The following is a test. It’s of particular interest if you are a divorce lawyer, family law attorney, party seeking a protection order, or party against whom one is sought. Which of these scenarios might be appropriate for an order of protection from harassment, also known as a 258E or harassment orders?

  1. Last night, Alma’s estranged husband broke into her home and forced her to have sex with him.
  2. Bob and his girlfriend (and the mother of his two children) have just gone through an ugly break-up. Bob’s girlfriend has, on three occasions, left threatening notes on Bob’s windshield, slashed his tires, and scratched his car.
  3. Cal has had two dates with Dave. After Cal turned Dave down for a third date, Dave texted him three times today, threatening to kill him.
  4. All of the above.

The answer, of course, is D. Whether you’re a lawyer or party, understanding this law could mean the difference between an order issuing. Massachusetts defines harassment as “(i) three 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.” [1]

Under Chapter 258E of the Massachusetts General Laws, any party may seek a harassment order against another party; unlike a temporary order of protection from abuse, it is not necessary that domestic violence or abuse be in the picture. The plaintiff may file a Complaint to begin the procedure for obtaining a harassment order. There is no filing fee associated with this Complaint. Complaints seeking harassment orders might ask the Court to order the Defendant to do the following:

  • (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 plaintiffs 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.[2]

In deciding whether to grant the order, the Court considers whether there is a substantial likelihood of harm posed to the plaintiff. The order may be granted temporarily; it may then be extended for a period of time deemed necessary to protect the plaintiff from harassment. In addition to the foregoing, the law also provides some guidelines for police officers, requiring them to use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse and harassment.

It is important to note that Chapter 258E orders are civil in nature. The criminal harassment statute of Massachusetts provides: “Whoever (1) willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and (2) makes a threat with the intent to place the person in imminent fear of death or bodily injury, shall be guilty of the crime of stalking and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years or by both such fine and imprisonment.” [3]

[1] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258E, s. 1.

[2] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258E, s. 3

[3] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, s. 43