On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FV-20-000339-11.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 26, 2012 -
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez and Sabatino.
Defendant J.T., Jr., appeals a final restraining order ("FRO") issued against him in favor of his wife, plaintiff J.T., after a trial in the Family Part on September 30, 2010. Defendant contends in his brief that the trial court failed to give adequate reasons for its ruling, and that the FRO is not supported by sufficient credible evidence. We affirm.
When the FRO was issued, the parties were married but had been separated since February 2010. They have two minor sons. According to the testimony of both parties, divorce proceedings were pending in Pennsylvania at the time of the FRO trial, and they still owned a marital residence in that state.*fn1 Defendant was by that point residing in New Jersey, as was his own mother. The parties made certain arrangements to alternate parenting time with their children, although those arrangements apparently were the subject of ongoing disagreements.
Plaintiff had previously obtained restraints against defendant in Pennsylvania earlier in the year. According to plaintiff's testimony, in or about February 2010, defendant threatened to set their house on fire with one of their sons present, which prompted plaintiff to call the local police department. Plaintiff obtained a restraining order in Pennsylvania "shortly after" that February 2010 incident. However, according to plaintiff, she voluntarily dismissed those restraints because of concerns that they could impede defendant's ability to work and provide child support. Thereafter, in June 2010 an argument erupted between the parties at the Pennsylvania house concerning the children's visitation schedule. According to plaintiff, defendant screamed at her and then began punching himself repeatedly in the face in an alleged attempt to make it appear that plaintiff had hit him. Apparently, plaintiff did not seek restraints at that time. Plaintiff further testified that on several occasions defendant told her that if she developed a relationship with another man, defendant would cause that new suitor, as well as the parties' children, to "die." Defendant did not address the February 2010 and June 2010 incidents specifically in his own testimony.
The events in New Jersey that led to the issuance of the FRO being contested on this appeal took place on August 22 and 23, 2010. According to plaintiff's testimony, on August 22 she dropped off the children with defendant on her way to work. The next morning, August 23, plaintiff went to pick up the children from defendant's house, and afterwards, took the children to the babysitter's house. After dropping the children off at the babysitter's house, plaintiff realized that she no longer had her cell phone and that defendant was in possession of it.
Anxious to retrieve her phone, plaintiff used the babysitter's phone that morning to contact defendant. During their brief conversation, defendant requested that plaintiff meet him down the street from his mother's house. The street is a dead-end. Plaintiff complied with defendant's request and drove to that location. Defendant returned plaintiff's phone to her. However, the parties exchanged words before they separated. According to plaintiff, "[defendant] threatened me and told me that I'm never going to have a boyfriend, my boyfriend [had] called [him], [and] we're both going to pay." Plaintiff testified that she did not, in fact, have a boyfriend at the time.
Immediately after their encounter on the street, plaintiff went to the police station to obtain a restraining order. The municipal court thereafter issued temporary restraints.
Defendant's version of the events differed significantly. According to him, plaintiff said "you're going to pay, you[r] mother's going to pay," as well as "you're not going to see the kids, [and] I'm putting a restraining order back on you." Defendant denied threatening plaintiff at any point in time. Instead, he later filed for and obtained a temporary restraining order against plaintiff on September 9, 2010, about two weeks after their street encounter.
Plaintiff's complaint and defendant's cross-complaint for final restraints were tried before the Family Part on September 30, 2010. Defendant was represented at the trial by counsel, while plaintiff was not. As we have already noted, both parties testified. No other witnesses were called.
After considering the proofs, the trial judge granted plaintiff's request for an FRO, and dismissed defendant's cross-application. The judge specifically noted that he "didn't find any of [defendant's] testimony to be particularly credible." Among other things, the judge was unconvinced by defendant's claim that he had asked plaintiff to meet him outside on his mother's street, rather than at the house because he could not back up his truck and because his mother had accused plaintiff of stealing a computer laptop and cash. The judge also questioned the credibility of defendant's assertion that he was the victim of domestic violence and in ...