October 26, 2010
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Hudson County, Docket No. FV-09-1415-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued: October 6, 2010
Before Judges Simonelli and Fasciale.
In this domestic violence case, defendant A.P. appeals from a December 11, 2009 final restraining order (FRO) entered in favor of plaintiff C.K. Because we conclude that the evidence failed to establish the parties had a dating relationship within the meaning of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, we reverse.
The parties had a casual relationship from approximately November or December 2006, to approximately April and July 2007. Thereafter, they barely communicated and did not see each other for two and a half-years, when they met again at the December 11, 2009 FRO hearing.
At the hearing both parties appeared pro se. As to her relationship with defendant, plaintiff testified that she would "hang out" with A.P. and chitchat. Defendant testified that he never dated C.K. He stated they had a friendship that lasted four months.
The trial judge entered the FRO, finding as follows:
[The parties] both agree they never went out on [a] date, so to speak. Didn't go to a movie. Didn't go to restaurants. Didn't go out to eat. Didn't visit each other's family. Didn't go to clubs, church, shopping together or any of those typical incidents of a dating relationship, but they were involved in a relationship of more than hi and bye friends.
The judge acknowledged that the parties were not intimate, but found that they "spent considerable time chitchatting with each other. . . . " He concluded that a "significant dating relationship" existed.
On appeal, A.P. argues, in part, that the court lacked jurisdiction because the evidence failed to establish the parties had a dating relationship. We agree.
While the Act is remedial in nature and should be liberally construed to achieve its express purpose "to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide," N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18, the judge must first analyze whether jurisdiction exists.
In Tribuzio v. Roder, 356 N.J. Super. 590, 596 (App. Div. 2003), we described how to evaluate the protection afforded under the Act to "'a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship'" (quoting N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19(d)). We explained that:
The passage of time from the end of the dating relationship is only one factor to be considered in determining the availability of the Act's protection. The extent and nature of any intervening contacts as well as the nature of the precipitating incident must also be considered. No mathematical formula governs the outcome. A qualitative analysis is required, weighing and balancing the nature and duration of the prior relationship, the duration of the hiatus since the end of that relationship, the nature and extent of any intervening contacts, the nature of the precipitating event, and any other appropriate factors. The ultimate issue is whether, in light of these factors, 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.]
See also Coleman v. Romano, 388 N.J. Super. 342, 351-52 (Ch. Div. 2006) (the court undertook a qualitative analysis to determine whether jurisdiction existed in a former relationship case).
To determine whether a dating relationship existed under the Act, the court in Andrews v. Rutherford, 363 N.J. Super. 252, 260 (Ch. Div. 2003) considered six 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?
(6) Are there any other reasons unique to the case that support or detract from a finding that a "dating relationship" exists?
Here, during their five-to eight-month relationship, the parties engaged primarily in casual "chitchatting" while sitting in plaintiff's car or house. They did not live together; go out to dinner; hold themselves out to the public as dating; go to the movies; meet each other's families; attend events or holidays together; hold hands or kiss; discuss their future.
They had no sexual relationship and were not intimate. Almost two years passed between the end of the relationship and contact defendant allegedly made with plaintiff. We conclude that the evidence fails to establish the parties had a dating relationship, and thus there was no jurisdiction. Even if jurisdiction existed, the proofs do not lend themselves to review.
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