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New Jersey Court Examines “Household Member” Definition in Blended Family Domestic Violence Case

Child Support

New Jersey domestic violence restraining orders can secure numerous protections if you have been threatened, abused, harassed or stalked. As our Monmouth County domestic violence attorneys can explain, if you’re seeking a domestic violence restraining order in New Jersey, your relationship to the defendant is a key consideration.

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) of 1991, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, protects individuals from a person with whom they have a specific relationship, either in the present or past. Gender isn’t a factor, but the victim must be at least 18 and the relationship must be one of:

  • Marriage
  • Separation
  • Divorce
  • Residing together currently or previously
  • A person whom plaintiff has dated
  • A person with whom plaintiff shares child anticipates sharing a child

Courts in New Jersey have continued to expand on the circumstances under which one can seek PDVA protections. Recently, the family court division of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Monmouth County analyzed the meaning of “household member” in the context of a blended family.

The case is relevant to an increasing number of families who don’t fit the “traditional” mold. The Pew Research Center estimates the share of children living in a two-parent household – 69 percent – is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Only 62 percent live with two married parents, and even many of those are likely to be experiencing a varied family arrangement due to increases in divorce, remarriage and cohabitation. Courts have been increasingly flexible with the definition of “household member” to accommodate these changes in modern family structures.

According to court records in S.C. v. J.D., plaintiff and defendants were half-siblings with the same father. They didn’t live together, but when they were younger had spent a significant amount of time together as part of a blended family. Plaintiff lived with her dad and mom in the family home, while defendant lived with his mother and attended different schools but spent substantial time in plaintiff’s home before going off to college. These included visits overnight and every other weekend, per the child custody agreement between his parents. After defendant went to college, the half-siblings had less contact, but they still saw each other regularly during summers, holidays, vacations and family milestones. The question was whether this connection qualified the defendant as having been a “household member” – even if he and the plaintiff never actually lived in the same home. The law doesn’t offer a definition of “household.”

The 32-year-old plaintiff had obtained a temporary restraining order against her 35-year-old half-brother that she sought to make permanent. She alleged assault and threats. Defendant sought to dismiss the request on jurisdictional grounds, arguing he wasn’t a household member.

The court heard testimony from other half-siblings, their father and plaintiff’s mother. In looking at the totality of the evidence, the court concluded defendant “was family – not a sporadic visitor,” despite defendant describing plaintiff as a “friend” rather than sister. To find otherwise, the court ruled, would discriminate against members of blended families and unduly restrict the protections under the PDVA, which were broadly designed to protect victims of domestic violence.

If you are a victim of domestic violence in New Jersey, our Monmouth County family law attorneys can help you file for a temporary restraining order, final restraining order and other protections.

Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.