On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Atlantic County, Docket No. FV-01-721-11B.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.
Defendant appeals from the Family Part order finding that he committed acts of domestic violence, namely, stalking, harassment, and trespass during the fall of 2010, for which the entry of a final restraining order (FRO) for the prevention of domestic violence was entered under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. We affirm.
During the six-day trial on the domestic violence complaint, the following evidence was presented. Plaintiff and defendant were married and the parents of two children born during the marriage. Plaintiff filed for divorce in January 2010. On June 17, 2010, plaintiff was granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) after she claimed defendant grabbed or squeezed her wrist and was verbally abusive.
The parties entered into an agreement on August 5, 2010, which they placed on the record before the court and which was subsequently memorialized in the court's August 24, 2010 order. Key provisions of the order provided: (1) the parties were restrained from face-to-face contact; (2) defendant was restricted to curbside pick-up of the children with defendant remaining in his car and plaintiff remaining in the house; (3) plaintiff was granted possession of the "former marital home." The order also set forth a detailed parenting time schedule that, in addition to holidays, birthdays, and vacations, designated the first and third weekends of the month from Thursday after school until Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and the fifth weekend of the month as defendant's parenting time. As a result of the agreement, the TRO was dismissed.
Notwithstanding this agreement, a number of incidents occurred thereafter culminating in plaintiff once again seeking a TRO. Specifically, on September 18, 2010, while plaintiff was coaching a rowing team, defendant was present and interfered with plaintiff's coaching. Defendant testified that an assistant coach had asked for his assistance. The assistant coach, however, testified that beyond greeting defendant that day, he never asked defendant for assistance.
On October 4, a non-parenting day, plaintiff left her home to do some grocery shopping, and within minutes after she left, defendant approached the house and started banging on the door. This occurred around 8:00 p.m. Defendant testified that based upon an earlier communication with plaintiff, he was at the home to pick up a fax. Plaintiff disputed defendant's version, testifying that the agreement between the parties was that he would pick up the fax from the mailbox. When plaintiff arrived home that day around 6:00 p.m., the fax, which she had left in the mailbox, was no longer there.
On October 30, plaintiff had an upsetting conversation with a colleague from the Viking Rowing Club. Although defendant was permitted at the rowing club, he followed plaintiff that day as she walked around after the upsetting conversation. Defendant also stood near her while she was talking on a telephone. The next day, allegedly out of concern for plaintiff, he confronted plaintiff's colleague to inquire about the conversation.
On the evening of November 9, another non-parenting time, defendant came to the former marital residence and left a pizza on the porch. When plaintiff left the house on an errand, she saw defendant's vehicle parked down the street. She drove next to the vehicle and asked defendant why he was there. Defendant responded that he just wanted to provide plaintiff and the boys with food. Neither plaintiff nor the children had asked defendant to buy food for them. The next day, plaintiff applied for and was granted a TRO.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge James Jackson, in a lengthy oral opinion, found plaintiff had proved, by the preponderance of the evidence, that defendant committed the predicate acts under the PDVA, namely: stalking, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10; harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4; and criminal trespass, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3. The judge also found that under the totality of the circumstances, including a number of prior acts of domestic violence between the parties, which the court credited, plaintiff's fear of defendant was reasonable and that a "domestic violence restraining order [was] necessary to protect the plaintiff from future acts of domestic violence." In addition, the court found that with the entry of an FRO, plaintiff could "seek immediate relief from or ...