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What is a Harassment Prevention Order? M.G.L. 258E

Understanding Harassment Prevention Orders under MGL 258E

In the realm of family law, particularly in cases involving divorce or domestic disputes, harassment prevention orders play a crucial role in protecting individuals from unwanted and harmful behaviors. Governed by Massachusetts General Law (MGL) Chapter 258E, these orders are legal mechanisms designed to safeguard individuals from harassment, abuse, and intimidation. As a divorce attorney, it's imperative to comprehend the nuances of MGL 258E and how it can impact your clients. Let's delve deeper into what constitutes a harassment prevention order, its legal implications, and an example illustrating such behaviors.

What is a Harassment Prevention Order?

A harassment prevention order, commonly referred to as an HPO, is a civil court order issued to prohibit someone from engaging in specific behaviors that constitute harassment towards another individual. Under MGL 258E, harassment is broadly defined as three or more acts of willful and malicious conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms or annoys the individual and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress. It's essential to note that harassment can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to verbal, electronic, or physical actions.

Legal Implications of MGL 258E

When a person believes they are being harassed by another individual, they have the option to seek protection through MGL 258E. The process typically involves filing a complaint with the appropriate court, where a judge will review the evidence presented and determine whether to issue a harassment prevention order. Once granted, the order prohibits the harasser from contacting or coming near the victim, among other restrictions, for a specified duration.

Violation of a harassment prevention order is a serious offense and can result in legal consequences, including fines, imprisonment, or both. As a divorce attorney, it's essential to advise your clients on the importance of adhering to court orders and the potential ramifications of violating them.

Example of Behavior Constituting Harassment

To provide clarity on what constitutes harassment under MGL 258E, let's consider an example:


Sarah and John are in the process of divorcing, and tensions between them are high. Despite the pending divorce proceedings, John continues to send Sarah incessant text messages and emails, berating her character and making derogatory remarks about her parenting abilities. Additionally, John frequently drives past Sarah's residence, honking his horn and shouting obscenities from his car. These actions cause Sarah significant emotional distress, affecting her well-being and daily life.


In this scenario, John's behaviors meet the criteria for harassment under MGL 258E. His repeated and malicious conduct, including verbal abuse and unwanted contact, serves no legitimate purpose other than to alarm and distress Sarah. Sarah has grounds to seek a harassment prevention order to protect herself from John's harassing behaviors.


Harassment prevention orders under MGL 258E serve as vital safeguards for individuals facing harassment and abuse. As a divorce attorney, understanding the intricacies of these orders is essential for providing effective legal representation to your clients. By familiarizing yourself with MGL 258E and its implications, you can better advocate for your clients' rights and well-being in cases involving harassment and domestic disputes.