Domestic Contretemps and Domestic Violence Laws in NJ

Divorce is a messy process that is rarely a happy event. Arguments between divorcing spouses are routine due to the breakdown of the marital relationship. Unfortunately sometimes those arguments erupt into larger issues including physical violence or domestic violence. Under New Jersey law a sharp distinction is made between ‘domestic contretemps,’ or minor disagreements, and more severe cases of domestic violence. In the context of divorce cases, a question may arise as to whether an altercation between spouses or former spouses rises to the level of domestic violence under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.

Peranio v. Peranio

The New Jersey Appellate Division Peranio case from 1995 is illustrative of the difference between ‘domestic contretemps’ and domestic violence. In Peranio, a husband and wife are going through a divorce when the husband goes to the former marital home where the wife still lives to inspect water damage to the basement. While doing so, the husband noticed that some of his personal items were no longer in the house, and the husband and wife had a verbal disagreement about this. The husband said to the wife “I’ll bury you” in the course of the argument and then left the home. The wife contends that this phrase constituted harassment. The husband claimed that he did not intend the phrase to mean that he would physically harm the wife, but rather that he would “bury” her in the legal process because he believed she was illegally removing or selling marital property.

The question arose whether this argument and specifically the language the husband used arose to the level of harassment under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The court in this case found that the husband’s language did not meet the definition of harassment in the Act. The court considered this case a case of domestic contretemps. Integral to a finding of harassment is establishing that the purpose of the conduct in question was to harass the person. Here, the court did not find that the husband said “I’ll bury you” to harass the wife.

A separate part of the reasoning was the history of the couple, specifically a lack of history of harassment. The Court explained:

“Here, there was absolutely no history of threats, harassment, physical or mental abuse or violence between parties, who were on the threshold of dissolving their marriage when a conflict over property occurred. What happened was that plaintiff and defendant, whose relationship the trial judge correctly characterized as broken down, had a disagreement. As a result, defendant said something to plaintiff in annoyance which upset and alarmed her.” Peranio.

Domestic violence is a serious problem that should not be taken lightly. However, under New Jersey law only certain types of serious issues rise to the level of domestic violence. If you have been in a domestic violence situation and need legal assistance, please call of Peter Van Aulen a NJ divorce lawyer at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.

Sources
Peranio v. Peranio, 280 N.J. Super 47 (App.Div.1995)
N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19
N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(c)

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