Walker-Snyder v. Snyder, 2022-NCCOA-97 (2022)
In North Carolina, domestic violence is not always caused by a physical act. Under the 50B statutes, actions that meet the definition of stalking can also result in the granting of a domestic violence protective order, even though the court must find that an “act” of domestic violence has occurred. Below is such a case, where it was not a physical altercation but rather words that resulted in a trial on domestic violence.
- Facts: Plaintiff and Defendant, divorced, are the parents of a minor child. Plaintiff filed a motion on November 21, 2019, asking for a domestic violence protective order for herself and the child against Defendant. Defendant had texted the child certain messages regarding her parents’ litigation and interactions in court. Defendant threatened not to pay for the child’s college or her car. The minor child testified that those texts made her feel hurt, upset, and anxious when she got them. The protective order was granted. Defendant then appealed.
Issue: Did the trial court err by entering the domestic violence protective order?
- Rationale: The ultimate finding and conclusion from the trial court was that the texts from Defendant had placed the minor child (17 at the time) in fear of continued harassment that rose to a level so high it inflicted substantial emotional distress. Harassment can support the granting of a domestic violence protective order. However, the definition of harassment, found within the stalking statute, requires a knowing conduct directed at a specific person that “torments, terrorizes, or terrifies” the person and has no legitimate purpose. The fear and the torment is subjective as to the person the conduct is directed to. However, for the experience to qualify as substantial emotional distress, one has to undergo some significant mental suffering that may require medical intervention. This might mean that the distress is at least great enough to negatively impact quality of life. Nothing Defendant texted rose to that level. In fact, the string of messages contains responses from the child indicating that she did not feel at all hurt, upset, or anxious; there was no indication of fear. Finally, mere anxiety and hurt feelings do not amount to substantial emotional distress.