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Intentional Economic Abuse Is Domestic Violence

On June 15, 2016, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Laurence Jones addressed intentional economic abuse as a form of domestic violence in an unpublished decision.

C.G. v. E.G.

C.G., the plaintiff, petitioned the court to serve her estranged husband, E.G., with a final restraining order.

Background Information

After collecting social security disability benefits, C.G. was able to return to her former job as a waitress in a restaurant. According to her testimony, as soon as E.G. learned that she was about to resume her career, he began sending her emails in which he threatened to call her employer and get her fired if she went back to work.

E.G. followed through on his threat and actually did visit her place of employment. As C.G. explained to the court, he also phoned her employer and her employer’s wife. Although there was no evidence that what he was saying was true, E.G. told the wife that her husband and C.G. were having an affair.

The plaintiff also described her estranged husband’s past behavior. She told the court that he often called her degrading names and even punched her in the face, leaving her with a black eye.

The defendant did not admit guilt, but neither did he offer any credible defense nor alternative description of what had occurred.

Issuance of Final Restraining Order

In making the decision whether or not to grant the plaintiff’s request, Judge Jones took several factors into consideration.

He referred to the offenses described in New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1990, which listed fourteen behaviors that should be classified as domestic violence offenses when acted against a spouse: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, and stalking. In August 2015, a fifteenth was added in an amendment: coercion.

The judge decided in favor of the plaintiff citing harassment and coercion as the principal offenses on which his decision was based as well as the right to be left alone.

Harassment

In deciding that harassment was a factor, the judge first reasoned that the threat of losing one’s job—and with it one’s economic stability and security—is an obvious source of fear and anxiety.

He cited these behaviors as evidence of harassment:

  • Sending emails threatening to call place of employment to get her fired.
  • Visiting his spouse’s place of employment with the intent to get her fired.
  • Phoning C.G.’s employer to embarrass her and to interfere with her job.

The judge noted that there are times when visiting a place of employment may be necessary, when it is done with the sole intent to interfere with the party economically, then it should be deemed harassment.

Coercion

The court concluded that the defendant’s behavior constituted coercion. The definition of coercion in the amendment to the Domestic Violence Act includes the following two categories of threats:

  • expose a secret…to impair credit or business repute;
  • perform an act…calculated to harm… career, financial condition….

Right to Be Left Alone

Judge Jones also considered the fact that the New Jersey Supreme Court recognizes the right of a victim of abuse to be left alone. He expressed the belief that interfering with the right to be left alone while trying to perform one’s basic job requirements shows a real lack of regard of the victim.

Conclusion

Judge Jones concluded that the preponderance of evidence supported the plaintiff’s claims. In his statement explaining why he was issuing the final restraining order as per the plaintiff’s request, he included the following statement: “There are arguably few threats more potentially harassing and coercive than threatening one’s livelihood and employment.”

 

 

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