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What is considered a dating relationship in a New Jersey Domestic Violence Case?

In order to file a restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in New Jersey, a victim must be able to prove that they were in a “dating relationship” with the other party. You might be surprised to learn that there is no exact legal definition of a “dating relationship” in New Jersey that can be used in these types of cases. In fact, “dating” is an ambiguous term that will have different meanings for different people. For some, a dating relationship is defined as date nights and meeting the parents, for others it may mean living together. Each person’s definition will be different.

In the recently published Appellate Division decision of C.C. v. J.A.H., the Court addressed a case of first impression examining the meaning of a “dating relationship” under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. In a domestic violence matter, the nature of the parties’ relationship is critical to acquire jurisdiction under the Act. In the case of C.C. v. J.A.H., the parties never experienced a traditional, in-person “date” as they never visited each other’s homes, or met each other’s friends or family members. However, they did exchange a large number of text messages, 1300 in a period of about 5 weeks, and had frequent in-person contact that the gym.

The Appellate Division stated that the trial court should consider the following factors to determine whether a dating relationship was present:

  • Was there a minimal social interpersonal bonding of the parties over and above a mere casual fraternization?
  • How long did the alleged dating activities continue prior to the acts of domestic violence alleged?
  • What were the nature and frequency of the parties’ interactions?
  • What were the parties’ ongoing expectations with respect to the relationship, either individually or jointly?
  • Did the parties demonstrate an affirmation of their relationship before others by statement or conduct?
  • Are there any other reasons unique to the case that support or detract from a finding that a “dating relationship” exists?

Trial courts have been cautioned by the Appellate Division not to apply these factors rigidly, but to take them into account as they also consider the parties’ understanding of their relationship based on the current socio-economic and generational influences.

In the case of C.C. v. J.A.H., their relationship was defined by the frequency and intimate content of their text messages and their frequent in-person contact at the gym. There were close to 1300 text messages exchanged between the parties over a period of about five weeks and considering how intimate the communications were between the parties, the court found that it transformed into a dating relationship which allowed the victim to be protected under the Domestic Violence Act.

If you have any questions regarding issues related to domestic violence matters, please call Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark to speak with an experienced attorney to guide you through this difficult time.

By Kevin W. Ku, Esq.