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Significant Domestic Violence Cases

Peranio v. Peranio, 280 N.J. Super 47 (App. Div. 1995), decided March 7, 1995. Mr. Peranio stated to his wife "I'll bury you" and was found by a trial court to have committed domestic violence by harassing his wife. The Appellate Division found that, as a matter of law, the defendant did not violate the domestic violence act under those circumstances. The Appellate Division reviewed the legislative history of the prevention of Domestic Violence Act and held that:

"...the law mandates that acts claimed by a plaintiff to be domestic violence must be evaluated in light of the previous history of violence between the parties including previous threats, harassment, and physical abuse, in light of immediate danger to person or property is present". N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29a(1) & (2).

The Appellate Division held that Domestic Violence is a term of art which defines a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior. In order to find domestic violence based upon harassment the Courts must find:

  • Purpose to harass;
  • Course of alarming conduct or repeated acts intended to alarm or serious annoy another;
  • Immediate danger to person or property.

Corrente v. Corrente 281 N.J. Super 243 (App. Div. 1995). The Correntes were separated and the defendant called the plaintiff at work threatening drastic measures if the plaintiff did not supply the defendant with money to pay bills. The Trial Court found domestic violence. The Appellate Division reviewed the legislative findings of the Domestic Violence Act and held that even though the defendant had threatened the Plaintiff and carried out his threat with a childish act of turning off the telephone, this act was not domestic violence because the Plaintiff was neither harmed or subjected to injury or potential injury. The Corrente court stated that:

" such, the invocation of domestic violence law trivialized the plight of true victims of domestic violence and thus used the legislative vehicle which was developed to protect them. This also had a second negative effect: the potential for unfair advantage toward a matrimonial litigant.

Murray v. Murray 267 N.J. Super 406 (App. Div. 1993). Mr. Murray, who contemplated filing a divorce action against his wife on a number occasions told her he planned to divorce and leave her, and that he no longer loved or felt attracted by her. The trial court held that the statements were meant to belittle her and demean her and inflict emotional abuse upon her. Thereafter, Mr. Murray was restrained from the house and ordered to pay support, mortgage payments, automobile payments etc.. The Appellate Division found that there was no purpose by Mr. Murray to repeatedly alarm or annoy his wife even though it may have had that effect. The Appellate Division further held:

We are concerned, too with the serious policy implications of permitting allegations of this nature to be branded as domestic violence and used by either spouse to secure rulings on critical issues such as support, exclusion from martial residence and property disposition, particularly when aware that a matrimonial action is pending or about to begin.

E.K. v. G.K., 241 N.J. Super 567 (App. Div. 1990). The Trial Court entered a Restraining Order compelling the wife to cease harassing the husband by disciplining their child in a manner which the husband disapproved. The Appellate Division reversed stating that even if the mother intended to harm the adopted daughter by shaking her in such a manner that the daughter's head struck a kitchen cabinet, the record did not support the conclusion that the mother did so in order to harass the husband under the harassment statute.

Grant v. Wright 222 N.J. SUper 191 (App. Div. 1988) cert. den., 111 N.J. 562 (1988). After argument over paternity Mr. Wright "slapped" a bedroom door causing Mrs. Grant to become afraid and "jump back". Mr. Wright left their apartment "slamming" the door. Knowing that he was going away on vacation Mr. Wright contacted six friends and made arrangements to have them assist him in removing Mrs. Grant's furniture from his apartment while she was away visiting her family. He put them in storage in his and or her name and called his brother-in-law to tell him where the storage ticket was located. Mr. Wright testified that he took these surreptitious steps in order to prevent her from putting him out of the apartment while he was away on vacation. He admitted that the action would make her angry and upset. The Appellate Division reversed the Trial Court stating that the Protection of Domestic Violence Act requires that an emergency order on the act depends upon a finding that the Plaintiff is in danger of domestic violence. The Superior Court also held that the evidence did not support the finding of a course of alarming conduct or repeated acts designed to alarm the Plaintiff.

D.C. v. G.H., 269 N.J. Super 458 (App. Div. 1994). The Defendant and Plaintiff had a child together and were separated. The Defendant told the Plaintiff to tell her boyfriend to leave their child alone because "I'll kick his ass if he pulls her pants down and beats her again and I'll kick your ass too." When asked to leave, the Defendant told the Plaintiff "Well I'll leave but you tell R that if he pulls my daughter's pants again I'm going to put my foot up his butt." The Trial Court found harassment and the Appellate Division reversed stating that the Defendant's purpose in making this statement was to dissuade Plaintiff's boyfriend from inflicting further corporal punishment upon his child. The Court held that the Defendant, as the natural father of the child, had a right to express disapproval of Plaintiff's boyfriend's allegedly inappropriate manner of punishing the child. Although Defendant might have chosen different words, his conduct did not rise to the level of harassment. Second, the proofs do not establish or even suggest that Defendant was engaged in a course of alarming conduct or repeatedly committed any acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously harm Plaintiff.

Merenoff v. Merenoff 76 N.J. 535 (1978). This is a non-domestic violence case where Mr. Merenoff accidentally injured his wife with a hedge trimmer and a personal injury action was commenced by her against him. This case has applicability insofar as the acceptable behavior between cohabitants. The Merenoff Court recognized that there are certain unique aspects of marital relationships which do not exist in other relationships. The Court held that spouses enjoy "mutual liberties" with one another and that certain behavior between married persons is acceptable and reasonable even though such conduct might be unreasonable if engaged in by unmarried persons. As stated by the Supreme Court:

"Certain conduct may be regarded as "consensual" involving "give and take" and subtle ebb and flow of marital life. In these areas, courts and juries cannot be expected to grasp sensibly and consistently the acceptable norm of married living or chart the parameter of reasonable marital behavior as a predicate for affixing liability in tort".

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