Abuse Prevention Orders & Harassment Prevention Orders– What You Need To Know

Whether you are seeking an order of protection or have had one issued against you, you’ll need to know what they are and how they differ from each other. Read on to find out more about what each of these orders mean and what you should do.


There may come a time when you need to have someone excluded from your life for your own personal safety and wellbeing, or you may find yourself accused of threatening or harassing someone and have received an order stating as such.

An Abuse Prevention Order in Massachusetts is also called a “209A Order” and is an order from a judge that may be granted if the following criteria are met:

1. You and your abuser are or were:

  • married,
  • or residing together in the same household,
  • or in a substantive dating or engagement relationship,
  • or related by blood or marriage,
  • or you have a child in common;

2. and you are suffering from abuse because your abuser has:

  • harmed or attempted to harm you physically,
  • or put you in fear of imminent serious physical harm,
  • or caused you to engage in sexual relations involuntarily by using force, threat or duress;

3. and you:

  • currently live within the geographical area of the court issuing the order.
  • or used to live within the geographical area of this court but you left to avoid abuse.


A judge may issue an Abuse Prevention Order without prior notice to your abuser if there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.

A Harassment Prevention Order (a “258E Order”) is an order from a judge that is similar to an abuse prevention order, but it also has some very notable differences. You may have a harassment prevention order granted if the following are met:

1. You are suffering from harassment because:

  • someone has committed 3 or more acts: that were willful and malicious,

“Malicious” means characterized by cruelty, hostility or revenge.

  •  and were aimed at you,
  •  and were intended to cause you fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property, “Abuse” means causing or attempting to cause physical harm, or causing fear of imminent serious physical harm.
  • and did in fact cause you fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property;
  • or someone has caused you at least once to engage in sexual relations involuntarily by using force, threat or duress;
  • or someone has committed against you at least once an act that violates any of the following statutes: General Laws chapter 265, §§ 13B, 13F or 13H (indecent assault and battery), 22 or 22A (rape), 23 (statutory rape), 24 or 24B (assault with intent to rape), 26C (enticing a child), 43 (criminal stalking), 43A (criminal harassment), or chapter 272, § 3 (drugging for sexual intercourse);

2. and you currently live within the geographical area of the court.

A judge may issue a Harassment Prevention Order without prior notice to your harasser if there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of harassment.

While they are similar, their are some notable differences between the two orders. For example, the Probate and Family Court can issue 209A orders but not Harassment Prevention Orders.

Regardless of what you need, or what you are defending against, guidance with these matters is important for helping you navigate these complex situations. An order of protection of any kind indicates a high level of conflict in your domestic relations matter and you will need expert support to resolve the conflict for the safety and well-being of everyone involved. Whether this is an isolated matter or part of a larger case, I would be happy to guide you through what can be a confusing and isolating process.


To speak further with Attorney Mark Cotton on this issue or another that you are facing, click here for more information.

Social Media Smarts

Social media can be a great way to stay connected with people, but when you’re in a court battle, things you’ve posted can be used against you. Here are some strategies to stay on top of your social media usage so you don’t end up in a bind.

Often, our participation in social media can be positive, but when involved in a family law case– or any legal proceeding, for that matter– it can be detrimental. When speaking with my clients, I have a number of recommendations that I make about their social media usage and how they should screen the types of things they share.

Be careful who you allow to tag you at various locations or activities— especially with photographs. Being tagged at a wedding  could be fine, depending upon the photo. Being tagged at a bachelor party carries a higher risk.

When you’re in a legal dispute, especially involving children, you have to do better than most people. Some things everyone is allowed to do without being considered a “bad parent” or “irresponsible adult” are not things you can do when you’re under a microscope. It’s not “fair”, sure, but you aren’t operating under a typical parenting situation.

Here are some examples of how innocent social media posts can be used against you:

  • You’re seeking a reduction in the child support payments you make, yet there are photos of you out at concerts or bars, on vacation, or doing other things that cost money and are not necessities of daily living.
  • There are photos of you having a drink, even just one, even if you are 21 or over.  Those photos could be shown as evidence of excessive alcohol use, even if you didn’t drink to excess. It may surprise you, but in contentious matters photos like these could be taken out of context and used as evidence against you, even though you may be well within your legal rights to drink responsibly.
  • There is content in your social media profile that is clearly meant as a joke or with sarcasm, but could be misinterpreted to appear as if you are endorsing or participating in illicit or illegal activity.
  • The timing of posts can tie you to locations at specific times, as can backdrops of photos. Imagine you are in a dispute with an ex over the amount of visitation they have with your children. Right now it’s your weekend to have the kids and you have a date, so you ask your mom to babysit and then check in on a social media platform that you’re out somewhere (or you are tagged in a photo that shows you with a restaurant in the background). If you’re embroiled in a custody or visitation battle with an ex, that could be used as evidence to show that you are not maximizing your time with the children– even if they children were already in bed by the time you left. Again, custody disputes can be volatile, and people may knowingly misrepresent your behavior, even if there’s nothing wrong with going out on an occasional date.
  • You post anything at all, even if it’s legal, that could display poor judgment or immaturity. This includes driving and videotaping something (which is not legal in all jurisdictions), acting rowdy at a party,  or any other behavior that may be fun and legal but reflects poorly on your presentation of yourself as a reliable, capable, and responsible adult in court. You’ll want the judge to see you as being the person you are in court all of the time.

