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Restraining Orders in Massachusetts

muccilegal April 5, 2024

If you have been physically abused or threatened by someone you know well, you should be able to get a restraining order to protect you from further abuse. Restraining orders, also called abuse protection orders, protective orders or 209A orders, are court orders which instruct the person who you are afraid of to stop abusing you and keep away from you.

Once a restraining order has been issued by a court in Massachusetts and the abusive person has been served with the order, in most cases the abuse and negative attention should cease. If the abuser continues abusing you or ignores the restraining order, then a warrant for that person’s arrest may be issued. Intentionally ignoring a restraining order is a criminal offense and if convicted the person could be jailed and fined.

Who are the people who a restraining order may be aimed at?

abuse from a spouse, partner, ex, or family member

A 209A restraining order is called that because it refers to the relevant law created by the state, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A. You may ask the court to issue a restraining order if you have been physically abused, have been threatened with physical abuse, feel afraid of violence or have been coerced against your will to have sexual intercourse by:

  • your spouse;
  • an ex spouse;
  • a partner or ex partner;
  • a relative related to you by blood or marriage;
  • someone who is or was living in the same home as you;
  • another person who you know.

Evidence you need when requesting a restraining order

The court won’t just issue a restraining order without assessing evidence that the alleged abuser is a real threat. You need to have supporting evidence that:

  • you have been the victim of physically violence;
  • you have been threatened with physical violence;
  • you are afraid that the person you are seeking the restraining order against could be violent towards you at any time in the future.

An attorney with experience in restraining orders and 209A legal implications is best placed to help you with a request for a restraining order. Unfortunately, the burden of proof to establish grounds for a restraining order rests with you, the plaintiff. Suitable evidence that could be used to support a request for a 209A order might include any combination of the following:

  • a police report which documents harm done to you by the abuser;
  • medical evidence that depicts the physical effects of the harm;
  • photos showing injuries or effects of violence on you;
  • testimony by you and / or witnesses that you were physically attacked;
  • testimony by you and / or witnesses that you have been threatened or are reasonably afraid of future violence or sexual coercion;
  • phone messages recorded, emails, social media messages or posts or any other communication that indicates a threat of violence;
  • video recordings or security camera footage of threatening behavior by the alleged abuser;
  • evidence that you have taken precautions to protect yourself against the abuser such as locks, security cameras, reports by the police after you have contacted them, etc.

The steps involved in obtaining a restraining order

court hearing for a restraining order request

There is a form available that you can fill in to request a 209A restraining order. You can download this online or go to the nearest district court to file the complaint by filling the form at the court office. If you need an emergency restraining order and the court is closed, you can usually do this by going to the nearest police department. An emergency order may be issued which will only last until the next day the court is open.

The details you need to fill in are your name (you will need to provide i.d.), the name of the person you are attempting to get a restraining order against, and the reasons you are requesting an order. You should provide any supporting evidence you have with the completed form.

An initial ex-parte hearing will be heard soon after you have filed your request. The judge may issue an immediate temporary restraining order to last until a more formal hearing is scheduled, which should be within 10 days of the filing of the request for a restraining order. In any case, as long as the judge thinks that the threat is real, a hearing date will be scheduled.

Once the ex-parte hearing has been completed, the defendant will be served with a copy of the complaint, plus information about the hearing date, a copy of the temporary order if the judge has issued one, an order which is for the surrender of any firearms and ammunition the defendant has and suspension of the defendant’s firearms license.

Police officers will be involved in serving these papers to the defendant, and it is not your responsibility to do this.

The hearing is attended by you and the defendant and any lawyers representing you and those of the defendant. If the defendant doesn’t show up, then the judge may issue a restraining order with details of what this means for a year. Otherwise, the judge will hear testimony from you and review the evidence you supply as well as hear what the defendant has to say in their defense.

Violation of a restraining order is a criminal offense

Once you have obtained a restraining order and the abuser has been ordered to obey the instructions to stop abusing you, threatening you, going anywhere near you or contacting you, then this becomes part of official record. It is not in itself a criminal act to be served with a restraining order, but it could still affect that person’s job if their employer finds out and regards this as a negative factor in employment. Also, if the abuser was on probation, or had a warrant out for their arrest for another alleged crime, then this could mean that they could have to return to jail or prison or be arrested for the other outstanding crime.

If you feel that the person who you obtained the restraining order has in any way violated the terms of the order, i.e. breached any of the constraints imposed on them with respect to your safety, then you must immediately report this to the police. The police have the powers to arrest the abuser for violating a restraining order. Of course, charging someone for such a potential offense does not mean that they will be convicted, as the police must have evidence that they have violated the restraining order to charge the person.

The potential downside of obtaining a restraining order

In most cases, obtaining a 209A restraining order is the best option if you have been facing violent behavior or the threat of it, but in some cases, it might not necessarily stop the abuse from happening again. The court order does not physically stop the person from abusing you and it is possible that requesting a restraining order may in fact enrage the abuser and put you in more danger than you had before. This is something you should be aware of and have some strategies in place if you think that this could happen. As your abuser will be known to you, you are best placed to consider what might eventuate after a restraining order has been obtained. One option is to talk to a domestic violence counselor to discuss your situation and what you could do to remain safe.

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