DVPO – A ‘Bunting We Will DVPO

By Becky Watts

Bunting v. Bunting, July 16, 2019, COA18-839 (DVPO, harassment, legitimate purpose for communication)

Between 2007 and 2012, Plaintiff obtained four DVPOs against Defendant.  Defendant repeatedly violated those orders.  In July 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking another domestic violence protective order.  In her complaint, Plaintiff alleged that the parties’ custody order included a no contact provision and that in violation of that provision, Defendant sent her six unsolicited text messages and that those messages caused her distress.  In January 2018, the trial court entered a DVPO against Defendant.  Defendant appealed, arguing:

  1. The text messages served a legitimate purpose (discussing the children), so they were not harassing.
  2. There was no evidence Plaintiff suffered emotional distress.
  3. The conclusion of law that Defendant committed acts of domestic violence was not supported by adequate findings of fact because the finding referenced was analogous to a finding of a “vague history of abuse” which cannot support issuance of a DVPO.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, addressing Defendant’s arguments as follows:

  1. The parties’ custody order prohibited Defendant from contacting Plaintiff or the children in any manner, except during his one, two-hour supervised visitation each month.  Because he was under an order to have no contact with Plaintiff and because Plaintiff had custody of the children, Defendant’s messages to Plaintiff did not serve a legitimate purpose.
  2. Plaintiff testified about her fear of Defendant and that his messages caused her anxiety and distress due, in part, to Defendant’s previous threats to kill her and kidnap the children.  Plaintiff testified that on the surface, the six messages may look benign to someone who did not know the history, but his messages caused her to alter her lifestyle and to go into a state of alarm.
  3. In Kennedy v. Morgan, 221 N.C. App. 219, 726 S.E.2d 193 (2012), the Court of Appeals concluded that a “vague finding of a general history of abuse” is not a finding of an act of domestic violence as defined by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50B-3(a).  Here, however, in addition to finding that Defendant has a history of domestic violence against Plaintiff, the trial court also found that Defendant had in the past threatened to kill Plaintiff, that Defendant had convictions for violations of previous DVPOs, and that Defendant had contacted Plaintiff in violation of the custody order.