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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
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'" ...