To the surprise of many, excessive or inappropriate text messaging to a former partner can result in the entry of a domestic violence restraining order.
While our domestic violence laws are designed to protect against actual physical violence, those same laws also protect against harassment type behavior; defined generally as making or causing a communication in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm or through repeatedly committed acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person. Such was the issue presented in L.M.F v. J.A.F.
In L.M.F v. J.A.F., the parties shared joint legal custody of their children and their main manner of communication was through texting. As a result of a series of angry text messages sent to the former wifer by her former husband over a short period of time, she filed a domestic violence complaint against him, alleging harassment.
According to the former wife, her ex husband texted her 18 times on a Friday between 6:50 a.m. and 11:34 a.m. The second group of text messages occurred the following Monday, with her former husband texting her 5 times between 8:54 a.m. and 9:51 a.m. and finally two more texts from him at 5:00 p.m. and 5:07 p.m. that evening.
At trial, the former husband admitted to having sent all of those text messages to his former wife but claimed that the purpose of his text messages focused on their daughter's SAT score information and their daughters whereabouts and not to harass her.
The trial court disagreed and found that those text messages amounted to harassment and therefore constituted an act of domestic violence, warranting the imposition of a final restraining order against him from further contact or communication with his former wife. The former husband filed an appeal.
Upon review, the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court that excessive or inappropriate text messaging can amount to harassment but in this particular matter, found that the former husband’s purpose in sending those text messages was not to harass his former wife and therefore not harassment nor a violation of the domestic violence laws.
As to the issue of “intent to harass”, the Appellate Court focused on the following:
1) There was no history or pattern of abuse between the parties;
2) The ex-wife was not in fear of her ex-husband;
3) If the ex-wife had responded to the former husband's inquires concerning their daughter, the father would have ended his inquiries, and his reason for contacting her;
4) The father was not unreasonable for believing he was being ignored; and
5) The father had a right to specific information concerning their daughter (SAT scores and whereabouts on a Friday night).
In this matter, the former husband was fortunate that his text messages focused strictly on the daughter’s SAT score information and her whereabouts on that Friday night and not on any other subject matter. Based on the reasoning of the appellate court, had he gone further, the court could have concluded that his intent was to harass her and could have resulted in the entry of a domestic violence final restraining order against him.
Before sending another angry text or voice mail message, please consider meeting with a lawyer knowledgeable in family law matters for an education on the domestic violence laws of this state and how those laws can impact your future and your relationship with your children and with your former partner.
 N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a).
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