When you picture a victim of domestic violence, you may first see someone that has been physically assaulted, and based on statistics and stereotypes, you probably see a woman. But domestic violence can take on many different forms, which New Jersey’s own Prevention of Domestic Violence Act recognizes. Some of the fifteen (15) different “predicate acts” a victim can use to establish that an act of domestic violence occurred include terroristic threats, lewdness, criminal mischief, coercion, and harassment, which often involve no physical harm to the victim. So picture in your mind a former partner calling your employer and making various, embarrassing claims about you. Do you see yourself as a victim of domestic violence?
This was in fact the fact pattern recently before the Honorable Lawrence R. Jones, J.S.C., of the Family Part in Ocean County, and he did see a victim of domestic violence. In an unpublished opinion, Judge Jones found that a husband’s calls to his estranged wife’s employer (calls he did not have permission to make) were a form of harassment and coercion. In C.G. v. E.G., the wife and Plaintiff in the domestic violence matter had recently gone back to work after a period of disability; her decision was met with hostility by her estranged husband. In a text message, he claimed he was going to “f*** with [her],” and that his “new mission [wa]s to f*** [her] up.” Once she returned to work, he began calling her employer to “bother” her boss and her boss’ wife, and he proceeded to “embarrass” his estranged wife by claiming that she and her boss were having an affair. It is worth noting, previously, he had engaged in both physical and verbal abuse.
Judge Jones found that the husband had engaged in a form of “economic harassment,” as well as coercion, by making phone calls to her employer, the content of which could have jeopardized her employment and her ability to support herself financially. Judge Jones further found that such actions on the part of “an estranged, vindictive or controlling ex-partner…may logically hurt a victim, and naturally cause significant anxiety and distress, and [as such] constitute economic abuse.” While this Opinion was not published, and thus is non-binding on our Courts, both harassment and coercion are predicate acts under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Further, as Judge Jones referenced in his decision, people have a right to be left alone (State v. Hoffman, 149 N.J. 564, 584-85 (1997)) and embarrassing calls to one’s employer violates that right.
Final Restraining Orders entered in New Jersey can carry serious consequences, and unless you are successful in later requesting it be vacated, they (just like diamonds) are forever. If you find yourself trying to track down an ex at their place of employment, or think it may be a good idea to do so, consider that E.G. is now on a Domestic Violence Registry, cannot possess a weapon, may be turned down for certain employment opportunities, and is legally restricted from having contact with his former wife. If your circumstances are more akin to C.G.’s, consider that domestic violence does not have to involve a black eye and broken bones. Threats to ruin someone financially, and attempts made to actually do so, can be just as controlling and victimizing as a physical assault, and are recognized as domestic violence by our Legislature and our Courts. For more information about domestic violence, visit the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, for a confidential and comprehensive review of your case.