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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of December 14, 2023

What is the legal definition of harassment?

For the purpose of getting a harassment prevention order, the law defines harassment as any of the following:

  1. three or more acts of cruel behavior when the harasser has the intent to cause, and actually causes, any of the following:
    • fear;
    • intimidation;
    • abuse; or
    • damage to property;
  2. causing another person to have sexual relations against his/her will by force, threat, or coercion; or
  3. committing one of the following crimes against another person, even if the crime is never reported to the police or the harasser is never arrested for it:

Note: Filing a civil harassment prevention order does not affect your right to also report the harasser to the police for harassing you, stalking you, or committing any of the above crimes against you if you choose to.2

1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 1
2 M.G.L.A. 258E §§ 3(g); 4

Who is eligible for a harassment prevention order?

Any person who is being harassed can file for a harassment prevention order. It does not matter who the person harassing you is. It can be a stranger, someone you know, an intimate partner, a friend, or family member.1

However, if the person harassing you is a spouse, intimate partner, or a family or household member, you may want to consider getting an abuse prevention order instead. With an abuse prevention order, the judge can include a lot more types of protections than in a harassment prevention order.

1 See M.G.L.A. 258E § 1

What type of harassment prevention orders are there? How long do they last?

There are two types of orders: temporary ex parte orders and final orders.

If the judge believes that you are in immediate danger of harassment, the judge can grant you a temporary ex parte order. A temporary order will last until the final hearing, which usually takes place within ten business days.1

If the court is closed or you are unable to go to court because of your physical condition, the judge can issue a temporary ex parte order by phone. Once it’s issued, the order goes to a police officer who would then get it approved by the clerk. This temporary order would only last until the next business day. Then you or someone on your behalf (a “representative”) would have to file the petition and an affidavit explaining your physical condition.1

The court will immediately have to notify the abuser about the temporary harassment prevention order and about the upcoming hearing date.2

The final prevention order can be given at a hearing where both you and the harasser can be present, and it can last for up to one year.3

At the final hearing, you and the abuser will both have the opportunity to present your sides of the story through witnesses, testimony and other evidence. Then the judge will make a decision whether to give you a final harassment prevention order or not. You have the right to have a lawyer with you and it is generally best to have one, especially if you believe the harasser will have one. Go to our MA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.

If the abuser does not show up on the date of the final hearing, your temporary prevention order would continue to be valid.2

1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 6
2 M.G.L.A. 258E § 5
3 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(d)

What protections can I get in a harassment prevention order?

As part of a harassment prevention order, the judge can order that the harasser:

  1. stop abusing or harassing you;
  2. stop contacting you, unless contact is permitted by the court;
  3. stay away from your home or workplace; and
  4. pay you back for any money that you lost because of the harassment, such as:
  • loss of earnings from work;
  • medical expenses;
  • damage to property;
  • the cost of replacing your locks;
  • the cost of getting an unlisted phone number; and
  • your attorney’s fees.1

You can ask for numbers 1 through 3, above, whether the harasser (defendant) is an adult or a minor. You can only ask for number 4, above, if the harasser is an adult.1

When you file for the harassment prevention order, you can also file a separate petition relative to domesticated animals in which you can ask the judge to order that the harasser (defendant) not abuse, threaten, take, interfere with, harm, hide, give away, or otherwise dispose of your pets. You can also request possession, care, and control of your pets.2

Note: Even if the harassment prevention order does not specifically prohibit firearms, Massachusetts laws says that anyone with a temporary or final harassment prevention order against him/her is not eligible to get a firearm license, which is needed to have or buy a gun.3

1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(a)
2 See Petition relative to domesticated animals
Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)(vi)(C)