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This is general information on the current Massachusetts restraining order law. It is not legal advice. For legal advice on your own case, visit our Resources page.
What is a restraining order and what does it do?
A restraining order, or abuse prevention order, is a court order requiring that your abuser, past or present, stop "abusing" you. The order may also state that your abuser may not see or contact you. [MGL 209A]
How does the law define "abuse"?
The law says you are "abused" if your abuser is:
• attempting to physically hurt you
• physically hurting you
• placing you in fear of serious physical harm
• causing you to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress. [MGL 209A]
How do I know if I'm eligible to apply for a restraining order?
The law covers the following relationships:
• substantive dating, based on how long you were involved (there is no minimum length of time); the type of relationship; how often you saw each other; and if the relationship is over, how long ago it ended;
• living together in the same household;
• engaged or married;
• have a child together; or
• related by blood or marriage.
• The law applies to all dating relationships- those between members of the opposite sex and those between members of the same sex. [MGL 209A}
What can a restraining order include?
Under a restraining order, a judge can impose any number of restrictions on the person who is hurting you, including requiring the abuser to:
• stop abusing you;
• not contact you, either directly or indirectly (for example, through other people or through letters, e-mail or telephone calls);
• leave or move out of your home;
• stay away from you at your home, work, school or any other place you may be;
• give you custody of your minor child;
• stop abusing or contacting your child;
• surrender any guns, gun permits or ammunition; and
• collect his or her belongings from your home only in the presence of the police.
Every restraining order situation is different. If you need something that does not appear on the standard order, you can ask the judge to consider adding items so that the order addresses your particular concerns.
What happens if the abuser violates the restraining order?
Violating a restraining order is a crime and subjects the abuser to arrest and possible jail time. It is important to report any and all violations to the police immediately. If, for example, an order states that the abuser cannot contact the plaintiff and the abuser calls on the telephone or sends a card, that could violate the order even if the call or card seems harmless.
Where do I go to obtain a restraining order?
You can apply for a restraining order at your local district court or Probate and Family court. You can go to the court in the town either where you live or where you've fled for safety.
If you need an order after the courthouse is closed, you can apply for one by contacting your local police station. If an order is granted, you must go to the courthouse to extend it on the next day that court is open.
How do I apply for a restraining order?
You do not need a lawyer to apply for a restraining order and there is no cost for obtaining one.
At the courthouse, the clerk's office will give you an application which you must fill out. You will need to explain why you want a restraining order and some of the history of abuse in your relationship.
Many courts in Massachusetts have victim advocates who are experienced in answering questions about restraining orders, the court system and service referrals. They can help you throughout the restraining order process.
You will have a hearing before a judge. You may be able to approach the judge's bench so that your conversation with the judge is private. The judge will review your request and decide whether you qualify for a temporary restraining order, which can last up to ten days.
Interpreters can be made available to you if you need one.
Is the abuser involved in this process?
The abuser is usually not present for the initial hearing and you are not required to let him or her know you are seeking a restraining order. However, the abuser has the right to be present at later court dates and to review all documents you submit to the court.
What happens after the judge issues the temporary restraining order?
You should carry your restraining order with you at all times.
The judge can issue a temporary order for up to ten days, until the "return date". Between the initial date and the return date, the local police will make every effort to give the abuser a copy of the order.
You must come to court on the return date to ask the court to continue the order or it will expire and you will no longer have its protections. A hearing will be held on the return date to determine if the restraining order will be continued. An advocate may assist you at the hearing. The abuser has the right to come into court and participate in this hearing. The judge will make the final decision.
Orders can last any length of time up to one year. When an order is set to expire, you may come into court to ask the judge to renew it.
If I contact the abuser, can I be charged with violating the order?
No. A plaintiff cannot violate the order. Only the defendant can violate the order.
What if I want to change the terms of the restraining order?
Either you or the abuser can ask the court to change the terms of the order. Changes can be made on the return date. If you wish to change the order at a later date, you will have to file a motion with the court. You may want to talk to an advocate about any changes you're considering.
If I'm under 18, does my parent or another adult have to come with me to court?
A person who is under 18 is considered a minor. If you're a minor, a judge may request that a parent or guardian come with you to court. If that is not possible, the court may appoint someone to discuss the situation with you and report to the court. However, the judge can issue the order without a parent or guardian present if you appear to be in danger.
Are the court records confidential?
As a general rule, if either you or the abuser is a minor, the court records will be confidential and not available to the public. However, a minor's parent or guardian may still review the application.
If neither party is a minor, the court will keep the following information confidential from the public:
• your home address and telephone number; and
• your workplace name, address and telephone number.
Your home and work address will generally appear on the order, which will be given to the abuser. If you don't want the abuser to have this information, you need to ask the court to omit it. The court will do so if you ask.
Restraining Orders and Schools
If you let your school know that you have a restraining order, the school may help you in the following ways:
If the abuser isn't a student, your school may assist you by keeping that person off school property and by reporting violations of the restraining order to the police.
If the abuser is a student at your school, the school can assist by:
• changing class schedules and lunchtime assignments;
• changing locker assignments;
• providing staff and services to address your needs; and
• notifying the police of any violations of the order.
Call your local police immediately if you think the person you are in fear of has done something which may be a crime, such as threatening, assaulting, stalking or harassing you. Many police departments have domestic violence and juvenile officers who can help you. They can assist you even if you're not in an emergency situation.