The protections afforded by New Jersey’s Prevention of Domestic Violence Act are deliberately liberal for the benefit of abuse victims. Those protections, however, have seemingly expanded to an even greater degree under a new published (precedential) decision from the Appellate Division released on January 26, 2011. In S.Z. v. M.C., the Appellate Division ruled that an adult male visitor who resided at the plaintiff’s home for less than a year constituted a “household member” as defined by the Act.
Briefly, the plaintiff had testified that defendant, who was a bookkeeper for plaintiff’s business in need of a place to live, resided in plaintiff’s home with plaintiff, his wife and three children from October 2008 through April 2009. Plaintiff claimed that defendant was engaging in acts of harassment and stalking against him under the Act, adding, important to the Court’s conclusion, that he was also not in a “dating relationship” with defendant, as that term is defined under the Act.
The trial court declined to exercise jurisdiction, finding that defendant was not a “household matter” under the Act because he was akin to a mere “social guest” of a “transient,” rather than permanent status in plaintiff’s household. As a result, the trial court concluded that the parties lacked the “familial, emotional and financial ties” between them that would merit the Act’s protection.
The Appellate Division disagreed, finding that defendant was a “household member” under the Act, similar to a college dormitory suitemate, which was found to be a household member in another matter relied upon by the Court in its decision. Rather than focusing on the duration of time the parties spent together, which the Court found sufficient nevertheless, the Court more notably focused on the “qualities and characteristics” of the parties’ relationship, and how such qualities and characteristics made plaintiff susceptible to defendant’s abuse.
The Appellate Court’s decision suggests that other individuals one would previously not consider to be “household members” would now fall under the Act, such as nannies, au pairs, housekeepers, and in-home care providers. Thus, the Act’s broad protections for the benefit of victims have appeared to expand even further than before.