On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FV-07-1133-12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 10, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo and Maven.
This case involves plaintiff's unchallenged appeal of the denial of a Final Restraining Order (FRO) that she sought against her husband, defendant, under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of l99l (Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35. Plaintiff challenges the court's failure to give appropriate weight to the extensive history of prior acts of domestic violence, and argues the record overwhelmingly supports a finding in her favor. We agree and reverse and remand for entry of an FRO.
The uncontested facts as found by the trial judge are as follows. Plaintiff and defendant were married in August 2008 and, for a time, rented an apartment together in Belleville, New Jersey. The lease was in defendant's name, but both paid a share of the rent. The parties separated in April 2011, when each began to sleep in different bedrooms. Defendant moved out of the marital residence on October 2, 2011, and plaintiff continued to live with her two children, ages twelve and thirteen, from a previous relationship.
On October 16, 2011, at approximately 5:00 p.m., plaintiff observed the uninvited defendant inside of her apartment. Plaintiff became disoriented and asked defendant to leave because she feared for her and her children's safety. Defendant refused, maintaining that it was his home because he continued to pay some of the rent. He insisted that he needed to speak with plaintiff and retrieve his belongings. Plaintiff again insisted that defendant leave. Defendant refused and accused plaintiff of concealing a man inside of the apartment. Plaintiff fearfully fled to the front porch and defendant left. The next morning, plaintiff discovered her car had been vandalized and filed a police report. Due to her suspicion and fear from defendant's uninvited visit the previous day, plaintiff filed for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which was granted.
At the FRO hearing, plaintiff testified that during prior arguments, defendant grabbed or "bear hugged" plaintiff, forcing her to listen to him. Defendant also forcefully jabbed his four forefingers against plaintiff's skin when emphasizing a point during arguments and, in doing so, occasionally bruised plaintiff. He broke household objects during arguments and destroyed plaintiff's clothes that "looked good on her" by tearing them into pieces.
On one occasion in August 2011, defendant dragged plaintiff by the arm into the bedroom, causing her to fall and bruise her elbow. One month later, defendant drove into the driver's side door of plaintiff's parked car while she was inside.
On October 1, 2011, plaintiff attended a meeting at her sister's house. The intoxicated defendant called plaintiff several times, accusing her of being there with other men. Shortly thereafter, defendant arrived at plaintiff's sister's house, but her sister refused to let him enter the home. Defendant threatened that he would crash into plaintiff's car again.
For several months prior to October 2, 2011, plaintiff begged defendant to leave the marital home, but he stated that he would only leave if he were dead. Plaintiff testified that she believed defendant would do everything he could to be with her, including killing any men who were with her. Plaintiff further testified that she feared defendant had suicidal tendencies and was capable of killing her and her children. On one occasion, plaintiff observed defendant swallowing an entire bottle of pills and then vomiting them up. On the night of the car collision, defendant walked into plaintiff's bedroom with a belt around his neck, which plaintiff struggled to remove.
After defendant finally agreed to leave the marital residence on October 2, 2011, he continued to call and text plaintiff ...