Harassment and Domestic Violence in New Jersey
Harassment can constitute a basis for the issuance of a restraining order if the statutory elements are satisfied. See N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4. The statute defines harassment:
Except as provided in subsection e., a person commits a petty disorderly person offense if, with the 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. [N.J.S.A. 2c:33-4 (emphasis added).]
As provided by the statute, a finding of harassment requires proof of an intent or purpose to harass. State v. Hoffman, 149 N.J. 564, 576-77 (1997). An assertion by a plaintiff that he or she felt harassed is a subjective belief and insufficient to prove a purpose or intent to harass. See J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 484 (2011). The courts must find that “relief is necessary to prevent further abuse,” before making a finding of harassment. J.D., supra, 207 N.J. at 476 (first quoting Corrente v. Corrente, 281 N.J. Super. 243, 250 (App. Div. 1995); and quoting N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(b)).
Trial courts must determine whether an act is simply an ordinary domestic dispute or disagreement or whether the act crosses the line into domestic violence. Id. at 475. The family court must then determine whether the plaintiff needs the protection of a restraining order. Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. 112, 126 (App. Div. 2006) and whether a restraining order is necessary . . . to protect the victim from an immediate danger or prevent further abuse.” Id. at 127. ” The court cannot grant a FRO by just merely concluding that plaintiff has described acts that qualify as harassment and omitting whether the plaintiffs need the protection of the restraining order as it would ‘trivialize the plight of true victims,’ in the process.” J.D., supra, 207 N.J. at 476 (internal citations omitted)(quoting Corrente v. Corrente, 281 N.J. Super. 243, 250 (App. Div. 1995)).
In New Jersey, in order for the family court to grant a FRO in a domestic violence matter involving harassment, the courts must not only decide that the predicate offense of harassment happened but it needs also to determine whether the plaintiff needs the protection of a final restraining order.
For more information about domestic violence matters in New Jersey please contact our office at (201) 880-5563, for an appointment with one of our attorneys.