By: Shari Lee Genser, Esq.

Cases involving electronic communications alleged to constitute domestic violence must be looked at under the law to determine whether a restraining order is warranted.  Domestic violence has a strict definition under the laws of the State of New Jersey. Victims of domestic violence are afforded significant protections, and domestic violence offenders are subject to severe consequences if an act of domestic violence has occurred and a restraining order is warranted.

In order for an incident to be defined as domestic violence, the parties to the incident must first meet the relationship requirements of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”).  Relationships protected under the PDVA include spouses, former spouses, present or former household members, co-parents, anticipated co-parents of a child in utero, and parties to a dating relationship.  If none of the aforementioned relationships exist between the parties, the incident cannot be considered domestic violence.

Upon meeting the relationship requirements of the PDVA, the incident must next be analyzed to determine if the facts alleged meet the definition of one of the offenses that have been classified as domestic violence pursuant to the PDVA.  Eighteen specific offenses as defined in the New Jersey Criminal Code have been classified as acts of domestic violence.  One of these specific offenses is harassment, which is defined at N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4 as follows:

[A] person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:

  1. 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;
  2. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
  3. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.

A communication under subsection a. may be deemed to have been made either at the place where it originated or at the place where it was received.

Text messages or social media contact between parties to one of the protected relationships may constitute harassment which rises to the level of domestic violence under the laws of the State of New Jersey.  Most often, such electronic communications are found to rise to the level of domestic violence when there are large quantities of unsolicited communications from one party to another, when such communications continue to be made following a request by the recipient to cease the communications, or when such communications contain vulgar language.

However, in order to prove that an act of domestic violence has occurred and a restraining order is warranted, it is not sufficient to merely demonstrate that the relationship requirement has been met and an act of harassment has occurred. The facts must be further analyzed pursuant to the Silver v. Silver test to determine whether the court should enter a restraining order.  That test requires showing that either the restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from an immediate danger or to prevent further abuse.

Given the serious nature of domestic violence matters, it behooves both parties to consult with legal counsel to determine the strengths and weaknesses of their case.  Contact Seiden Family Law today to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable and experienced domestic violence attorneys.