New Jersey Appellate Division case R.J. v. R.J., decided on January 9, 2015, demonstrates that a woman may also be found in violation of New Jersey’s domestic violence laws.
In the case, the parties married in 1979 and separated in 2011. Two children were born of the marriage. One night in April of 2013 the wife began to run toward her estranged husband as he was walking to his car. He saw her coming toward him and began to run faster to his car to avoid any confrontation. However, the wife was able to catch up with him and began to hit his head and arm. As he struggled to get inside of his car, she continued to hit and slap him.
Minutes later one of the parties’ children arrived. Luckily for the husband, the wife stopped beating him up and he was able to drive away. Yet, after the incident she continued to repeatedly drive through his neighborhood, which he found very alarming. He reported everything that had happened to the local authorities and a temporary restraining order was issued.
One month later the Family Part modified the court’s order and issued a final restraining order against the wife under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The court found her to be guilty of harassment as defined by N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 because she had engaged in conduct with the intent to “alarm or seriously annoy” her estranged husband. In addition, the wife was constantly texting and calling her husband to the point that he was very alarmed and taken aback.
Furthermore, the husband had testified in depth about previous incidents of domestic violence. In particular, in 2010 his wife went to his apartment complex numerous times, screaming and cursing at him from the parking lot. Additionally, she blocked him from leaving the parking lot on multiple occasions and even followed him one time to their son’s basketball game. Moreover, she had verbally assaulted him at one of their son’s hockey games in front of all the other parents.
The husband further testified that after the several incidents of domestic violence had occurred in 2010, he and his wife agreed to enter into a Civil Consent Order. They chose to do this as opposed to a restraining order to try and stay civil amongst the children. In the Consent order both parties had agreed to refrain from contacting each other. Additionally, the parties agreed to keep their distance from one another when dropping off or picking up the children from the other’s house. Considering the parties had voluntarily entered into the consent order, the court felt now that the wife was purposely violating that order. Therefore, it was necessary to grant a restraining order to prevent any future harmful acts. She appealed.
On appeal, the wife argued that the court erred in granting her estranged husband a final restraining order. However, the Appellate Division affirmed the findings of the lower court. It looked to the Criminal Code of New Jersey to see how “harassment” was defined. Pursuant to the Code, harassment required conduct undertaken with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy the victim.
The Appellate Division also looked to the Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act, particularly N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. Pursuant to that provision, the following would all be examples of conduct that may rise to the level of harassment if committed with the intention of harassing a victim:
(1) Constantly talking at inconvenient times of the day
(2) Constantly cursing and using offensive language
(3) Striking, kicking, shoving or any other offensive touching, or threats to do so
(4) Any other conduct that could be perceived as alarming or seriously annoying to the victim
Ultimately, the court felt that the wife’s purpose was to harass her estranged husband when she began to beat him up in the parking lot that day in April 2013. Therefore, the lower court was correct in granting the final restraining order.
The most important takeaway from this case is that a woman whose conduct is found to have to been intentionally and seriously alarming does in fact to constitute harassment.
If you or a loved one is regretfully involved in a domestic violence situation in New Jersey, please do not ever hesitate to immediately contact my office today. Thank you.