On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FV-07-1485-09.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fisher, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 12, 2009
Before Judges Axelrad, Fisher and Espinosa.
Following a trial, the judge entered a final restraining order in favor of plaintiff J.S. pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (the Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, based on findings that the parties were in a dating relationship and defendant J.F. made terroristic threats and otherwise harassed plaintiff. In this appeal, defendant argues in part that plaintiff did not qualify as a victim of domestic violence because he paid for plaintiff's company. We reject defendant's arguments and affirm.
Plaintiff filed a domestic violence complaint and obtained a temporary restraining order on December 2, 2008. Eight days later, the judge conducted a final hearing and, at the hearing's conclusion, made findings and entered a final restraining order.
Defendant appealed, arguing that: the parties were not in a dating relationship; there was no evidence of harassment or terroristic threats; there was no need for a restraining order; and the judge erred by employing a preponderance-of-the-evidence standard of proof. We find no merit in any of these arguments.
The Act permits the entry of restraining orders in favor of victims of domestic violence. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-29. The Act defines a "victim of domestic violence" as including, among others, "any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship." N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19d. It does not, however, define what is meant by "a dating relationship." Instead, the Legislature has left it to the courts, in their day-to-day involvement with these matters, to determine what relationships might be properly characterized as dating relationships.
Our decisional law defining the scope of a dating relationship is essentially limited to a single opinion authored by a trial judge. In Andrews v. Rutherford, 363 N.J. Super. 252, 260 (Ch. Div. 2003), Judge Michael Hogan suggested various factors to be evaluated in defining what constitutes a dating relationship for purposes of the Act:
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 ...