On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Mercer County, Docket No. FV-11-249-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 18, 2012 -
Before Judges Espinosa and Koblitz.
Defendant E.D. appeals the entry of a final restraining order (FRO) against him on behalf of plaintiff P.D. on August 23, 2011, pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. E.D. argues that he was deprived of a fair trial by the judge's failure to provide cross-examination or to determine whether an FRO was necessary to protect P.D. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
The parties had a twenty-one year relationship, the last four of which they were married. They have no children together. On August 15, 2011, P.D. filed a domestic violence complaint against E.D. claiming that he had harassed and stalked her. See N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(a)(13) and (14). The complaint alleged:*fn1
THE DEF WAS CALLING AND TEXTING THE PLA ALL WEEKEND. DEF TEXTED HER 120 TIMES SINCE FRIDAY. DEF SAT OUTSIDE OF PLAS HOME SATURDAY NIGHT UNTIL 7AM. DEF SAID IF SHE WAS W/ A GUY HE WOULD BASH HIS HEAD IN. DEF HAS ALSO BEGUN TO TEXT PLF'S ADULT CHILDREN.
The complaint alleged a prior history of domestic violence in the following way:
DEF HAS ANGER ISSUES AND IS A "LOOSE CANNON" DEF HAS SHOVED PLA, VERBALLY ABUSIVE. PARTIES SEPARATED APPROX 17 MTHS AGO.
As a result of this complaint, a temporary restraining order was issued.
At the final hearing, the judge patiently allowed each party to testify at length about their relationship. The parties testified to an emotional, unstable relationship with many arguments and reconciliations. Neither, however, was afforded the opportunity to cross-examine the other. P.D. did not testify to any history of domestic violence between the parties. They had recently been renovating the marital home in Lambertville. During the renovation, P.D. was living with her brother, while E.D. was living with his relatives. They maintained significant contact during this period. Renovations to their home were completed in July of 2011. In August, they went to dinner and had a serious argument about whether or not P.D. would leave her brother's house to live with E.D. After the argument, E.D. wrote P.D. a lengthy, bitter letter, demanding a divorce. Thereafter he sent her numerous angry, emotional and, at times, vulgar texts seeking to reconcile and expressing mounting frustration and jealousy when she did not respond.
E.D. admitted to writing the initial letter out of frustration and anger. The judge asked E.D. if he sent the letter, "because you wanted to hurt her because she hurt you?" to ...