Harassment as Grounds for a Restraining Order in New Jersey: An Overview of Reported Cases Part I

Under the New Jersey domestic violence statute, before a party can obtain a Restraining Order, there must be an act of domestic violence committed by the defendant as defined by the statute. The statute lists out fourteen separate acts which constitute domestic violence under its definition. The offense of harassment is one of these acts, and is the most frequently used basis for granting a restraining order in New Jersey. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 a party commits an act of harassment if he or she does the following:

  1. Intends to harass another person, by communicating, or causing some communication with that person, in offensive and coarse language. Or, the communication can occur at extremely unreasonable hours, anonymously, or in any other way which would likely cause alarm and annoyance to a reasonable person.
  2. Purposely trying to harass, kick, hit, shove, or commit some other form offensive touching, or just threatens to do so; or
  3. Intends to harass someone by engaging in any other sort of alarming conduct, including committing acts repeatedly with the intention to alarm or seriously annoy the other person.

As seen from the cases below, Domestic Violence Restraining Orders based on harassment are very fact sensitive inquiries. In the case of State V. Hoffman., 149 N.J. 564 (1997) there were several restraining orders issued against the former husband. He continued to violate them anyway. Eventually, he pled guilty to criminal trespass, contempt and was sentenced to 365 days in jail. While in jail he mailed a torn-up support order along with a Notice of Motion to modify support and a financial statement by certified and regular mail to his wife, in continued violation of the restraining orders. The former wife filed a complaint against the former husband for sending the two torn up orders. In its opinion, the court in Hoffman defined “purposely” as used under the statute as follows: A person acts with purpose in his conduct if it is his conscious goal to act in that conduct, or the nature therefore and cause a specific result. Id at 577. The court in Hoffman held that the former husband did not violate the harassment statute by mailing the two torn orders to his former wife because he did not meet the requisite standard for acting purposely.

In the case Corrente v.Corrente., 281 N.J. Super. 243 (App.Div.1994) the court held that a husband who had been separated from his spouse had not committed harassment. He called her place of work and began threatening severe measures if she failed to provide him with enough money to pay the monthly bills of the family. She did not pay up, and in retribution, the husband turned off her phone. Essentially, the court found that the husband did not show the requisite intent of harassment simply by calling his wife at work, despite the fact that she was indeed alarmed by them. Id. at 249. The court held that neither the phone calls nor turning off the phone (which the husband remedied by having the phone restored in her own name) were not acts which could be “characterized as alarming or seriously annoying.” Id. The court found that the parties did not have any history of domestic violence, and the matter was a conflict over finances and possession over the marital residence and not domestic violence. Id at 250. Therefore, in spite of the fact that the wife actually felt threatened, the court determined that because a reasonable person probably would not, and the husband also did not have the intent to make her feel that way, he could not be held liable for any act of harassment as defined under New Jersey law.

Please see Part II and Part III of this article located on this website that continue the review of the relevant case law in regard to harassment as basis of receiving a restraining order under the domestic statute. If you have any questions concerning a domestic violence case, please call NJ divorce lawyer Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free comprehensive in office consultation.

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