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She’s Your “Girlfriend” Even If You Pay For It

Posted on Dec 14, 2009

Every once in a while, the law has a very good sense of irony, and a ruling recently by the New Jersey Appellate Division is certainly a good example.   New Jersey's  Prevention of Domestic Violence Act creates a separate cause of action for assault when it occurs between two people in a "dating relationship."  For example, it permits the entry of restraining orders in favor of victims of domestic violence. The Act defines a "victim of domestic violence" as including, among others, "any person who has been subjected to domestic violence by a person with whom the victim has had a dating relationship." (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-19d.)  It does not, however, define what is meant by "a dating relationship."  That is left up to the courts figuring that, like pornography, the judges will "know it when they see it."

On December 10, the court held in the case of J.S. vs. J.F. that the broad interpretation of "dating relationship" as used in the statute could extend to relationships based upon the payment of consideration from one party to another.  In this case, the defendant contended that his misconduct did not constitute domestic violence because the basis of the social relationship was money he paid to her for professional escort services. The  Court rejected this argument and stated that "the fact that a person receives a monetary benefit from engaging in a relationship does not automatically disqualify that person from the Act's benefits."  This was backed by evidence introduced at trial that there were many occasions where the parties went out socially where there was no clear indication of monetary compensation.

What is clear here is the obvious legislative intent of the Act to protect women.  The court stated that,

"Because the Act is remedial in nature, it has been liberally construed for the protection of victims of domestic violence.  Indeed, the Act itself announces that its purpose is ‘to assure the victims of domestic violence the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide.' N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18. These principles would not be served by a cramped interpretation of what constitutes a dating relationship."

The judges go on to observe that, "Considering the Act's intended broad scope, we reject the contention that a relationship which includes a payment of consideration for the other's time precludes the finding of a dating relationship."  I personally believe that the judges were repelled by the denigrating nature of the defendant's argument: that this woman was not entitled to the protections of this law because she received money for "dating" him.  Ultimately, there may be irony here, but there is also justice.

Steven J. Richardson
Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.