By: Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq. *

People should be aware of the developing body of case law which defines those relationships which fall under the purview of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“Domestic Violence Statute”).  Currently, the Domestic Violence Statute defines a victim of domestic violence as any person who is 18 years of age or older, or an emancipated minor, who has been subjected to domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse or any other person who is a present or was at any time a household member. A victim of domestic violence is further defined as any person, regardless of age, who has a child in common or anticipates having a child with the abuser where one of the parties is pregnant. Finally, the Domestic Violence Statute establishes that a victim of domestic violence also includes any person, regardless of age, who has had a dating relationship with the person charged with domestic violence.

The definition of “household member” has evolved in recent years. In 2017, the Appellate Division held that the Domestic Violence Statute applied to brothers who had not resided together for more than 30 years.  See R.G. v. R.G. 449 N.J. Super. 208 (App. Div. 2017). In 2018, the Trial Court expanded the definition of former “household member” to include a former live-in nanny. See E.S. v. C.D., 460 N.J. Super. 426 (Ch. Div. 2018).  Most recently, a Monmouth County Family Court determined that the Domestic Violence Statue applied to half siblings who never lived together under one roof full-time, but spent meaningful, regular periods of time together during their childhood. See S.C. v. J.D., 462 N.J. Super. 452 (Ch. Div. 2019). 

In particular, S.C. v. J.D. represents the growing trend in which New Jersey courts have expanded the reach of the Domestic Violence Statue in order to protect victims of domestic violence.  The decision in S.C. v. J.D. written by Judge Acquaviva is important because it demonstrates that the Domestic Violence Statute applies to brothers and sisters who once lived in multiple households due to their parents’ divorce or separation, but were part of one blended family. This case emphasizes that the absence of a traditional familial relationship does not automatically disqualify a victim from seeking relief under the Domestic Violence Statute. 

Domestic violence cases are extremely fact sensitive and require knowledge of the most recent case law by attorneys hired to represent both victims of domestic violence and persons who have been accused of committing acts of domestic violence.  Litigants should be prepared to hire an attorney who is prepared to work expeditiously and to treat these cases with the importance that they deserve.

* (Editor’s note: Victoria Paone Rosa, Esq. is an associate at the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy working out of the firm’s Red Bank office, located at 120 Maple Avenue. Victoria’s professional history includes clerking in Monmouth County for the Honorable Mara E. Zazzali-Hogan for both the Family Part, Chancery Division and Civil Division for 2016-2017. She is currently a member of the New Jersey State Bar, Middlesex Bar Association, Monmouth Bar Association, Monmouth County Legal Aid Society and Aldona E. Appleton Family Law Inn of Court. Victoria limits her practice to divorce, child support, child custody, equitable distribution, alimony, domestic violence, alimony, palimony and all other family law issues. Ms. Paone was selected by the Middlesex County Bar Association to receive the 2020 Young Lawyer of the Year Award. Her monthly column, “Divorce Hotline,” will serve to inform readers as to family law news, advice as to the divorce process, comment on recently published family law cases and more. Paone, Zaleski & Murphy can be contacted at 732-750-9797.)