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N.S v. R.H

June 24, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket Nos. FV-20-1126-09 and FV-20-1198-09.

Per curiam.



Submitted February 16, 2011

Before Judges R. B.Coleman, Lihotz and J. N. Harris.

Defendant R.H. appeals from the entry of a Final Restraining Order (FRO), based upon the complaint filed by plaintiff N.S. pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to 35, and the denial of his cross-complaint for domestic violence relief. The estranged parties both worked as officers for the same police department. Their respective domestic violence complaints accused one another of committing harassing conduct. After a bench trial, the court granted plaintiff's request for an FRO and denied defendant's request for an FRO.

On appeal, defendant argues the Family Part's determination was against the substantial, credible evidence presented at trial. Further, he maintains the trial court erred in denying his FRO request once he had established that plaintiff engaged in a course of conduct with the purpose to alarm and seriously annoy him. We are not persuaded and affirm.

I. The facts are taken from the parties' testimony at trial. Plaintiff and defendant were married and worked as police officers for a municipal police department. The parties separated on January 13, 2006, and divorced one year later. They have two children and defendant has a son from a prior relationship with C.S.

Plaintiff testified problems during the marriage resulted because defendant drank excessively, often embarrassed her by name-calling, and did not control his temper, such that he would slam doors, throw things and "push [her] around when he would get really angry."

On January 13, 2006, without notifying defendant, plaintiff moved from the marital home into a two bedroom apartment with the parties' two children. Later that day, the parties met at the police department in the presence of three supervising officers. Plaintiff had arranged the meeting, requesting the police chief reveal that she had moved because she "didn't want any confrontation" and "didn't want to take the chance of it becoming a physical event." Plaintiff had not sought relief under the PDVA because it could precipitate adverse employment ramifications stating, "if you get police called to your house over a domestic violence issue, you're both going to . . . lose your guns [] and you're not going to be able to work and you're going to get suspended."

After separation, defendant "was very upset at the whole situation[,]" and voluntarily enrolled in anger management classes because he "knew [he] had a lot to lose if [he] didn't control [him]self correctly." However, conflict arose regarding the children's care, the parenting time schedule and defendant's reaction to plaintiff's romantic relationship with another police officer, who we will refer to as "Bud."

In discussing the past history of domestic violence, the parties testified to numerous incidents arising following their separation, as well as events leading up to two police department internal investigations regarding complaints of inappropriate behavior. Without detailing every incident, we recite those events undergirding the parties' cross-complaints alleging domestic violence.

In April 2006, defendant learned plaintiff visited Bud for the Easter weekend while the children stayed with her parents. Defendant became very upset because he and plaintiff only had been separated for a few months and he had anticipated seeing the children during the holiday. In a telephone conversation with plaintiff on April 17, 2006, defendant told her to "stick the phone between [her] legs, because that's what [she] w[as] doing[.]" In a subsequent phone conversation on April 26, 2006, defendant called plaintiff "a pathetic mother and a piece of shit white trash."

On their days off, defendant and Bud provided security services for a local bank. Defendant was embarrassed by rumors circulating among bank employees that discussed plaintiff's visits with Bud while he was working at the bank. On May 16, 2006, defendant and plaintiff discussed the rumors. Defendant cursed at plaintiff and he uttered a racially biased comment to describe Bud. Two days later, plaintiff filed a workplace "Harassment Complaint." Defendant, fearing he would be demoted and suffer a pay cut if he challenged the charges, pled guilty to the charges and admitted to using derogatory language during the May 16, 2006 conversation. Consequently, he suffered a fifteen-day suspension.

On May 23, 2006, plaintiff filed her first domestic violence complaint. The parties eventually resolved their concerns and entered a June 13, 2006 consent agreement limiting their contact with each other. Specifically, each party was restrained from contacting the other "in person, by telephone, by email or otherwise, except that the parties may communicate by email [] concerning the children" and all parenting time pick ups and drop offs were to take place at a police station.

Following a disability leave, when defendant returned to work he requested a change in his shift to avoid contact with plaintiff and Bud. To support his request, defendant showed his deputy chief emails and text messages between him and plaintiff, along ...

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