Goldmann, Freund and Conford.
Plaintiff wife appeals from a Chancery Division judgment dismissing without prejudice her complaint for divorce on the ground of extreme cruelty. The husband did not contest the action and does not respond to plaintiff's appeal.
The parties were married in 1943 and are childless. They separated on March 26, 1957 when defendant left the marital residence. The complaint sets out at length a course of conduct by defendant, beginning with their honeymoon and
continuing to the date of separation, and alleged to have seriously affected plaintiff's health, making necessary her resort to psychiatric clinics, voluntary commitment to a mental institution on two occasions, and private psychiatric care. However, plaintiff's testimony was limited to defendant's conduct in the years immediately before the separation because, as counsel asserts in his brief and as the colloquy at the close of the testimony reveals, the trial court restricted counsel at the very outset of the trial to educing proofs of alleged cruelty covering only a "reasonable period of time" immediately preceding the separation.
Plaintiff testified, with regard to the period of about two years before separation, that defendant beat her, abused her verbally, used profane language, forbade her to eat and would not let her go out to see anyone. He accused her of being stupid, incompetent, and not worthy of him; he said she should not be allowed to live, and constantly threatened to call the police and have her committed to a state mental institution. She would try to get away from him and not answer, but this incensed him all the more and he would beat her. If she tried to get out of the house he would tear off her clothes and throw her back into the apartment. His conduct was such that she "just about gave up wanting to live," and she several times attempted suicide. She sought psychiatric help, but defendant would undo any good the doctor had done by questioning her for hours after each visit, ridiculing her and telling her she was no good. Plaintiff had visited six doctors within the last eight years, and was presently under the care of Dr. Robert Alsofrom.
Plaintiff said that after attempting suicide in 1954 by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, she voluntarily committed herself to Marlboro State Hospital, where she stayed about four months. On his visits to the institution defendant would tell her she was "a noose around his neck," that he was taking dancing lessons to improve his social life and spending weekends at expensive resorts. He said he "would see I stayed there, and if I did get out he would
see this business about going to the doctors was going to stop." She testified, incidentally, that she paid for her hospital and doctor bills and for all her personal needs throughout the marriage, except for two or three minor items, out of monies earned as a teacher.
Upon her return home from Marlboro she was not allowed to see anyone, go any place, or even go to the doctor. Being "locked up in the house like that" made her lose hope and she again had herself committed to Marlboro. She described her stay there as a "complete nightmare" because of defendant's actions. He would spend the 40 minutes of his weekly visit abusing her; he would give her $2 a week spending money and then demand a penny-by-penny accounting, threatening to inform the hospital authorities and have her privileges taken away from her. He would tell her of the good times he was having.
When she returned home from Marlboro the second time she found living with defendant no better, although this time she went back to work and received treatments. She started seeing her present psychologist, Dr. Alsofrom, in March 1956. The separation occurred a year later, on March 26, 1957. By that time, she said, things had gotten so bad, defendant's abuse was so constant, that she realized she would go insane and so decided to separate from him. The immediate precipitating cause of the separation was a quarrel during the course of which defendant abused and beat her. She became hysterical and phoned Dr. Alsofrom, telling him that her husband was going to call the rescue squad and have her taken to Marlboro. Apparently as a result of what the doctor said -- exactly what happened is not at all clear -- it was defendant who packed and left. Plaintiff had lost 57 pounds since getting out of Marlboro. She has regained 20 pounds since the separation.
Plaintiff's mother corroborated, in some respects, this account of defendant's extended course of "mean" treatment, and with specific reference to the March 26, 1957 incident testified that defendant had said he was through and wouldn't live with plaintiff any more. [50 NJSuper Page 182] Dr. Alsofrom, a professional psychologist, testified that when plaintiff came to him in March 1956 she was in an "extremely serious neurotic state"; she was phobic in that she was afraid to travel, afraid to be alone, and would suffer "severe panics" in the course of which she would entertain thoughts of suicide. There were several attempts at self-destruction. In the doctor's words, plaintiff was almost completely immobilized by her emotional state. After several months' treatment he began to discern a certain pattern to her emotional reactions -- she was not always depressed or phobic; there would be "flashes" of normality and self-control, but "after certain types of experiences with her husband" there would be severe reactions. To get at the root of the matter Dr. Alsofrom invited defendant to come to his office on several occasions. As a result of these interviews he felt that defendant was "a rather malevolent and sadistic personality." Defendant confidently predicted that his wife would return to a mental hospital, that her going to the doctor was useless, and he was not prepared to cooperate in any way in helping her. He said he had put as much effort into helping her as he cared to, and would now just sit back and let things take their course. Although the doctor explained that he could help plaintiff if he got defendant's cooperation, the husband's attitude did not change. Dr. Alsofrom found that defendant took a kind of enjoyment in quarreling with his wife; he would bait her and use his knowledge of her nervousness and anxiety to trap her into contradictions. The doctor was of the opinion, after a year of "moderately successful" ...