Destruction of Joint Property and Restraining Orders

During the process of getting a divorce, emotions can lead to dangerous interactions, especially if the couple continues to reside in the same house. A recent decision by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, has established that physical destruction in a house shared by divorcing spouses can satisfy the elements of the predicate act of criminal mischief, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3, leading to the issuance of a protective order.

In the case of N.T.B. v. D.D.B. , A-4542-13T2 (Sept. 9, 2015), a couple resided in a house that they had purchased during their marriage, along with their eight-year-old daughter. N.T.B. filed for divorce in late 2013 and the couple was living in the house, but sleeping in separate bedrooms, at the time of the incidents in late March/early April 2014. There was destruction of speakers that occurred one evening after N.T.B. complained about the music being too loud. The next evening, an argument between the couple escalated to the point where D.D.B. took the couple’s daughter and locked the two of them in the bedroom. Upon discovering the locked door, N.T.B. broke open the door by slamming against it. D.D.B. claimed that N.T.B. refused to allow her to leave the bedroom and she slapped him in an attempt to get away. N.T.B. claims that D.D.B. hit him without any provocation.

After the incidents, the two spouses each brought claims against the other, seeking Final Restraining Orders (FROs). N.T.B. previously had a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against D.D.B. for another act of domestic violence, where she had used a hot curling iron to burn him.

In D.D.B.’s claim, she asserted that the destruction done by N.T.B. and actions during the arguments qualified as criminal mischief and harassment (N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3 and 2C:33-4), which formed the basis for the issuance of a FRO against N.T.B. N.T.B. claimed that the slap/punch satisfied the predicate act of simple assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1), thereby justifying the FRO. At the trial court level, the judge found that D.D.B. did not demonstrate that either predicate act of criminal mischief or harassment existed. The court held that the destruction of property was not criminal mischief because the parties shared the marital home and the property that was destroyed was within the home, so it was not the property of another.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(1), a person commits an act of criminal mischief if he or she damages the property of another person. D.D.B. appealed the decision of the trial court, arguing that the actions of N.T.B. did rise to the level of the predicate acts. The Appellate Division found that the parties owned the marital home as tenants by the entirety, which means that they owned the property jointly and have an undivided interest in the property. The court determined that N.T.B.’s destruction of the door did qualify as destruction of the property of another, but did not reach a determination about the speakers with regard to a charge of criminal mischief. The case now is being remanded to the trial court.

This is an important decision as it relates to domestic violence and obtaining protective orders after there has destruction in a home shared by the parties.

The Bronzino Law Firm Advocates for Those Going Through a Divorce

New Jersey Family Law Attorney Peter J. Bronzino understands the many terrible stresses that surround the divorce process and works with his clients to get the best results possible while minimizing the emotional strain. The Bronzino Law Firm is located in Brick, New Jersey. We serve clients in Monmouth County, Ocean County, and the surrounding area. If you have questions about obtaining a divorce in New Jersey, or modifying a previously entered order, schedule a free consultation by calling us at (732) 812-3102.