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Past Violations of Matrimonial Court Orders may be considered in Domestic Violence Actions

In the recent case of N.B. v. S.K., New Jersey's Appellate Division addressed the "not uncommon circumstance" where during settlement of a divorce action, a domestic violence victim agrees to vacate a Final Restraining Order (FRO) in favor of replacing it with restraints in the divorce action ("matrimonial restraints"). The Appellate Division found that the trial judge had erred in granting an involuntary dismissal of N.B.'s domestic violence action because the judge mistakenly failed to give sufficient consideration to S.K.'s past and present violations of matrimonial restraints contained in the parties' Property Settlement Agreement. Although a domestic violence action cannot be sustained absent proof of one of the specifically enumerated acts contained in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(a), which does not include violations of a matrimonial order, the N.B. Court held that domestic violence claims may nevertheless be supported and demonstrated by evidence of violations of relevant matrimonial orders. The Court found that because determinations as to whether the domestic violence statute has been violated are fact-sensitive and contextual, the history of the parties, which includes past violations of matrimonial orders, should be considered.

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