Dating can be a controversial topic. Cultural norms and prevailing popular opinion often define the relationship between two parties. However, when instances of domestic violence occur, it can create a minefield of unknowns.
In New Jersey, domestic violence is addressed swiftly and severely. The repercussions can stay with you for years, ruining your reputation and future. Before you get caught in the court system as a plaintiff or defendant, it is essential to understand the juxtaposition of dating relationships and restraining orders.
Who Is a “Protected Person” In Domestic Violence Cases?
Domestic violence is categorized as harm committed within the confines of a relationship between the offender and the victim. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) explains that “protected persons” under the act are typically married or living together. Yet, N.J.S.A. § 2C:25 also addresses those in dating relationships, including:
- Persons at least 18 years of age
- Emancipated minors
- Those subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or any other person who is a present or former household member
What Is the Legal Definition of “Dating” In New Jersey?
You may be surprised to learn that there is no exact legal definition of a “dating relationship” in New Jersey. Since there is no description of what constitutes an intimate connection, there is no legal explanation of when a dating relationship ends.
In Sperling v. Teplitsky 294 N.J. Super. 312 (1996), the Superior Court of New Jersey granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against defendant Daniel Teplitsky for damage to plaintiff Jill Sperling's property. At the final restraining order (FRO) hearing, the defendant contended that his actions occurred outside the court's jurisdiction and that he and the plaintiff did not have a relationship. The court established that the parties began dating in 1988 and terminated their relationship two years later, though the defendant argued the dating relationship ended in 1991. Teplitsky commented that since the parties concluded their dating relationship before the institution of the PDVA in 1991, it has no application to events occurring in 1996. The Superior Court concluded that the passage of at least four years following the dating relationship's termination mandated the FRO's denial.
In the appeals process, the court revealed that the defendant attempted to contact the plaintiff in 1993—supported by evidence on the plaintiff's answering machine—but the court found the instance did not fulfill the requirements for harassment, thus negating a domestic violence charge. N.J.S.A. §2C:33-4 states that harassment is “communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.” While a phone call can be considered probable cause to remand the alleged offender, the court decided in Peranio v. Peranio 280 N.J. Super. 47 (1995) that domestic violence “is a term of art which defines a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior injurious to its victims.” Consequently, the provisions of the PDVA had no application.
Other Jurisprudential Limitations On Dating Relationships
In S.K. v. J.H., 426 N.J. Super. 230, 233 (2012), the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division found that although a defendant's predicate act provided cause to mandate an order of protection under the PDVA, a dating relationship could not be established. The instance emerged when the plaintiff and defendant “sat together, danced together, and were together for a few hours at the bar” one evening before an act of violence occurred. The appellate court concluded that while the facts “were “sufficient” to support that the parties were on a “date,” there was no evidence of anything more, thus no evidence of the “dating relationship.” Therefore, the prior court's decision regarding a restraining order was reversed.
Critically, the appellate court devised a six-question test to scrutinize and ascertain the existence of a dating relationship:
- Was there a minimal social, interpersonal bonding between the parties or mere casual fraternization?
- How long did the alleged dating relationship continue before the alleged acts of domestic violence occurred?
- What were the nature and frequency of the parties' interactions?
- What were the ongoing individual or joint expectations for the relationship?
- Did the parties affirm their relationship with others by statement or conduct?
- Are there unique reasons that support or detract from a finding that a dating relationship exists?
How Does Online Dating Affect Decisions Granting Restraining Orders?
With the rise in social media, dating websites, and applications, the definition of a dating relationship has expanded. For example, it is common to find people “dating” who have never met in person and have maintained exclusive contact with each other for years through online communications and mobile messages.
In C.C. v. J.A.H., A-4425-18T3 (2020), the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, heard a case wherein the plaintiff and defendant exchanged thousands of text messages but never met in person. Following the defendant's subsequent messages that fulfilled the PDVA's harassment requirements, the plaintiff filed for a restraining order. The defendant filed an Order of Dismissal, arguing he and the plaintiff were not involved in a dating relationship. After a FRO was issued and the defendant appealed, the Appellate Division upheld the order, stating “their relationship was demonstrated by the intensity and content of their communications…We conclude the proliferate and exceedingly intimate communications between the parties constituted a dating relationship within the meaning of the [PDVA].”
No test of scrutiny was instituted from the case, and what constitutes a dating relationship was left to the courts. Since technology continues to advance and change how dating is defined, jurisprudence is also evolving, thus creating unforeseen risks when instances of domestic violence arise and are managed through restraining orders.
Contact Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm To Assist You When Dating Violence Occurs
A restraining order can affect your life in ways you have never imagined. It can uproot your job, family, and public reputation. If you are the party in a domestic violence restraining order opposite someone you are dating, speak to a domestic violence lawyer immediately.
Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm understand the intricacies and fluctuations of legal definitions and jurisdictions over dating relationships and ensure that you will be properly defended regardless of your status in the case. For access to a panel of domestic violence experts with a strong track record of delivering results, call 888-535-3686 today, or visit the confidential online consultation form.