With increasing frequency, our divorce and child custody clients have been seeking advice on unpleasant situations that have arisen through modern methods of communication. Too often, they have been the subject of disparaging Facebook posts, threatening text messages, or incessant phone calls. Fortunately, there are several legal options clients can pursue to put an end to, and hold the offending party accountable for, unwelcome and inappropriate use of social media, electronic communication, and telephone calls.
To put an end to harassment without subjecting the offending party to criminal charges, clients may seek civil restraining orders. There are two kinds of civil restraining orders in North Carolina. They are commonly referred to as "50B" restraining orders and "50C" restraining orders as a result of the North Carolina Statute number which enables them.
50B restraining orders, also known as domestic violence restraining orders, require the existence of a "personal relationship" between the parties. A personal relationship exists where the parties are current or former spouses, are persons of opposite sex who live together or have lived together, are related as parents and children, have a child in common, are current or former household members, or are persons of the opposite sex who are in a dating relationship or have been in a dating relationship.
50Bs also requires that an act of domestic violence has been committed by the offending party against the aggrieved party. Domestic violence means attempting to cause bodily injury or intentionally causing bodily injury of the aggrieved party, placing the aggrieved party or a member of the aggrieved party's family or household in fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment that rises to such a level as to inflict substantial emotional distress, or committing rape or another sexual offense against the aggrieved party. Our legislature has defined harassment as knowing conduct, including written or printed communication or transmission, telephone, cellular, or other wireless telephonic communication, facsimile transmission, pager messages or transmissions, answering machine or voice mail messages or transmissions, and electronic mail messages or other computerized or electronic transmissions directed at a specific person that torments, terrorizes, or terrifies that person and that serves no legitimate purpose. If your ex has caused you distress as a result of continued Facebook posts, emails, text messages, or phone calls you may be eligible for relief under Chapter 50B.
If a judge grants a party relief under 50B, he or she may provide the party with a wide variety of remedies including ordering the offender to refrain from (1) threatening, abusing, or following the other party, (2) harassing the other party, including by telephone, visiting the home or workplace, or other means, or (3) otherwise interfering with the other party. A judge may also order the offending party to reimburse the victim for his or her attorney's fees. Violation of a valid 50B is punishable as a Class A1 misdemeanor.
Chapter 50C authorizes the entry of civil no-contact orders between parties who don't have a "personal relationship" as defined above. To enter a 50C order, a judge must find that the victim has suffered "unlawful conduct." Unlawful conduct can be either nonconsensual sexual conduct or stalking. Stalking is defined as following or otherwise harassing, on more than one occasion, another person, without legal purpose with the intent, to either (1) place the person in reasonable fear either for the person's safety or the safety of the person's immediate family or close personal associates; or (2) cause that person to suffer substantial emotional distress by placing that person in fear of death, bodily injury, or continued harassment. As noted above, harassment includes contact that occurs via social media, telephone, or other electronic means. Moreover, stalking includes acts committed by stalker directly, indirectly, and through third parties. Stalking can be committed by any action, method, device, or means and includes monitoring, surveilling, and communicating by electronic means.
In granting a 50C no-contact order, a judge may order the offender not to visit, assault, molest, or otherwise interfere with the victim; order the offender to cease stalking the victim, including at the victim's workplace; order the offender to cease harassment of the victim; order the offender not to abuse or injure the victim; order the offender not to contact the victim by telephone, written communication, or electronic means; order the respondent to refrain from entering or remaining present at the victim's residence, school, place of employment, or other specified places at times when the victim is present; or order other relief deemed necessary and appropriate by the court, including assessing attorneys' fees. Once a 50C has been entered, a knowing violation is punishable as contempt of court which may result in a fine or imprisonment.
We recommend contacting an attorney to discuss the specific details of your situation and to determine the best course of action for you. Scott Law Group has the experience and resources to assist and advise you.