MARGARITA ROMANOVA reports on a recent unpublished decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
More often than not, contentious matrimonial disputes involve the use of a GPS tracking device (or a similar mechanism) and the retention of private surveillance services by the spouses. In a recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision, the Court reminded litigants of the Legislature’s intent to “cast a wide net of protection for stalking victims by broadly prohibiting and punishing persistent, unwanted, and frightening behaviors” in the context of domestic violence by affirming the entry of a Final Restraining Order (“FRO”) against the Husband, who authorized his father to retain a private investigator and to install a GPS tracking device on a vehicle registered in his name but driven by his Wife.
The parties filed for divorce after a thirteen-year marriage. A few months later, the Wife obtained a Temporary Restraining Order on the grounds of harassment and stalking after she discovered a GPS tracking device installed on her vehicle. Following a hearing, the Court entered an FRO against the Husband.
Although the Husband did not personally install the tracking device on the vehicle, never threatened the Wife and did not personally follow her, the Court determined that his conduct constituted stalking within the meaning of the statute. The evidence adduced at trial showed that the Wife was physically followed for at least three days, and the GPS remained in the Wife’s vehicle for nearly one month before she discovered it and was logged into eighty-eight times to retrieve data. The Court rejected the Husband’s contention that he authorized the installation of the GPS tracking device “in order to know her whereabouts” and instead concluded that the Husband monitored the Wife over “a sufficient period of time, establishing a repeated course of conduct within the meaning of the statute.”
The Court also determined that the Husband’s conduct amounted to harassment despite his argument that the placement of the tracker was designed to never be detected and remain unknown to the Wife. In doing so, the Court noted that the Husband committed the predicate act of harassment by using the information that was gathered by the GPS tracker to question the Wife about her daily activities for the purposes of intimidation and annoyance.
The Court concluded that, given the parties’ previous history of physical violence and the Husband’s verbal threats of physical violence combined with the parties’ financial circumstances wherein the Wife was a stay-at-home mother, the issuance of an FRO was warranted to protect the Wife from further abuse under the facts of that case.
The decision is an excellent reminder that the use of surveillance methods by spouses often triggers the broad protections afforded under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
Please contact Margarita Romanova if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.