“Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem, your G-d.” Vayikra (Leviticus) 25:17.
A repetitive issue in matrimonial practice concerns whether the court should issue an order of protection, safeguarding one party from the offensive conduct of the other party. The initial question to be addressed is whether the party whose behavior is sought to be restrained is a person against whom such an order can be rendered.
The starting point for such inquiries is Section 812 of the New York Family Court Act. This statute itemizes the type of relationships which must exist before a protection order can be made. This includes relationships where: (a) the parties are related to one another; or (b) the parties are married; or (c) the parties were formerly related; or (d) the parties have a child together; or (e) the parties are, or have been, involved in an intimate relationship. It is the final category (“intimate relationship”) which has caused the most confusion and generated the most litigation over time.
In Rizzo v. Rizzo, a recent case from the Kings County Family Court, the petitioner (the person who applied for the protection order) was married to the brother of the respondent (the person against whom the petition was filed). In order to issue an order of protection, the court had to be convinced that the parties had been involved in an intimate relationship. The Family Court was not satisfied that an intimate relationship existed and the petition was dismissed. The petitioner appealed.
The appellate court in Rizzo found the Family Court’s dismissal to be premature. Instead, the court should have conducted a hearing to determine whether an intimate relationship existed. In deciding the appeal, the court noted that these matters must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Factors to be focused on include the nature of the relationship (regardless of whether or not it was romantic in nature); the frequency of interaction between the parties; and the duration of the relationship.
In a Queens proceeding entitled Seye v. Lamar, the court had to determine whether an intimate relationship existed between the parties. Here the parties had no direct relationship. The only connection was that the petitioner and the respondent’s brother had a child together. The relationship between the petitioner and the respondent’s brother had ended. This resulted in the parties having infrequent contact with one another. No intimate relationship was found and the petition for an order of protection was dismissed.
In Christina R. v. James Q., the parties were not related. The petitioner was the mother of the subject child and the respondent was the child’s uncle. The court noted that the parties’ interaction was limited to family events during a short marriage. Under such circumstances an intimate relationship was not established.
Veronica C. v. Ariann D. was another case where an intimate relationship was not established. The petitioner was the foster mother of the respondent’s children. The only significant contact between the parties resulted from the need to schedule visitation sessions for the petitioner at an agency. In fact, the foster parent testified that she did not even know the petitioner’s first name. These facts satisfied the court that there was no intimate relationship between the parties.
To find a case where the court found an intimate relationship, one need look no further than the Queens based case of Winston v. Edwards-Clarke. Here the petitioner was the fiancée of the respondent’s ex-husband. The petitioner was living with the respondent’s children, and their father, and she was acting as a stepmother to the children. There was frequent contact between the parties, and the respondent would arrange visitation sessions for the petitioner. These facts were enough to satisfy the required intimacy to the parties’ relationship.
An interesting twist on the makeup of participants can be found in the matter of Jose M. v. Angel V. Here the petition for an order of protection was brought on behalf of a 9-year-old child against her mother’s live in boyfriend. The court found the parties’ relationship to be akin to that of stepparent and stepchild. The boyfriend had dated the child’s mother for more than three years. The boyfriend and mother lived together and the child spent a substantial amount of time in their home. The child and boyfriend had regular contact and the boyfriend exercised parental control over the child. Under these facts, the court was convinced that a required showing of an intimate relationship had been made.
These cases appear on a regular basis and require close scrutiny. Whether or not the court finds an intimate relationship is often a close call. It is imperative that each case be presented properly so that the court can make an accurate ruling of the issue at hand.