Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the daily lives of most people have changed in many ways. With many people still desiring to find companionship, dating websites and mobile applications have provided somewhat of a substitute for traditional in-person dates, which are no longer feasible during the pandemic.
What happens if the relationship you’ve developed in these virtual settings goes awry, and the continued virtual contact becomes unwanted, threatening, malicious, and/or harassing? Can you obtain a restraining order to prevent further contact?
The answer largely depends on whether your online relationship with this person is considered to be within the definition of a “dating relationship” under the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act.
The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence only provides protection for certain classes of relationships, defined as a spouse, former spouse, household member (whether presently or at any prior time), parties with a child in common, or parties with whom the victim has had a dating relationship.
Fortunately, recent case law has shown an evolution of the term “dating relationship” under the statute to account for the evolution of dating itself.
The case of C.C. v. J.A.H., decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division on June 11, 2020, took into consideration two individuals who had never experienced a traditional, in-person “date.” They never visited each other’s homes, or met each other’s friends or family members. They never engaged in sexual relations, kissed, or even held hands. What they did do, however, was exchange nearly 1,300 highly personal and intimate text messages over the course of several months. Eventually, when one of the parties tried to cease the contact and spurn any further relationship, the other party’s communications became threatening and malicious.
In this first case of its kind, the court held that these two individuals, who shared no other meaningful contact aside from these text messages, were in enough of a “dating relationship” to provide protection to the victim.
This case may have broadened the protections available to victims of domestic violence tremendously. If you are being threatened, harassed or otherwise are subjected to domestic violence, you may be able to obtain a Final Restraining Order to protect yourself.
In many cases, an abuser may be ordered to pay for the victim’s legal costs. If you find yourself in these types of situations, it is more critical now than ever to have effective and careful advocacy from experienced legal counsel. Stark & Stark’s Family Law Department is here to help.