New Jersey High School Senior Who Sued Her Parents for Child Support and College Expenses files Domestic Violence Complaint Against Her Boyfriend: How Do New Jersey Courts Define a Dating Relationship?

The news board lit-up this week with the story of Rachel Canning, age 18, the teenager who earlier this year sued her parents for child support and college expenses, filing a domestic violence complaint and obtaining a temporary restraining order against her 18 year old boyfriend, the boy whom her parents wanted her to stop seeing.  ( to reports, Ms. Canning has alleged that her boyfriend choked her early Sunday morning and that she fled the scene to the Morris Plains Police Station wherein she was able to obtain the temporary restraining order against her boyfriend. A trial has now been scheduled in Morris County Superior Court to determine whether or not the temporary restraining order should be dismissed or a permanent restraining should be issued against the defendant. At trial, the burden will rest upon Ms. Canning to present proofs before the court, showing that it is more likely than not that the defendant is guilty of committing the predicate act contained in her domestic violence complaint.  The predicate act would have to be one of the following (14) criminal acts of which are listed in The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq.:

1. Homicide

2. Assault

3. Terroristic threats

4. Kidnappingjudge

5. Criminal restraint

6. False imprisonment

7. Sexual assault

8. Criminal sexual contact

9. Lewdness

10. Criminal mischief

11. Burglary

12. Criminal trespass

13. Harassment

14. Stalking

The burden of proof for proving one of the aforementioned predicate acts of domestic violence is the civil standard of by the preponderance of the evidence and not the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.  The applicable portion of N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19 defines a victim of domestic violence as: “any person who is 18 years of age or older or who is an emancipated minor and who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or any other person who is a present or former household member.” A “victim of domestic violence” also includes: “any person, regardless of age, who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has a child in common, or with whom the victim anticipates having a child in common, if one of the parties is pregnant…[or] any person who has been subject to domestic  violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship. New Jersey courts have ultimately taken a liberal view on what constitutes a “dating relationship. In the case of Tribuzio v. Roder, 356 N.J. Super. 590 (App. Div. 2003), which involved a three year gap in the dating relationship, the Court held that: “The ultimate issue is whether, in light of these facts, the victim was, at the time of the precipitating event, subjected to potential abusive and controlling behavior related to and arising out of the past domestic relationship. If so, the victim is in need of and entitled to the special protection provided by the act.” Id. at 597.  Perhaps no other case illustrates the court’s trend towards looking at a “dating relationship” liberally than in the case of J.S. v. J.F., 410 N.J. Super. 611 (App. Div. 2009), wherein the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the victim did not fall under the protections of the Act because she was a paid escort.  The court reasoned “the fact that a person receives a monetary benefit from engaging in a relationship does not automatically disqualify that person from the Act’s benefits.” Id. The court went on to state: “…the facts should be liberally construed in favor of finding a dating relationship, because the Act itself is to be liberally construed in favor of the legislative intent to eradicate domestic violence. Stated another way, the Act embodies a strong public policy against domestic violence. . . . These principles would not be served by a cramped interpretation of what constitutes a dating relationship.” Id.

It is important that someone who has been the victim or accused of domestic violence to seek out the assistance of counsel to represent at the trial that ultimately result from the filing of a domestic violence complaint and the issuance of temporary restraining order. The law firm of James P. Yudes, P.C. has been assisting those who have been the victims of and/or accused of domestic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Act since the bill was first passed in 1991.  If you are in need of assistance, please contact the attorneys at James P. Yudes, P.C.