209a In the Digital Age

Massachusetts General Law chapter 209a governs abuse prevention orders for those with a “familial relationship.” In practice this means people who are married, are related, and other close relationships. A sumbsection of the law, section (e), allows for 209a protections for those who “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.”

What wasn’t clear until a recent case that came down from the SJC was whether electronic relationship, such as ones over the internet, could be construed as a such a substantive dating or engagment relationship. However, in the recent decision of E.C.O. vs. Gregory James COMPTON the SJC decided that non-traditional relationship such as those found in internet relationship could be found to meet the 209a section (e) standards. Thus, assuming all other burdens for the 209a are met, a person in imminent fear of harm from an internet relation could now seek a 209a for protection. In this digital age where dating relationships over the internet are common, it is good to know that protections from abuse can be extended to those non-traditional relationships.