J.D. v. M.D.F.
When there is a Temporary Restraining Order issued under the predicate act of Harassment, the first issue arises as to what “harassment” is, how it is defined, and practically what constitutes harassment. When someone feels “harassed” by the other party, that does not necessarily fit the legal definition of harassment. Harassment, in part, is defined as follows according to N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 (emphasis added):
A person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he/she:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
One such case where this statute was examined is J.D. v. M.D.F., 207, N.J. 458 (2011). In this case, the parties had a long-term relationship and had two (2) children together. When the relationship ended, the Mother stayed in the house with the children and the Father moved out. The Father was then accused of harassing the Mother by passing by the house and taking photographs, which the Father insisted was to obtain evidence that the new boyfriend was living there with the Mother. The Mother testified that she was alarmed and annoyed by the photos and as such should be awarded a Final Restraining Order.
However, when the Court reviewed all of the evidence and testimony, it was determined that while the Father may have known that the Mother was alarmed and annoyed by the photos, it was not enough to warrant a Final Restraining Order without further details. The mere subjective alarm or annoyance is not the only factor in harassment. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the statute specifically says that the purpose of the conduct has to be to alarm or seriously annoy. The Court further acknowledged that people can be acting with multiple purposes when doing things, but that in this particular case it was evident that the Father’s intent was to try and get a leg up on a future custody issue and not to alarm / annoy.