Hot off the press! A published (precedent setting) trial court decision, E.S. v. C.D. confirms that live-in childcare providers qualify as household members under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (“PDVA”). What does this mean? A restraining order can be entered against an employee who has lived with their employer even though the parties do not have a familial relationship, the economic relationship has ended, and the employee may not have an expectation of continuing contact or relationship with the employer once the financial relationship ends. To put it simply:
“That a person receives a monetary benefit from engaging in a relationship does not automatically disqualify that person from seeking relief under the PDVA… Analogously, that a victim had provided an economic benefit to a defendant should not automatically disqualify the victim from seeking relief under the PDVA.”
In E.S. v. C.D., the trial court held that the plaintiff/mother was entitled to a restraining order against the defendant/nanny who she previously employed. The parties had a financial relationship for approximately seven months during which the defendant resided in the plaintiff’s home. During that period, the defendant assaulted the plaintiff’s child. It also turned out that the defendant applied for the nanny position under an alias. Needless to say, the defendant was fired. For two months after being fired, the defendant repeatedly called and texted the plaintiff. The defendant also threatened to lie to the child’s father in order to cause the plaintiff to lose custody. Thus, the defendant allegedly committed the predicate acts of harassment, cyberharassment and terroristic threats. Importantly, nothing happened between the firing and the timing of the restraining order that would have caused this heightened contact on part of defendant.
Even though the above actions sound egregious on their face, the plaintiff may not have automatically been entitled to a restraining order. The court first had to determine whether the defendant qualified as a household member under the PDVA. In doing so, the court reviewed the household member factors listed in a prior Appellate Division decision of Coleman v. Romano, which are:
- The nature and duration of the prior relationship;
- whether the past domestic violence relationship provided a special opportunity for abuse and controlling behavior;
- the passage of time since the end of the relationship;
- the extent and nature of any intervening contacts;
- the nature of the precipitating incident; and
- the likelihood of ongoing contact or relationship
The court found that the defendant resided with plaintiff for seven months and had insight into the child and plaintiff’s nature, making them vulnerable to attacks by the nanny. The court also noted that “the likelihood of contact has been heightened over the twelve years since the Coleman decision, in light of the use and popularity of cell phones, texting and social media.” In addition to Coleman, the court turned to S.Z. v. M.C., which we have blogged about, noting that a plaintiff was entitled to a restraining order against a bookkeeper who resided in the home.
Ultimately, the court found:
“Victims of domestic violence come from all social and economic backgrounds. It was the intent of the legislature that victims of domestic violence are afforded the maximum protection from abuse the law can provide. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18. Notwithstanding the economic relationship of the parties, plaintiff and defendant are former household members. As such, plaintiff is a protected party under the PDVA.”
While this analysis may seem simple, especially in light of the defendant’s actions, the decision leaves us with food for thought. The court specifically stated that the defendant may not have had an expectation of “ongoing contact or relationship” following her termination by the plaintiff, but noted that the defendant (nanny) was not the victim. This begs the question of whether the defendant would have been entitled to a restraining order against plaintiff if it was the plaintiff who allegedly committed predicate acts after they stopped residing together (in the plaintiff’s home) and the financial relationship ended.
That question is for another day. For now, the takeaway is the expansion of the “household member” definition that was previously expanded in Coleman, and which provides victims of abuse with broad protections.
Lindsay A. Heller is an associate in the firm’s Family Law practice, based in its Morristown, NJ office. You can reach Lindsay at 973.548.3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.