In New Jersey, men should think carefully before filing claims of domestic violence against their wives. In this Appellate Division case, neither the appellate division nor the lower family court believed a man's claims that he had been
(i) harassed by his wife,
(ii) confined inside his home by his wife and her sister,
(iii) bitten on his arm six weeks earlier by his wife, and
(iv) stabbed by his wife with a pair of scissors.
It is not uncommon for men to end up defending against domestic violence claims after having been the party to first file one against their spouses.
Specifically, the Appellate Division found that the lower family court judge ("the judge") correctly observed that it was the husband's burden to demonstrate his version of events was more likely true than the wife's version. Having seen and heard the parties and other witnesses testify, the judge correctly concluded that the husband was not a credible witness. Moreover, according to the judge, the husband was "evasive" and, on many occasions, "inconsistent." Specifically, the husband's responses to questions were, at times, in the judge's view, "very cagey." The judge also stated that the husband's testimony about a pivotal confrontation between the parties was "ridiculous" and so inconsistent and evasive that the judge "couldn't even follow" it.
The judge went on to find that even if he found the husband credible, the wife's version was "just as plausible as" the husband's. Additionally, the judge noted that her sister corroborated the wife's version. Making matters worse, the judge also doubted the husband's allegations of prior domestic violence in May and August of 2020. The judge concluded by stating that even if the husband had proven his claim, a final restraining order was not warranted because the husband's testimony that he was in fear the defendant would "kill him" was "incredible." Litigants in divorce cases would be served by remembering that the Appellate Division is a court of limited jurisdiction, unlike the trial court below. This means that a higher court does not have complete liberty to simply substitute its decision for that of the lower court. In this particular case, the Appellate Division reminded readers that the lower family court's view of the parties' and other witnesses' credibility were entitled to "deference," i.e., respect. See Cesare v. Cesare, 154 N.J. 394, 411-12 (1998).
This case is a good lesson on preserving credibility before family court judges. Even if a litigant is right, a family law judge may not believe the litigant. Lawyers work with clients to help ensure that references are made to events that will preserve the court's credibility in the litigant and the litigant's witnesses rather than undermine it and result in the loss of the case.
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