Remember that once you share something through an online medium, it’s not just “your” content anymore. When you share content on social media, the social media platform often gives itself access to the use or license of your content (see the Terms of Service for that social media platform for more information on what that might mean, as they all vary). Sometimes the other users of the platform are given use of your content as well. This doesn’t mean everything you post might go viral or end up in a commercial, but it’s worth noting that there can be a gray area surrounding your content when you’re using a service to share it with others, and you should think carefully before sharing.

So, what can you do?

Really think before you post. Don’t be impulsive, and don’t share things if you think there’s a chance they could be misrepresented in court, even if you aren’t doing or saying anything wrong.

Make sure your privacy settings are in place. Posts and photos that aren’t public are more protected, but also be aware of who can see them. Don’t assume that posting privately or friends-only is safe enough– it’s not. If you’re like most people, you probably share a number of mutual friends with the opposing party, and you may want to consider that some of the things you share may find their way into other hands.

It can be difficult to know how individual judges will respond to evidence gleaned from social media, so it’s really important to have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the judge involved in your case. (You can follow this link to contact me for more information on the services I provide in Eastern Massachusetts.)

When in doubt, just don’t post it. If you don’t want it truly “out there,” don’t put it out there– let every photo, text, Facebook post, SnapChat, or other form of social media sharing be something you’d be comfortable making its way to the judge’s hands. Remember that when you are fighting your case, ordinary things that you do will be weighted differently. It may not feel fair to be held to such close scrutiny, but the short-term task of being careful can pay off with the long-term benefit of helping your case.


To speak further with Attorney Mark Cotton on this issue or another that you are facing, click here for more information.

Advocating for your rights in divorce, custody, child support and beyond since 2012.

Conveniently located in Cambridge, MA, the Law Offices of Mark A Cotton serves Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk counties with high-quality and effective legal representation in a variety of family law and divorce matters. Family law is different from other branches of law– it is inherently sensitive and deeply personal work, intricately tied to your relationships with your family and loved ones. Family and divorce legal support needs often arise in the midst of profoundly difficult and challenging times in a person’s life. Effective legal representation in this delicate arena requires combining a thoughtful, personalized approach to client needs with the passion and drive to get you a fair and favorable result.

In short: there is a lot at stake in family law, and your expectations for legal representation should be high.

I am Attorney Mark Cotton, and I approach the practice of law with a thoughtful and focused look at your needs. I am committed to righting wrongs and preserving your rights as a parent, spouse, partner, or guardian. I work with families and partnerships of all constellations, including the LGBTQ+ community and non-traditional unions. I am conscientious of your financial considerations and am diligent in working efficiently.

Reach out now to set up a free consultation and let me be the advocate you need in your divorce, family law, or other legal matter.

Minimizing Conflict in Divorce and Custody Cases

How to back off– for the good of your case– after years of heated emails, phone calls, and in-person interactions.

It can be very difficult to keep your cool when you feel you’ve been wronged, but staying calm and focusing on productive solution-building is critical in divorce and custody cases. Here are a few tips to help keep you on track.

Don’t send angry late-night emails or text messages. You have a lot you want say, but what feels like a cathartic email one night may reflect poorly on you in court a week later. In some instances, what you send may even undermine your entire case.  It’s best to only put things in writing when you’ve had time to think about them a bit first and ensure that they won’t cause additional conflict and complicate the proceedings.

As a general rule, I always advise my clients to write anything they are going to send in a word processing program first. This allows you to save your thoughts for the next day so you can edit and send something that is productive and thoughtful instead of impulsive and angry. (This is especially helpful if you regularly communicate via text, where it’s easy to quickly send brief thoughts and replies without much consideration).

Figure out which method of communication seems to work best. Some people do best when they talk in person; others need to type it out in emails to have some distance and perspective. If you need to hash things out a bit, think about which method of communication is the least likely to result in unproductive bickering.

Stay focused on productivity. No one says you have to like each other, but you will have to work together, whether to finalize a divorce in the short-term, or maybe navigate an ongoing custody arrangement for years. You’ll need to compartmentalize your feelings about how your relationship ended and focus on having productive conversations to accomplish the tasks in front of you. You may spend a lot of time biting your tongue, but it will be worth it. Remember that divorces and post-divorce disputes can drag on for years costing tens of thousands of dollars when the parties involved would rather fight than work together. This doesn’t have to happen– if you can work together, you can save yourselves a lot of money and aggravation (and less unnecessary litigation is always better for any involved children).

Don’t post about conflicts on social media. No, not even with vague references. It’s in poor taste and often easy to see through in court, and it can make you look petty and childish in front of a judge. As with emails, a cathartic post saying the wrong thing can undermine your entire case. It doesn’t matter how secure you feel your contacts or your friends list is: if it’s out on social media, it will be found.

Your best bet? When in doubt, press pause and talk to your attorney for guidance. Once you’ve said or done something, you can’t easily take it back.


To speak further with Attorney Mark Cotton on this issue or another that you are facing, click here for more information.