Domestic Violence: What is a Dating Relationship?

The California Penal Code has a variety of sections that lay out various domestic violence charges. These domestic violence penal code sections have one thing in common: the defendant and the victim have a past or present dating relationship. So, what does that mean? A recent court of appeal decision says that “friends with benefits” relationships with sporadic “hook ups” may not count.

"Friends with benefits" relationships with sporadic "hook ups" may not count as a "dating relationship" for domestic violence law purposes.

How the Law Defines “Dating Relationship”

The two most common penal code sections that apply to domestic violence situations are Penal Code sections 273.5 and 243(e)(1). Section 273.5 is a wobbler, which means that it can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Section 243(e)(1) is a misdemeanor. There may also be civil remedies for domestic violence, and it is in this context that an appeals court recently held that “friends with benefits” relationships do not meet the threshold.

Penal Code section 273.5 refers to section 243(f)(10) for a definition. Section 243(f)(10) says, ““Dating relationship” means frequent, intimate associations primarily characterized by the expectation of affectional or sexual involvement independent of financial considerations.” This definition nearly mirrors Family Code section 6210, which the court was interpreting in M.A. v. B.F.

Appeals Court Interprets “Dating Relationship” to Not Include “Friends with Benefits” or “Hook Ups”

M.A. and B.F. met at their university gym and hooked up a few times over the course of two years. They never went on any dates nor attended social events together. On the day in question, B.F. was driving M.A. to her mother’s apartment complex to have sex. B.F. asked M.A. if she liked it when he pulled her hair. He then grabbed her hair and forcefully moved her head around. M.A. heard cracking, was upset, and sought medical treatment the next day. She sued him for her injuries.

The trial court found that they were not legally in a dating relationship. The court of appeals agreed that there was substantial evidence to support the trial court’s finding. However, the appeals court likely would have supported the trial court either way. Whether the parties were in a dating relationship was a factual inquiry, and trial courts are allowed to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence.

So, in each domestic violence case, the trial court must make a factual finding as to whether the parties are in a “dating relationship.” This determination is critical to whether or not you can be convicted of domestic violence. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help sway the judge’s decision or even convince the prosecutor that their case is too weak to prosecute. Don Hammond at Criminal Defense Heroes, P.C. has successfully defended domestic violence cases for over a decade. If you are facing a domestic violence charge, call us today at 323-529-3660 for a free consultation!