Domestic abuse is a serious and even life-threatening situation—and there are legal remedies to help survivors protect themselves, their children, and their property as they make the brave decision to escape an abusive situation and begin moving forward with their lives. One of the most important tools available to victims of domestic abuse is the restraining order.
In Massachusetts, a restraining order is known as a an “Abuse Prevention Order” or a “209A Order.” This name refers to Chapter 209A of the Massachusetts legal code, entitled the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, which defines domestic abuse. According to Chapter 209A, domestic abuse may be:
- Physical violence
- Attempts to harm with physical violence
- Causing another person credible fear of serious harm
- Coercing another person into sexual relations through physical force, the threat of force, or duress
Acts of physical violence are themselves criminal offenses subject to prosecution in Massachusetts. While emotional and verbal abuse are not defined as crimes under Massachusetts law, they are recognized as common features of abusive situations and relationships. Financial abuse—the withholding of or control over a partner’s financial or material resources—is another feature of abusive situations.
A 209A protective order may be filed at any of the following Massachusetts courts—superior, district, or probate and family. If children are involved, though, only a county-level probate and family court can address visitation issues in a protective order.
A protective order can require an abuser to cease abusive behavior, to avoid all contact with the protected party, to vacate a shared household, and/or to surrender firearms licenses and weapons. As mentioned above, the best court is the probate and family court when also seeking an order for emergency child custody and support to the protected party. Violating a restraining order is a crime; a protected person should immediately call police if a violation occurs.
Protective orders can be issued against more categories of people than just spouses or partners. Protective orders can also be issued against the other parent of minor children, regardless of if the parents’ relationship was ever formalized. Additionally, blood relatives, former or current relatives by marriage, and current or former household members can be subject to a restraining order.
In order to file for a protective order in Massachusetts, someone experiencing abuse must submit a sworn affidavit describing recent abuse, and any past incidents that establish a pattern of abuse, to a court. This should be done as soon as possible following an abusive incident. Emergency orders may be filed for at any police station after business hours and on weekends.
There is no filing fee for protective orders, nor can you be charged for certified copies from the court. While it is not necessary to have a lawyer, it is highly recommended. A skilled family lawyer is familiar with the filing process and can request an order specifically tailored to your situation. Moreover, as an abuser may have a lawyer of his or her own, obtaining a lawyer before filing for a protective order helps prepare you for legal challenges.
Our lawyers have years of experience in filing for protective orders in Massachusetts and many other facets of family law practice. Call today to discuss your situation and how we can best help you.