By: Victoria E. Paone, Esq. * 

Practitioners and litigants 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. 

One of the most recently published and ground breaking domestic violence cases, E.S. v. C.D., expands the definition of former “household member” to include a former live-in nanny. In this case, the full time live-in nanny worked at her former employer’s home from March 2018 until October 2018. In October 2018, the nanny was discharged from her position after assaulting her former employer’s child.  A few weeks following the nanny’s termination, the former employer sought a temporary restraining order against the nanny because she claimed that the nanny sent several threatening and harassing communications to her involving the child.  

During a final restraining order hearing before the trial court, the nanny argued that she and her former employer were not former household members and that relief could not be sought under the aforementioned statute because of the economic relationship which previously existed between the parties.  Ultimately, the trial court determined that the absence of a “traditional familial, sexual or romantic relationship between the parties does not automatically disqualify a victim of domestic violence from seeking relief under the Domestic Violence Statute.” The trial court further held that the former employer had standing to seek relief under the Domestic Violence Statute because the live-in nanny was a household member who “acquired deeper insight into the personal life of the former employer and child, which rendered the opportunity for future abuse more prevalent.”

The Domestic Violence Statute continues to be interpreted broadly to afford protection for victims of domestic violence. See R.G. v. R.G. 449 N.J. Super. 208 (App. Div. 2017) (holding that brothers who had not resided together for over 30 years were former household members, satisfying the jurisdictional requirements under the Domestic Violence Statute). However, victims of violence who are unable to establish that they qualify as victims of “domestic violence” may be barred from seeking relief under the Domestic Violence Statute. In such cases, protection and other forms of relief may have to be pursued through other avenues such as criminal complaints, actions initiated through the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), and the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act (SASPA). 

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 E. Paone, 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 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. 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.)