On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Burlington County, Docket No. FV-03-1332-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing and LeWinn.
Defendant appeals from a domestic violence final restraining order (FRO) entered in the Family Part on March 18, 2009. We reverse.
The parties were married in 1996 and have two children. They separated in October 2008. Plaintiff remained in the marital residence with the children. In February 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint for custody of the children, which resulted in an order requiring the parties to attend mediation on March 10, 2009.
On March 11, 2009, plaintiff obtained a domestic violence temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant, claiming that "after [the] mediation session, def[endant] w[ou]ld not let pla[intiff] close her van door as he argued with her. Def[endant] went to pla[intiff's] home and rang [the] door bell several times[,] yelling to let him in - he needed to talk to her. Def[endant] called pla[intiff] several times - [plaintiff did] not answer [the] phone." Plaintiff attached a statement setting forth allegations of a prior history of domestic violence dating back to October 2008.
A hearing on plaintiff's request for an FRO was held on March 18, 2009. Plaintiff appeared with counsel; defendant appeared pro se.
The judge asked defendant if he wanted an adjournment in order to consult with an attorney. Defendant stated that he could not "afford a lawyer," and he would "need to go back to work... for about two weeks" to have "enough money for a lawyer...." The judge then stated that he could "not give [defendant] a postponement. There is no reason to."
Plaintiff then testified as to her allegations of what occurred after mediation on March 10, 2009, as well as her claims of prior domestic violence incidents.
We need not recount plaintiff's testimony at length here, because we reverse based on what we consider to be a critical irregularity in the procedural posture of the hearing.
After plaintiff concluded her direct testimony, the following colloquy occurred between ...