Do I have any recourse if my spouse destroys our jointly owned property in a violent fight?
When an unmarried New Jersey resident destroys property that belongs to another individual, he or she may be committing criminal mischief under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”). Despite this, married spouses in the state are generally deemed to own all marital property jointly. This means a spouse who destroys marital property is also ruining his or her own property. Until recently, it was unclear whether such an act could be considered domestic violence under New Jersey law.
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled that a spouse’s acts of marital property destruction may be considered a predicate act for a finding of criminal mischief under the PDVA. In the recently reported case, a husband apparently ruined his wife’s stereo speakers and broke into her locked bedroom during a fight. While breaking into the bedroom, the door frame was purportedly cracked and destroyed. The wife then supposedly struck her husband in the face. As a result of the incident, each spouse obtained a temporary restraining order against the other.
Since the home and the speakers were purchased after the couple married, a New Jersey family court found that the husband failed to commit criminal mischief under N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3(a)(1). According to the family court judge, the property did not belong to another person as required by the statute. Instead, the court found that the broken items were jointly owned. As a result, the judge entered a final restraining order against the wife for her single act of domestic violence, but it declined to issue such an order against the husband.
On appeal, the Appellate Division overturned the lower court’s finding and stated a married person was capable of committing criminal mischief under the PDVA, even if the property that was destroyed was jointly owned by the individual. In rendering its decision, the court relied on New Jersey’s model jury charge for criminal mischief, which instructs a judge to include the destruction of property that is partially owned by a defendant if another individual’s interest in the property was infringed by the defendant’s behavior. As a result, the New Jersey Appellate Division found that the husband’s actions in the case DID in fact constitute a predicate act for domestic violence under the PDVA, even though he allegedly destroyed property in the couple’s marital home. The appellate court ultimately remanded the case back to the family court.
For quality representation in your domestic violence case, you are advised to talk to the New Jersey family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group. To request a confidential consultation with a hardworking divorce lawyer, do not hesitate to contact our knowledgeable attorneys through our website or give us a call at 732-967-6777.
N.T.B. v. D.D.B., No. A-4542-13T2 (N.J. App. Div., Sept. 9, 2015)
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