The line between friendship and romance is sometimes blurry, a frequent plot line in many a romantic comedy. But it’s also a serious legal question in New Jersey when it comes to domestic violence.
In New Jersey, to obtain a Temporary or Final Restraining Order (TRO/FRO), your relationship must fall into one of a few categories, one of which is a “dating relationship”. In other words, you can’t obtain a TRO/FRO against a casual acquaintance or even your best friend unless you are “dating.”
Whether parties are dating is usually self-evident, but not always. Because having no dating relationship is a bar to any relief for an alleged victim of domestic violence, whether such a relationship exists can be the most important question.
So, what defines a “dating relationship.” Are selfies and texts enough, or do you have to go out for a meal?
Courts must generally look to the following factors in determining the existence of a “dating relationship”:
- Was there a minimal social interpersonal bonding of the parties over and above a mere casual fraternization?
- How long did the alleged dating activities continue prior to the acts of domestic violence alleged?
- What were the nature and frequency of the parties’ interactions?
- What were the parties’ ongoing expectations with respect to the relationship, either individually or jointly?
- Did the parties demonstrate an affirmation of their relationship before others by statement or conduct?
- Are there any other reasons unique to the case that support or detract from a finding that a “dating relationship” exists?
But what about relationships, as so many are today, that are primarily text-based? What if the parties never actually went on a traditional date, or even held hands?
In C.C. v. J.A.H., 463 N.J. Super. 419 (App. Div. 2020), the Appellate Division was faced with that question. The court found the parties in that case did have a dating relationship, despite never having gone on a date but exchanging “nearly 1300 highly personal text messages.”
The court acknowledged the “prevalence of virtual communications in the ever-changing world” and that “text messaging and other forms of electronic communication enable rapid yet deep interactions at all hours. Those communications can form bonds that may be no less intimate than sharing a dinner or movie. Nor is the lack of sexual relations dispositive.” Ultimately the court held that dating is a “loose concept” that changes “from one generation to the next.”