Virtual Dating & DV

Behind the Keyboard: Spotting Digital Dating Abuse

What defines a “dating relationship,” especially in today’s age of technology, smart phones, online profiles, dating apps, etc.?

This question is asked quite often. Unfortunately, many people find themselves facing criminal charges before seeking legal advice!

In  C.C. v. J.A.H., a recent and novel case out of the New Jersey Appellate Division, a “dating relationship” under New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act can occur where parties never experienced a traditional, in-person “date.”

BACKGROUND FACTS

The parties met at a gym where the Plaintiff was an employee, and the Defendant a member.  They interacted flirtatiously, and eventually exchanged phone numbers.  This led to a proliferation of text messages between the parties – approximately 1100 text messages over a period of one month.  The Court of Appeals described the text messages as being “exchanged at all hours of the day and night” and as “sexually explicit and suggestive in nature.”  The Appellate Division also found that the Defendant declared his romantic interest during the course of these text messages.

During this period, the parties continued to interact with one another in person (described as “flirtatious” interaction by the Plaintiff), However, both sides agreed that they never went out on a date in the traditional manner.  The Defendant argued they never went on a date.  Accordingly, the Defendant argued, the Plaintiff could not obtain a No Contact Order under the Act.

COURT’S ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS

In short, the New Jersey Appellate Division found that a dating relationship existed.

It characterized the issue as subjective rather than an objective analysis.  It emphasized that although the interactions between these parties may not bear any semblance to “dating” in the eyes of someone perhaps older and with a more traditional view of what it means to date somebody, for the Plaintiff (who was 22 years old), these interactions were part of a normal 21st century dating life.

Ultimately, the sheer volume of the communications and the nature of their content supported the Court’s reasoning:

“[T]he absence of what might be viewed as traditional dating activities and affirmations does not render insignificant the proliferate and exceedingly intimate communications between the parties that underscored their relationship.  Indeed, it is the nature and proliferation of those communications that constituted the parties’ “dating activities” and transformed theirs into a “dating relationship.”

New Jersey is not alone. Indeed, Washington statutes define the term in a manner consistent with the factors that guided the New Jersey Court’s analysis.  In Washington, “Dating relationship” means a social relationship of a romantic nature. Factors that the court may consider in making this determination include: (a) The length of time the relationship has existed; (b) the nature of the relationship; and (c) the frequency of interaction between the parties.

My opinion? This is certainly a cautionary tale. While the law is perhaps notorious for being behind the times, technologically speaking, this decision represents an appropriate understanding of what it means to be in a dating relationship in this day and age and goes a long way to protecting victims of domestic violence who may not have been on any traditional dates, but nevertheless were involved in a dating relationship.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member face criminal charges involving Domestic Violence and/or dating relationships. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.