On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, Docket No. FV-04-1664-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Fasciale.
After a trial at which both parties testified and were represented by counsel, the Family Part issued a final restraining order ("FRO") under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the "PDVA"), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, in favor of plaintiff, J.C.S., on January 12, 2011. Defendant, M.A.S., now appeals the FRO, arguing that the proofs were insufficient and that the trial judge misapplied the law. We affirm.
The parties were divorced on December 1, 2010. As part of the terms of their divorce agreement, defendant was obligated to pay plaintiff the net sum of $20,555.75 on or before December 8, 2010. Defendant obtained the required funds from a relative and kept the money in a safe in his dwelling.
At about 4:00 p.m. on December 8, the last day when the payment was due, plaintiff came to defendant's residence in response to a text message from him earlier that day informing her that he was ready to give her the payment. Plaintiff testified that upon her arrival, she was surprised to discover that defendant was making the payment in cash and not by check. Defendant asked plaintiff to sign a receipt for the cash, which plaintiff was reluctant to do.*fn1
According to plaintiff's testimony, as defendant was counting the cash in the dining room, he began "mocking" her by calling her "such a baby," and asking "[w]hy do you have to make things so difficult?" When defendant finished counting the cash, plaintiff picked up the money from the dining room table. She walked towards the front door without having signed a receipt. At this point, according to plaintiff's testimony, defendant ran after her "shouting, you're not going to steal my money." In his own testimony, defendant admitted that he was trying to retrieve the cash from plaintiff and that his attempt to do so was "stupid."
The parties' descriptions of the ensuing physical confrontation were slightly different. Plaintiff testified that defendant "slammed the door shut, not allowing [her] to leave, . . . knocked [her] into the door, [and] pinned [her] down[.]" She also testified that her "head smashed into the door" and her "shoulder into the door frame," before she landed on the staircase and "screamed for [her] daughter who was in the house to call 9-1-1."*fn2
According to defendant's version of the confrontation, the two parties struggled over the envelopes of money in plaintiff's hands, after which she tripped over her feet or otherwise fell backwards onto the staircase of her own accord. Defendant denied having bumped or pushed plaintiff with his chest. He claimed that he accidentally fell on top of her. He further alleged that plaintiff punched him in the face and head three times while she was on the ground, but he offered no photographs of his face to corroborate those alleged blows.
As a result of the physical encounter, defendant successfully retrieved the money. Plaintiff testified that defendant would not allow her to leave the premises without signing the receipt, so she signed it. Defendant gave her the counted cash, and she departed.
After leaving the house, plaintiff drove to the Cherry Hill Police Department, approximately five minutes away. Apparently her daughter had not called 9-1-1 as plaintiff had requested. Plaintiff stated that she cried as she sat in her car in the police station parking lot. She testified that she was scared because she had over $20,000 in cash, had left the children at the house, and was in "disbelief and fear" after the incident. Plaintiff then went inside the police station and filed a complaint against defendant. She sought a temporary restraining order ("TRO") against him, and a municipal judge issued one later that evening.
After the TRO was issued on December 8, 2010, the parties encountered one another at a grocery store and also at their synagogue. According to plaintiff's testimony, on one particular occasion at the synagogue on January 8, 2011, plaintiff approached the pew behind where defendant and their two daughters were ...