Are You “Dating” When You Are Just Texting?

Restraining Orders are always a hot topic; you may not even realize it, but you probably know someone who has either obtained, or been on the receiving end, of a Temporary or Final Restraining Order in New Jersey. Many people are surprised to learn that you cannot merely obtain a Restraining Order in New Jersey against just anyone. For example, if your creepy neighbor is sending you inappropriate text messages, or your scary co-worker assaulted you, there will be no remedy for you in New Jersey family court under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA). You may have the ability to pursue these types of issues criminally, but you will not be able to get a Restraining Order against your wacky neighbor or scary co-worker because your relationships with those individuals are not covered by the Act. 

In order to prevail on a request for a Restraining Order in New Jersey, the parties have to fall into a certain category of relationships. One of those categories is that the PDVA applies to any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a “dating relationship.” At first blush it may seem like a no brainer whether someone is in a dating relationship, but that is not always true. As the New Jersey Appellate Division has said, dating relationships are defined differently by members of different socioeconomic groups and from one generation to the next.

The Appellate Division decided an interesting case from our home County of Camden on May 4, 2020, C.C. vs. J.A.H.  The question in that case was whether parties who never had a traditional in person date but exchanged nearly 1,300 highly personal text messages met the definition of a “dating relationship”. The case rested on this because if the Court found that the parties had a dating relationship, then the plaintiff/victim qualified for relief under the PDVA, otherwise, she did not, and the Court would have to dismiss the Final Restraining Order against defendant.

The facts of the case were eyebrow-raising. Apparently the parties met at a gym where plaintiff/victim worked and defendant, nearly 20 years her senior, was a member. The parties exchanged sexually explicit and intimate text messages. When plaintiff tried to break off their romantic text message exchanges, defendant sent vulgar, insulting, and threatening texts which were apparently bad enough that the Appellate Division did not recount their contents in its opinion. Defendant also threatened to file a civil lawsuit against plaintiff knowing she could not afford legal defense, plaintiff learned that someone had attempted to access her cell phone without authorization around the time that she tried to end the relationship, and defendant’s electronic gym membership account had been accessed and the address on file changed from defendant’s to plaintiff’s. Plaintiff even discovered that defendant was convicted of stalking and harassing a women that he dated in Pennsylvania and had tried to access that woman’s cell phone.

Is the contact between these parties, almost all via text message, enough for a “dating relationship”?  In this case, yes. The Court noted that the parties never visited each other’s homes, never met each other’s friends or family, never even kissed or held hands, much less engaged in a sexual relationship, and never experienced an in-person date. Despite this, the Court held that the parties had “exceedingly intimate” communications that underscored their relationship and that the nature and amount of those communications, their “dating activities”, transformed their relationship into a “dating relationship”. 

So, in our increasingly technology-driven world, the definition of a “dating relationship” per PDVA is going to continue to evolve, especially considering how many people are having technology-based relationships due to COVID-19.

Temporary and Final Restraining Orders are handled in the Family Court in the State of New Jersey. The Cooper Levenson, P.A. Family Department has handled hundreds of these types of cases and is here to assist both victims and defendants. 

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