Even A Paid Escort Can Be A ‘Date’ Entitled To The Protections Provided By NJ’s Domestic Violence Act

In a case of first impression in New Jersey, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division,  recently affirmed a trial court’s ruling, holding that paying for another’s companionship can be a form of “dating” that triggers statutory protections against domestic violence.

In J.S. v. J.F., Docket No. A-2552-08 (App. Div., December 10, 2009), the Appellate Division upheld an Essex County judge’s final restraining order against a men’s club patron who made terroristic threats against a dancer to whom he regularly gave money.

Rejecting the men’s club patron’s argument that New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35 (the Act), did not apply because his relationship with the dancer was purely “professional”, the Appellate Division held that the claim that a relationship which includes a payment of consideration for the other’s time precludes the finding of a ‘dating’ relationship under the Act was unfounded:

Experience suggests that most claims of a dating relationship turn on what the particular parties would view as a ‘date,’ Accordingly, … courts should vigilantly guard against a slavish adherence to any formula that does not consider the parties’ own understanding of their relationship as colored by socio-economic and generational influences.

In addition, the appeals court declined to precisely follow the formula for defining a ‘dating’ relationship set forth several years ago in Andrews v. Rutherford , 363 N.J. Super. 252 (Ch. Div. 2003), in which the Chancery Judge said the following factors should be considered:

  • Whether there a minimal social interpersonal bonding of the parties over and above a mere casual fraternization.
  • How long the alleged dating activities continue prior to the acts of domestic violence alleged.
  • The nature and frequency of the parties’ interactions.
  • The parties’ ongoing expectations with respect to the relationship.
  • Whether the parties demonstrated an affirmation of their relationship before others by statement or conduct.
  • Any other reasons unique to the case that support or detract from a finding that a “dating relationship” existed.

The Appellate Division said that, while those guidelines are helpful, the principles underlying the Act “would not be served by a cramped interpretation of what constitutes a dating relationship. … [T]he facts should be liberally construed in favor of finding a dating relationship,… because the Act itself is to be liberally construed in favor of the legislative intent to eradicate domestic violence.”