Did the Trial Judge Err in Holding Plaintiff in Contempt Based on His “Abhorrent and Disruptive Behavior” During the Trial?

B.R. v. R.R. 

Docket No. A-1673-20

Decided October 11, 2022

Submitted by New Jersey Divorce Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided plaintiff’s appeal of a final judgment of divorce (“FJD”), in which he argued that the trial judge erred in holding him in contempt based on his “abhorrent and disruptive behavior” during the trial.

The facts of this case are as follows: The parties were married in 2001, had two children in 2005 and 2008, respectively, and separated in the summer of 2018. In August of that year, defendant filed a domestic violence complaint against plaintiff. In November, the court entered a final restraining order against plaintiff, granted defendant temporary custody of the children, and banned the plaintiff from having contact with the defendant and children unless permitted by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (“DCPP”). Plaintiff filed for divorce in August based on irreconcilable differences. Defendant filed an answer and counterclaim for the divorce.

During the divorce trial, plaintiff had several outbursts in which he accused defendant, who was originally from Guatemala, of being a “thief” and a “criminal” for not conceding funds at issue were his. Plaintiff also stated that defendant had entered the U.S. illegally, and made extremely offensive remarks about defendant’s family and Guatemalan people in general. The trial judge even advised the plaintiff that if he couldn’t maintain his composure and follow the judge’s instructions, his case would be in danger of being dismissed.

Despite the trial judge and his counsel repeatedly instructing him to stop speaking when defense counsel was raising an objection, plaintiff continued to talk over defense counsel and accused her of trying to confuse him and of being a “hostile attorney.” Through even more outbursts, the trial judge was losing patience and gave plaintiff one last warning to control himself or he will dismiss his pleading. In response, plaintiff stated the judge was “prejudiced” and requested another judge.

Defendant subsequently moved in writing for contempt based on plaintiff’s behavior during the trial and to dismiss for failure to state a case and for denying defendant an opportunity to cross-examine him. In response to the motion, plaintiff submitted an unsworn, one-paragraph letter from his psychologist, who indicated that he was treating plaintiff and that plaintiff was unable to control his verbal behavior at times of stress and confrontation. The psychologist also noted that plaintiff was prone to inappropriate tempter outbursts under which he had no control despite the use of medication and weekly therapy. Plaintiff also submitted a letter from a psychiatrist as well.

Ultimately, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion, determining that the defendant persisted in a pattern of disruptive and deeply unruly, aggressive, abusive behavior. Additionally, the trial judge was unpersuaded by plaintiff’s incompetency argument due to plaintiff’s prior insistence he could stand trial, his failure to provide a medical report about his alleged psychological impairment, and his ability to maintain several businesses, rental property, and a full-time job with the State of New Jersey. The trial judge entered the FJD dissolving the marriage, awarding defendant sole legal custody of the children, equitably distributing the parties’ property, and requiring plaintiff to pay child support, alimony, and sixty percent of defendant’s legal fees and costs.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court erred in holding him in contempt, striking the complaint, and failing to consider his trial testimony. He also contended the trial judge erred in her decisions regarding custody, parenting time, equitable distribution, alimony, child support, and counsel fees. The Appellate Court was also unpersuaded by plaintiff’s argument and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Appellate Court cited that the record demonstrated numerous instances of the plaintiff willfully partaking in abusive and obstructive behavior towards the defendant, counsel, and the court.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to final judgment of divorce hearings. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of either party in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.


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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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