Free Speech Prevails: S.B.B. v. L.B.B. – Landmark Decision, Sept. 6, 2023
Docket No. A-0305-21
Decided September 6, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Family Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published decision the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a trial court’s order entering a final restraining order (FRO) against defendant for her pressuring her husband, plaintiff, to get a Jewish divorce, or “get” on the grounds that it violated free speech laws.
In S.B.B. v. L.B.B., Following a twenty-year marriage that produced four children, the parties, both practicing members of the Orthodox Jewish faith, separated and have been in the process of obtaining a divorce since mid-2019. The process has been contentious and acrimonious and further complicated by a dispute over a get—a religious bill of divorce.
In the Orthodox Jewish tradition, a married woman cannot obtain a religious divorce until her husband provides her with a contract called a “get” (pluralized as “gittin”), which must, in turn, be signed by an “eid,” or witness. A woman who attempts to leave her husband without obtaining a get becomes an “agunah” (pluralized as “agunot”), which subjects her to severe social ostracism within the Orthodox Jewish community. Agunot may seek relief in a “beth din,” a rabbinical court presided over by a panel of three rabbis. The beth din may then issue “psak kefiah,” or contempt orders authorizing sanctions, which include, but are not limited to, the use of force against a husband to secure a get.
Sometime in March 2021, defendant made a video addressing the get dispute. In the video, defendant asserted plaintiff had refused to give her a get and asked anyone who could to “press” plaintiff to give her a get. On March 19, 2021, after the video was made, plaintiff obtained a TRO against defendant based on a domestic violence complaint alleging harassment. To support the complaint, plaintiff testified at an ex parte hearing that beginning around 3:00 p.m. on March 12, 2021, he received numerous phone calls from unknown numbers, a photograph of himself identifying him as a get refuser and calling on others to “tell him to free his wife,” and, ultimately, the actual video defendant had composed.
The trial court finalized the TRO, entering an FRO, finding that defendant’s insistence for the public to “press” defendant to give her a get was harassment, warranting protection because of the continuous communications plaintiff was receiving from third parties about the issue.
Defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division found that plaintiff’s actions were protected under the Constitution’s free speech laws.
Final restraining orders have severe consequences in New Jersey. There are a variety of defenses available to a defendant for this issues, and an experienced attorney can help you navigate the various ways a TRO can be dismissed and the entry of an FRO can be avoided.
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