New Jersey courts often grapple with the issue of domestic violence within family law cases. Judges often err on the side of caution in these cases, but this can lead to a judge overstepping their authority. `The case MC v GT demonstrates such a failure on the part of a judge, and more explicitly outlines the NJ restraining order requirements when relationships become physically violent. The appellate court appears to emphasize the necessity of an unequivocal finding of domestic violence before a judge can issue a restraining order unless there are other pending family matters at hand.
MC had been dating GT for a little while at the time she filed a complaint against him under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. At trial, the judge ultimately concluded there was not sufficient evidence to support a finding of domestic violence, and noted reservations about each party’s credibility with the court. The judge specifically held that MC failed to prove that GT acted “with a purpose to alarm or annoy.” Despite these findings, the judge decided to enter a restraining order against GT, citing her equitable powers. GT appealed, arguing that the judge exceeded her authority in issuing the restraining order.
On appeal, the court focused solely on the judge’s assertion that her equitable authority allowed her to issue a restraining order, even though she found insufficient evidence of domestic violence. The appellate court entertained a discussion as to what the NJ restraining order requirements are. The judge at the trial level relied on another appellate case, PJG v PSS. In this case, there were two cross-complaints, with each party accusing the other of domestic violence. The man proved his claim against the woman and so the judge ordered restraints. However, the judge found no evidence of domestic violence against the woman. Similarly, he entered a restraining order against the man anyway. On appeal, the panel agreed that the Act will not “authorize entry of a final restraining order absent preponderating evidence that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence. However, the court also determined that without such an element, that a judge could still enter restraints under the judge’s ‘ample inherent power.’
Another case preceding PJB was NB v TB, also exploring the NJ restraining order requirements. There was a pending matrimonial action between the two parties on top of the claim for a restraining order due to domestic violence. On appeal, the court held that a family judge is permitted to use evidence derived from a failed domestic violence action to issue a restraining order in a pending family matter.
The appellate court distinguished both PJG and NB from the instant case, noting that there was another pending cross-action between the parties involving domestic violence, and only upon hearing evidence in these claims, albeit failed ones, the judge entered a restraining order. Clearly, in the case at bar, the holdings do not support this scenario. The judge entered a restraining order against GT although MC failed to prove an act of violence was committed by him. There were no other pending actions, and therefore the equitable powers of the court as approved of in PGS are inapplicable. The court vacated the restraining order and remanded for dismissal. NJ restraining order requirements include a clear finding of domestic violence for cases standing alone.
Notably, the panel included in a footnote that, despite the holdings in PJG and NB, future courts should remain cautious about imposing a restraining order in another pending action based on evidence derived from a domestic violence hearing without providing adequate notice for the potential of such an outcome. Practitioners should also proceed with caution for clients requesting a restraining order, and ensure that the evidence at hand would support the issuance of the said order from the courts. If you have any questions concerning NJ restraining order requirements, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen today at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.