The New Jersey Appellate Division has taken a major step towards modernizing the law around final restraining orders in the State. For a court to grant a Final Restraining Order under the New Jersey Prevention Against Domestic Violence Act, the judge must find that a qualifying relationship exists between an individual and the person they are seeking the order against. Courts in New Jersey may find that a qualifying relationship exists based on many factors, including if the individuals are married, have children together or have engaged in a dating relationship. The precedential ruling in C.C. v. J.A.H. expands the meaning of “dating relationship” to account for the evolution of romance in the 21st century.
In C.C. v. J.A.H., the parties met at a gym where the victim was working and the defendant was a member. The two flirted in person before exchanging phone numbers. Over a five-week period, the two exchanged over 1,300 text messages. The messages, which were “exchanged at all hours of the day and night,” were often intimate and sexually explicit. The parties continued to flirt when they interacted at the gym where they met, but they never went on a traditional date or engaged in a physical relationship.
The defendant argued that since the two had never gone on a traditional date, their relationship could not be considered a “dating relationship.” The court did not find this fact dispositive, and instead analyzed the relationship holistically, looking to Andrews v. Rutherford for guidance. Andrews identifies several factors which can indicate a “dating relationship,” including:
- Was there a minimal social interpersonal bonding of the parties over and above a mere casual relationship?
- 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?
5. 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?”
Based on the sheer volume of communications between the parties, along with the intimate nature of those communications, the court concluded there was a dating relationship between the parties here. The level of communication was a key factor here – the court distinguished a 2012 case, S.K. v. J.H. In that case, the parties were found not to have engaged in a “dating relationship” after going on one traditional, in-person date but having no other communication.
The court also made note of the purpose of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which is to protect victims of domestic violence from their abusers. A strict or narrow interpretation of the statute would put more victims at risk by denying them access to legal protections, like Final Restraining Orders.
Tiffany Kaszuba, an advocate for stronger legal protections for victims and a former Congressional candidate, said of the decision, “[t]he law often fails to keep pace with changes in technology and culture. While much of modern dating has moved to online venues, the kind of domestic abuse intended to be prevented by the law still exists.” In this case, the court recognized that what constitutes a “dating relationship” to one person may not for another person. Decisions like this leave the door open for future cases to argue that as technology advances, so must our understanding of modern romance. As noted by Ms. Kaszuba, “[t]hese victims deserve equal protection and I am glad the court has taken a step in that direction with this decision.”
Rachael Newcomb, who wrote this, is in her 2nd year at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey.