In New York, Family Court can only adjudicate matters that involve people in “familial” relationships. Generally, familial relationships are blood relationships, marriage relationships, and intimate relationships. Note that an intimate relationship does not have to be a sexual relationship. However, it does need to be more than a casual friendship. The purpose of a family court proceeding, pursuant to Article 8 of the Family Court Act, is to allow a petitioner the opportunity to seek help for the offending family member instead of subjecting the family member to the potential punishment that would be imposed by a criminal court. In Coleman v. McKenzie, the court was asked to decide if a relationship amounts to a “familial” relationship as contemplated by Article 8 of the Family Court Act.
On December 30, 2021, the petitioner filed a petition in Family Court requesting a final Order of Protection against respondent. In response, the respondent argued that the court should dismiss the petition because the Family Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this matter because a familial connection did not exist between the petitioner and the respondent. CPLR § 3211 (a)(2). The petitioner responded that that the petitioner and the respondent are “like family,” and therefore have a relationship that satisfies the requirements of Article 8 of the Family Court Act.
The court noted that at first glance, it appears as if the petitioners did not have a familiar relationship. The petitioners were not legally married, did not have children together, were not related by marriage, and where not in a sexual relationship. However, in 2008 when the Legislature expanded the definition of “members of the same family or household” to include people who are or have been in an intimate relationship time, it’s definition of intimate relationship was vague.
Because the court determined that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter due to lack of a familial relationship between the parties, does not mean that respondent did not commit the acts the petitioner alleged. It simply means that that the Family Court could not adjudicate the matter. The petitioner can choose to contact the police about the matter so that the matter would be handled as a criminal matter. However, that in order for people to be in an intimate relationship, they had to more than casual acquaintances and it had to be more than more than “ordinary fraternization between two individuals in business or social contexts.” Family Ct. Act § 812 (1)(e).
In this case, it appears as if the parties did not have an intimate relationship, but were casual acquaintances. They first came to know each other because their families lived in the same general area. However, they did not interact with each other much. The respondent ended up renting a room from the petitioner’s boyfriend. When petitioner’s boyfriend died, then the petitioner assumed the role of the respondent’s landlord. Thus, the respondent viewed the relationship as being a landlord-tenant relationship which would be a business relationship.
The petitioner argued that their relationship was more than casual and more than a business relationship. However, as evidence, the petitioner could only point to the fact that they lived in a very small apartment together. The court took particular note that a reason that the petitioner initiated the Family Court case was because the respondent purportedly stopped paying rent. This tended to point to a business or transactional relationship as opposed to an intimate relationship. In fact, the petitioner said that she would probably withdraw her family offense petition if the respondent would move out.
The court concluded that the interactions between the petitioner and the respondent over the years was not intimate. First they knew each other casual acquaintances that saw each other infrequently. Then, when they lived together, their relationship became a functional business relationship. Accordingly, the Family Court dismissed as petitioner and respondent do not have a qualifying relationship within the meaning of Family Court Act § 812(1).