Articles on restraining orders typically focus on intimate partners, but New Jersey's Prevention of Domestic Violence Act applies to all individuals who are, or were members of the same household. This definition allows victims to seek legal protection from people such as relatives and roommates, even if they had not lived together for a very long time. It can, however, be challenging to determine whether an actual act of domestic violence occurred, especially between close family relations. It's not uncommon for close relatives to argue and nag each other with endless texts, emails and calls. Brothers and sisters may also push and shove each other during heated arguments, but these are mostly isolated incidents.
The line between family disputes and domestic violence was the key issue in the March 2017 case of R.G. v. R.G. This case involved two brothers who were engaged in a war of words over the care of their parents, which was being managed by the plaintiff since the defendant lived in another state. The plaintiff, who was the attorney-in-fact, had placed their mother in a nursing home after she became ill in 2015. The defendant objected to her placement and barraged the plaintiff with a series of angry texts and emails. He also made threats such as “I feel like coming to you and slapping you silly.” The plaintiff admitted that there was no history of domestic violence between them, but that he still felt feared for his safety. He justified his fear based on the fact that the defendant's son took out a restraining order against the defendant two years earlier.
The dispute turned physical in September 2015, when the brothers got into a fight at the nursing home. The defendant, who was charged with simple assault for pushing and knocking down the plaintiff, advised that he was goaded by his brother's consistent lack of respect and consideration for his feelings. He pointed out that the plaintiff provoked him at the nursing home, and kept following him when he walked away. Regardless of the provocation, the trial court concluded that the defendant committed predicate acts of domestic violence and issued a final restraining order.
The Appellate Division, however, reversed their decision. They agreed that acts of harassment and physical assault between siblings who had once lived together were matters of domestic violence, but there has to be proof of the defendant's intent to harass. The mere subjective reactions of the plaintiff are not enough, especially when they are based on an incident involving someone other than the defendant. In fact, the domestic violence statutes specify that the introduction of domestic violence history can only include incidents between the plaintiff and defendant. Thus, the restraining order taken out by the defendant's son should not have been presented. Although the case was reversed based on procedural errors, the appeals court did uphold the jurisdiction of the trial court over predicate acts of domestic violence between former members of the same household.