2-Prong test for entry of Domestic Violence Final Restraining Order

When making a determination whether to grant a domestic violence final restraining order, the trial court must engage in a two-step analysis. Silver v. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. 112, 125- 26 (App. Div. 2006).

"First, the judge must determine whether the plaintiff has proven, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that one or more of the predicate acts set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19[(a)] has occurred." Id. at 125; see also N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a) (providing that an FRO may only be granted "after a finding or an admission is made that an act of domestic violence was committed"). Second, the court must determine that a restraining order is necessary to provide protection for the victim. Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 126- 27.

As part of that second step, the judge must assess "whether a restraining order is necessary, upon an evaluation of the fact[or]s set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a)(1) to -29(a)(6), to protect the victim from an immediate danger or to prevent further abuse." J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 475-76 (2011) (quoting Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 127).

The court is also required to make specific findings of fact and state his or her conclusions of law. R. 1:7-4(a); see also Shulas v. Estabrook, 385 N.J. Super. 91, 96 (App. Div. 2006) (requiring an adequate explanation of the basis for a court's action). "Failure to make explicit findings and clear statements of reasoning [impedes meaningful appellate review and] 'constitutes a disservice to the litigants, the attorneys, and the appellate court.'" Gnall, 222 N.J. at 428 (quoting Curtis v. Finneran, 83 N.J. 563, 569-70 (1980)).

Where the trial court does not make any findings as to the alleged acts by defendant that it determined constituted the predicate act of domestic violence alleged in plaintiff's complaint —harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, the appellate court must reverse and remand the matter. See Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 125.  Simply summarizing portions of the parties' testimony, and finding the plaintiff's testimony credible, and, in conclusory fashion, declaring  it was "satisfied there was an act of domestic violence is inadequate." See Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 125; see also N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4.

To prove harassment under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4, it must be established defendant committed an act prohibited under subsections (a), (b), or (c) with the purpose to harass. C.M.F. v. R.G.F., 418 N.J. Super. 396, 402-03 (App. Div. 2011).

Moreover, a court must set forth why an FRO is necessary. See Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 126-27. The court cannot simply state that it was "satisfied . . . the necessity of a restraining order does, in fact, exist." The court did not make any findings or explain how contact by defendant would constitute an immediate danger to plaintiff or how an FRO would prevent further acts of domestic violence against her. See J.D., 207 N.J. at 476.

The court also did not consider, evaluate, or make any findings concerning the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29(a)(1) to (6), see Silver, 387 N.J. Super. at 126-27, and did not consider or make findings concerning whether there was a history of domestic violence between the parties, see id. at 126 (noting that determining whether an FRO is necessary requires consideration of "the evidence in light of whether there is a previous history of domestic violence").

On remand, the court shall reconsider the trial record, hear additional arguments from the parties, and make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its decision to either grant or deny the requested FRO. See R. 1:7-4.