New MGL c. 258E: Harassment Prevention Orders offers protection to victims of abuse, stalking, and harassment

A new law was passed by the Massachusetts Legislature on February 9, 2010, providing more options for persons that are being harassed to obtain a restraining order.  The new law, Chapter 258E of the General Laws, provides the ability for the Superior Courts, Boston Municipal Court, District Courts, and Juvenile Court to issue Harassment Prevention Orders.

Prior to the enactment of this new law, one would need to seek a restraining order from the Superior Court, under its general equity jurisdiction, unless the parties qualified as family or household members under Chapter 209A of the General Laws.  Family or household members is defined as person who: “ (a) are or were married to one another; (b) are or were residing together in the same household; (c) are or were related by blood or marriage; (d) having a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or (e) are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship, which shall be adjudged by district, probate or Boston municipal courts consideration of the following factors: (1) the length of time of the relationship; (2) the type of relationship; (3) the frequency of interaction between the parties; and (4) if the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.”  See MGL c. 209A, § 1.

While an application for a restraining order under Chapter 209A did not have any filing or service fees, an action in the Superior Court does unless the party is indigent.  The Superior Court filing fee is a total $275.00, plus $90.00 for the restraining order, as well as fees for service upon the defendant.  The new Chapter 258E, like Chapter 209A, does not have a filing fee.

If one is being harassed, which is defined as “(i) 3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property; or (ii) an act that: (A) by force, threat or duress causes another to involuntarily engage in sexual relations; or (B) constitutes a violation of section 13B, 13F, 13H, 22, 22A, 23, 24, 24B, 26C, 43 or 43A of chapter 265 or section 3 of chapter 272″, one can now apply to the court for a harassment prevention, regardless of the presence of any family relationship.

A defendant in an action under Chapter 258E can be ordered to: “(i)  refrain from abusing or harassing the plaintiff, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (ii)  refrain from contacting the plaintiff, unless authorized by the court, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; (iii)  remain away from the plaintiff’s household or workplace, whether the defendant is an adult or minor; and (iv)  pay the plaintiff monetary compensation for the losses suffered as a direct result of the harassment; provided, however, that compensatory damages shall include, but shall not be limited to, loss of earnings, out-of-pocket losses for injuries sustained or property damaged, cost of replacement of locks, medical expenses, cost for obtaining an unlisted phone number and reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The definition of abuse under Chapter 209A and harassment under Chapter 258E is different, therefore a party that may not meet the standard to have an order enter under Chapter 209A, may now able to get an order under Chapter 258E.  Although the proceedings under Chapter 258E are civil in nature, a violation of the order is criminal, the same as under Chapter 209A.  A violation of an order under Chapter 258E can result in a fine of not more than $5,000.00, imprisonment in a House of Correction for up to 2 1/2 years, or both.

If you need to apply for a Harassment Prevention Order go to your local court during normal business hours, or your local police department at anytime.

Update (February 19, 2010):  The bill was not enacted as an emergency law, therefore it will not be effective until ninety (90) days after signing, on May 10, 2010.  Do not take chances with your safety.  If you believe you are being harassed, threatened, stalked, etc. contact your local police department.