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C.O. v. J.O.

March 26, 1996


Dicamillo, J.t.c. (temporarily assigned).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dicamillo


DICAMILLO, J.T.C. (temporarily assigned).

A victim of domestic violence sought to reinstate a dismissed restraining order entered under The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -33. The application specified there were no acts of violence since the entry of the dismissal order. A grant of relief, however, might violate the requirement that a new act of violence occur before a dismissed restraining order can be reinstated. Domestic Violence Procedures Manual, September 1994, at 59.

Plaintiff, C.O., filed a domestic violence complaint against defendant, J.O., on January 16, 1996, specifying acts of violence on January 15, 1996. The complaint alleged that the drunken J.O. threatened and assaulted C.O., and prevented her from leaving her home to get help. A temporary restraining order was entered on January 16, 1996, and the final restraining order was entered on January 25, 1996. On February 6, 1996, the Judge granted C.O.'s application to dismiss without prejudice the restraining order of January 25, 1996. As a condition of the dismissal, J.O. was required to attend counselling. Upon failure of the condition the parties agreed that the prior restraining order could be reinstated. On March 26, 1996, C.O. sought to have the restraining order reinstated but did not allege that any further acts of violence had occurred. She did, however, express concern about her future safety as the reason for the application to vacate the dismissed restraining order.

J.O. was to undergo counselling to prevent future acts of domestic violence. C.O. sought to prevent threatening, assaultive behavior and any interference with her ability to get help. She was under the impression that the counselling would prevent future acts of violence. J.O. admitted that he did not attend counselling; he did not object to reactivating the restraining order. J.O.'s broken promise compelled C.O. to pursue the reinstatement of the restraining order.

Restraining orders are frequently withdrawn after the restrained party promises to change inappropriate conduct. C.O.'s behavior in withdrawing and then seeking to reinstate the restraining order is consistent with "Battered Woman Syndrome." Our Supreme Court described the "Battered Woman Syndrome" in State v. Kelly, 97 N.J. 178, 478 A.2d 364 (1984). A battered woman's life of violence follows three phases. Phase one and two are marked with different degrees of violent behavior, with violence increasing from phase one to phase two.

Phase three of the battering cycle is characterized by extreme contrition and loving behavior on the part of the battering male. During this period the man will often mix his pleas for forgiveness and protestation of devotion with promises to seek professional help, to stop drinking, and to refrain from further violence. For some couples, this period of relative calm may last as long as several months, but in a battering relationship the affection and contrition of the man will eventually fade and phase one of the cycle will start anew.

[ Id. at 193-194 (citing L. Walker, The Battered Woman, at 65-70 (1979)).]

J.O.'s agreement to attend counselling demonstrates the Supreme Court's definition of phase three of the "Battered Woman Syndrome." Before the agreement, C.O. obtained a restraining order based on acts of violence consistent with phase one and two of the "Battered Woman Syndrome." While an expert is required to determine the existence of the "Battered Woman Syndrome," a serious potential exists that C.O. does suffer from the condition. Id. at 209. Denying relief may allow the described battering cycle to repeat itself.

If the three-phase battering cycle is repeated, the battered woman is less likely to seek assistance from the court or anyone else. Requiring C.O. to wait until additional acts of violence occur may prevent her from seeking relief, since she may come to believe that the battering cycle is normal.

[A woman may] become so demoralized and degraded by the fact that [she] cannot predict or control the violence that [she] sink[s] into a state of psychological paralysis and become[s] unable to take any action at all to improve or alter the situation. There is a tendency in battered women to believe in the omnipotence or strength of their battering husbands and thus to feel that any attempt to resist them is hopeless, L. Walker, supra, at 75.

[Id. at 194, 195.]

Because of the likelihood that C.O. suffers from the "Battered Woman Syndrome," special considerations arise in weighing whether to reinstate the dismissed restraining order ...

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