Often, relationships don't end well. Sometimes the end of a relationship may be marked by aggressive or threatening behaviors.
In Massachusetts, victims of domestic abuse can seek protection in the form of 209A restraining orders. These orders are a vital tool to protect individuals from abusive situations and provide a sense of security during times of domestic conflict.
What is a 209A Restraining Order?
A 209A restraining order, also known as an abuse prevention order, is a legal order issued by a court to protect victims of domestic abuse, stalking, or harassment. Its primary purpose is to keep the victim safe by prohibiting the abuser from contacting, approaching, or harming the victim. These orders can extend further to cover other family members or household members affected by the abuse.
Types of 209A Restraining Orders
There are three main types of 209A restraining orders (also called abuse prevention orders) in Massachusetts:
Emergency Restraining Order: In urgent situations, victims can seek an emergency restraining order, which is granted when the courts are closed. Emergency orders are available 24/7 and provide immediate protection for the victim until the court reopens. These are usually obtained with the assistance of a local police department, who contact an on-call judge to request the emergency order.
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): A TRO is issued after a victim files a request for protection with the court during regular business hours. It is meant to provide temporary protection until a hearing can be scheduled that provides an opportunity for a judge to hear testimony from both parties. A TRO is typically valid for up to 10 days.
Restraining Order (or Abuse Prevention Order): A final restraining order is issued after a court hearing where both the victim and the alleged abuser present their cases. If the court determines that the victim is at risk of harm, the final order can provide protection for up to one year, and in certain cases, it can be extended for additional years or even as a permanent order.
Determine If You Are Eligible
Before proceeding with the restraining order process, it's essential to confirm that you are eligible for one. In Massachusetts, you can request a restraining order if you are a victim of either actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or (sometimes) stalking.
Importantly, though, the alleged abuse or threat of abuse must have been committed by a family or household member. The definition of family or household member is someone living in your household, someone you have had a romantic relationship with, someone you share a child with, or a relative. There is some gray area for this definition, and the courts have often interpreted this loosely to enable more people to obtain protection from abuse.
Visit Your Local Courthouse
To initiate the process, visit your local courthouse. Massachusetts has specific courts, known as "probate and family courts," where you should file for a restraining order. Find the appropriate court in your county and go during regular business hours.
Request the Necessary Forms
When you arrive at the courthouse, ask the court clerk for the required forms to request a restraining order. The primary form you'll need is the "Complaint for Protection from Abuse", which includes an affidavit form. Your affidavit should be your explanation to the court of why an abuse protection order is necessary to protect you from abuse. These are often scrutinized, so take your time in writing this and include specific details of the actual or threatened abuse.
Speak with a Clerk or Advocate
If you have questions or need assistance with the forms, court clerks or domestic violence advocates are available to help. They can guide you through the process and provide information on the legal protections available to you.
Review Your Options
Once you have completed the necessary paperwork, you'll need to decide which type of restraining order you are seeking:
Emergency Protective Order: This is available 24/7 and can be obtained when the courts are closed. It provides immediate protection and is typically valid for up to 10 days.
Temporary Restraining Order: You can request this during court hours, and it can last up to 10 business days until a hearing can be held.
Permanent Restraining Order: A permanent order can be issued after a hearing, which usually takes place within 10 days of obtaining a temporary order. It can last up to one year but can be extended in certain circumstances.
Attend the Ex Parte (One Party) Hearing
If you apply for a restraining order at a courthouse, you will need to go before a judge and ask that an emergency restraining order be issued for your protection. The judge will review your affidavit and likely ask you some questions to clarify statements in your affidavit. At the initial hearing, the other party usually is not present and there is no opposition. In my experience, abuse prevention orders are nearly always granted at the initial hearing.
Receive the Order
If the judge approves your request for a restraining order, you will receive an official copy of the order. The order will also be sent to the police department in the city or town where the opposing party (defendant) resides. The police department will locate the other party and serve them with the restraining order so that they are aware of it.
An initial / ex parte restraining order is valid for up to 10 days. The restraining order will list an expiration date, which is the same date when there will be another hearing on the restraining order. At the 10-day hearing, the other party will be present and can prevent a defense.
Attend the 10-day (Two Party) Hearing
The two-party hearing is more involved than the initial ex-parte hearing. Often, parties have attorneys for the two-party hearing because there are many ramifications for defendants. People with restraining orders issued against them may be limited in working with children, may not be able to own a gun, or may be suspended or even terminated from employment. You will need to present evidence supporting the need for an abuse prevention order to protect you from a 'reasonable fear of imminent harm."
The defendant or their attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine you and present documentary evidence. Sometimes these hearings are held over multiple days if there is significant history that supports issuing or denying such an order. You should not take a two-party hearing lightly, as you may be forced to speak about uncomfortable topics and the intimate details of your relationships.
Comply with the Order
As the person protected by the restraining order, you must also adhere to its terms and conditions. You should not have contact with the other party unless the order specifically allows it. If you later change your mind about the restraining order, you should contact the court to notify them that you would like it to be vacated. Violating a restraining order can result in serious legal consequences for the defendant, and police enforce violations of restraining orders harshly with little to no room for innocent contact.
Obtaining a restraining order in Massachusetts is a crucial step in ensuring your safety or the safety of a loved one in situations involving harassment, abuse, or threats. By following the steps outlined in this guide and seeking assistance from court clerks or domestic violence advocates, you can navigate the process successfully and take a significant step toward protecting yourself and your well-being. If you would like assistance with pursuing or defendant against an abuse prevention order, please do not hesitate to contact us.