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Prior History can Affect Domestic Violence Charges

April 15, 2014 | Posted In Family Law

In New Jersey, protection measures for victims of domestic violence just got a boost, according to a recent ruling from the state’s appeals court. In the case of N.B. vs. S.K., the determining factor is whether the husband’s conduct rose to the level of harassment, and if so, how much that harassment should have been factored into the judge’s decision, based on the couple’s history, and the context in which the communication was made, family lawyers in New Jersey say. 

The couple was married in 1993, and when their marriage began to crumble, both partners sough a final restraining order against each other, using the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The Act, passed in 1991, provides victims of domestic abuse with two forms of relief—civil, which allows a victim to file a restraining order, and criminal, which allows a victim to file criminal charges in court against the abusive partner. 

In 2003, when the couple finally divorced, both partners agreed to vacate their restraining orders in favor of the divorce settlement terms, which stipulated that both parties should not harass each other, and established strict rules of communication between the two. But after the divorce, S.K., the ex-husband, repeatedly violated these terms, making phone calls, e-mailing, and otherwise harassing N.B., his ex-wife. She turned to the courts to reinforce the restraints in 2006, which resulted in an official order to cease harassment. In 2009, N.B filed another domestic violence suit, claiming that her ex continued to harass her via phone and email. However, the judge ruled that S.K.’s actions did not fall under the heading of domestic violence, and dropped the charges. 

Now, the two are back in court, after S.K. left four voicemails for N.B. throughout the day on June 24, 2012. N.B.’s family lawyer contended that the voicemails should constitute domestic violence, especially when one considers the couple’s history—S.K. has been violating the divorce settlement for the past several years. N.B. also sought to reinstate the final restraining order (FRO) she had against her husband prior to their divorce. But the judge who originally heard the case did not agree, finding no evidence to suggest that such a violation of a communication order can be considered an act of domestic violence. 

In the appellate court’s published opinion, N.B. v. S.K., the judge’s decision was made in error, and S.K.’s previous communications with his ex-wife should have been taken into account. The appellate judges noted S.K.’s history of ignoring the legal stipulations established in the terms of the couple’s divorce, and said that the inclusion of these actions were necessary in determining whether the four voicemails in question are, in fact, designed to harass his ex-wife. 

Although the appeals court did agree that S.K.’s harassing phone calls and communications constituted as domestic violence against his ex-wife, they did not allow her to restart the FRO, because too much time had passed since the original order. Regardless, family lawyers in New Jersey say that the court’s inclusion of history review in a domestic violence case changes the options available for spouses looking to file charges.  

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our family lawyers represent couples who cannot amicably come to a decision regarding the end of their relationship. If you have divorce, communication, FRO, or other domestic issues, contact an HCK attorney for a consultation today. 

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