It is critically important to present the facts and a well reasoned legal argument at the initial proceedings instituted under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35 (the Act). That is so because the scope of appellate review of a final restraining order (FRO) is limited, and on review, the appellate court accords “substantial deference to Family Part judges, who routinely hear domestic violence cases and are ‘specially trained to detect the difference between domestic violence and more ordinary differences that arise between couples.'” C.C. v. J.A.H., 463 N.J. Super. 419, 428 (App. Div. 2020) (quoting J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 482, 25 A.3d 1045 (2011)), certif. denied, 244 N.J. 339 (2020).
In order to obtain a final restraining order (FRO) under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, a victim must establish two elements: 1) that the accused committed a predicate act of domestic violence as defined in the Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19, and 2) that a restraining order is necessary for his or her protection, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29. J.D. v. M.D.F., 207 N.J. 458, 475-76 (2011).
Three types of relationships between the accused and the victim are required under the Act to secure a restraining order. A “victim of domestic violence” is defined under the Act as a person who has been subjected to domestic violence by: 1) a spouse, former spouse, or any person who is a present household member, or was at any time a household member; 2) a person with whom the victim has a child or is expecting a child; and 3) a person with whom the victim has had “a dating relationship.” N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d). An individual who does not fit within one of those three categories of relationships is not entitled to protection under the Act.
The Act does not, however, define “dating relationship”—a term that is certainly more difficult to define than the other relationships included in the Act. Recently, in C.C. v. J.A.H., 463 N.J. Super. at 429, the Appellate Division provided guidance on this issue and held that in determining whether the parties had a dating relationship the trial judge should consider the following factors: (1) Was there a minimal social interpersonal bonding of the parties over and above a mere casual fraternization; (2) How long did the alleged dating activities continue prior to the acts of domestic violence alleged; (3) What were the nature and frequency of the parties’ interactions; (4) 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; and (6) Are there any other reasons unique to the case that support or detract from a finding that a “dating relationship” exists?” Id. at 429 (quoting S.K. v. J.H., 426 N.J. Super. 230, 234 (App. Div. 2012) (adopting Andrews v. Rutherford, 363 N.J. Super. 252, 260 (Ch. Div. 2003)). The appellate court in C.H. cautioned, however, that none of those factors are “determinative,” and that “other factors may warrant consideration.” Ibid.
Under that analysis, in S.K. v. J.H., 426 N.J. Super. 230, 239 (App. Div. 2012), the Appellate Division held that a single date involving dancing and sitting at a bar did not constitute a “dating relationship” under the Act.
In contrast, in C.C. v. J.A.H., 463 N.J. Super. at 424, the trial judge issued a FRO even though the parties had never experienced a traditional, in-person “date,” and instead “their relationship was demonstrated by the intensity and content of their communications, including the exchange of nearly 1300 highly personal text messages.” The Appellate Division affirmed finding that “the proliferate and exceedingly intimate communications between the parties constituted a dating relationship within the meaning of the Act and supported entry of the final restraining order.” Ibid.
The nature of the relationship between the victim and the accused is thus critical to determining whether the Act applies. A domestic violence charge can be destructive and have severe consequences. If you are facing domestic violence charges you should immediately reach out to our team of experienced former prosecutors to schedule a free case review with one of our expert criminal defense attorneys. Your rights and freedoms are in jeopardy and you owe it to yourself to take action. We are available 24/7 to provide immediate assistance and further counsel on your domestic violence case at (862) 314-7929.