WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF ABUSE? Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as :


actual physical abuse, or

an attempt to harm another, or

placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or

causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress
 

WHAT IS A 209A ORDER? An Abuse Prevention Order (called a "209A Order," "protective order," or "restraining order") is a civil court order intended to provide protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat of harm from a family or household member. You can obtain an order against:


a spouse or former spouse

a present or former household member

a relative by blood or a present or former relative by marriage

the parent of your minor child

a person with whom you have or had a substantial dating relationship
 

WHERE CAN I GET A 209A ORDER? A 209A Order can be obtained in any District Court, Superior Court, or Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts. An emergency 209A Order can be obtained through any police department after court hours or on weekends and holidays. You do not need a lawyer to file for a 209A Order and there is no charge for filing.

HOW CAN I GET AN ORDER IN DISTRICT COURT? Should you decide to go to a District Court for a 209A Order, you may go to the District Court in the area where you live or, if you have fled to another area to avoid abuse, you may go to the District Court in the area where you now live . Go to the District Court Clerk's Office in the court and ask for a "protective order" or a "209A Order." You will receive a packet of forms to complete as an application for a protective order.

WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ASKED ON THE FORM? On the application or complaint forms for a 209A order, you need to make a sworn statement (affidavit) describing the facts of any recent or past incidents of abuse. It is important to provide as much information about the abuser as possible. You must also disclose any other existing 209A Orders from any court or any Probate Court action you are involved in, including any divorce or child custody proceedings.

WHAT RELIEF CAN I ASK FOR ON THE APPLICATION? You may request the judge to order that the abuser:


stop or refrain from abusing you

have no contact with you or a child in your custody

vacate or move out of the house or apartment where you live
 

You may also request the judge to order that you receive support and temporary custody of your children if the abuser has a legal duty to support or shares custody. You may request payment for medical costs incurred due to injuries caused by the abuser and related loss of wages. You may ask that the abuser not contact you at work or at a relative's home and that your new address be kept confidential from the abuser for your safety.

WHAT ABOUT CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION? A 209A Order from a District Court can provide you with temporary support and custody of your minor children. Only the Probate and Family Court , however, can decide child visitation rights. A 209A Order from that court may be more helpful in dealing with abuse protection that also involves divorce, long term financial support, child custody and visitation issues. You may want to speak with a private attorney for Probate Court or call a legal service or victim's service for an attorney referral list. Pro bono (free) or reduced fee legal services may be available.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? After you have completed the 209A complaint or application forms, return them to the Clerk's Office and ask when the judge will hear the applications for protective orders. The Clerk's Office will tell you the time and courtroom location for your hearing.

At your hearing, the judge will ask why you need a protective order and will review your complaint or application forms and affidavit. The judge will be deciding whether it appears there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. He or she will probably ask you some clarifying questions. In some courts, a "209A Briefing Session " is held before the hearing and a Court Advocate or a District Attorney's Victim/Witness Advocate will explain the hearing process and be with you in the courtroom.

WHAT WILL THE JUDGE DO AFTER SPEAKING WITH YOU? The judge may grant or deny the 209A Order after speaking with you. If the judge grants the Order, you will receive a Temporary Order for up to ten days. A court date will be scheduled within 10 court days for you to return to court for a Permanent Order, which lasts for a year and can be renewed. Keep your copy of the Order with you at all times. The judge will also order the abuser to surrender all guns and gun permits he or she possesses.

The police will deliver (serve) a copy of the Order to your abuser and will keep a copy on file at the police station. It is important to provide the abuser's home, work, or other likely addresses so that the police can serve the Order as quickly as possible and provide the required notice of the next court date.

A violation of certain terms of a 209A Order (orders to vacate the premises, refrain from abuse and have no contact with you) requires that the police arrest your abuser.

A violation of a 209A Order, once the abuser has notice of the Order, is a criminal offense.

WHAT IS A TEN DAY HEARING? The Ten Day Hearing requires that you return to the court on the date given on the Order. If you do not return to court, the Order will not be in effect after that date. The hearing offers the chance for both parties, you and the abuser, to come before the judge and offer information (evidence) as to why a permanent 209A Order, which lasts for one year, should or should not be granted. Bring any hospital records, photographs or police reports you may have for the judge to review. You may also bring a support person with you. The abuser may be present at the ten day hearing and may oppose the 209A Order . If the abuser is not present and has been served with the Order, the judge can still grant the Order for one year period.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF A YEAR OR END OF THE EFFECTIVE DATE? If a 209A Order is issued by the judge for a year, you must return to the court for an extension of the Order at the end of that year or the Order will expire.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE TERMS OF THE ORDER? Any changes in the Order before that date must be made with both you and the abuser appearing in the same court where the Order was first given. A request to change or amend the Order can be made at the Clerk's Office, and a hearing will be arranged before a judge.

CAN A MINOR OBTAIN A 209A ORDER? A minor under 18 years old can obtain a 209A Order with some restrictions. Generally, a parent or guardian needs to be present, but the judge can decide to issue a 209A Order without a parent present if the minor appears to be in danger. In some cases, the Department of Social Services may offer assistance in gaining help for a minor. Many high schools and colleges also offer support groups for students in violent relationships. A parent may also obtain a protective order for his or her child.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE ORDER IS VIOLATED? Once a 209A Order is issued, violation of certain terms of the Order is a criminal offense. Violations of orders to refrain from abuse, to have no contact, and to vacate a household, multiple family dwelling or workplace, can be prosecuted criminally under chapter 209A. If the abuser violates the order, call the police immediately. Show the Order to the police and explain how it was violated (a punch, slap, threat; entering your house or apartment or refusing to vacate; or, any contact with you at home or your workplace, either in person, by telephone or mail). The police must arrest the abuser if they believe or can see that the terms of the Order were violated. If you do not call the police, you may be able to file an application for a criminal complaint on your own at the Clerk's Office in the District Court. A Victim/Witness Advocate can assist you with that process.

If you put yourself in contact with the abuser, he is vulnerable to arrest. Therefore, if you want any terms of the order to no longer apply, you should return to court and ask that the order be modified or vacated.

WHAT HAPPENS IF AN ARREST IS MADE? If the abuser is arrested, seek assistance from the Victim/ Witness Advocate in the District Attorney's Office the next morning after a nighttime arrest, or at any time during the day at the courthouse. A Victim/Witness Advocate will explain what the charges mean and what will happen next. The Advocate will also offer ongoing information, referral for services and cases updates throughout the time the case is in court.

WHAT CRIMES CAN BE CHARGED? In addition to the crime of violating a 209A Order, an abuser can be charged with a number of other crimes committed at or near the time of the violation, some of which may include:

Assault (M.G.L. c. 265, Section 13A), which is an attempt or offer to do bodily injury by force or violence or attempt to batter
Assault and Battery (M.G.L. c. 265, Section 13A), which is a harmful or unpermitted touching of another, no matter how slight, without a legal right to do so
Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous Weapon (M.G.L. c. 265, Section 15), which is a battery with a dangerous weapon, such as a baseball bat, a shod foot, a knife or other object either inherently dangerous or used in a way that may cause serious injury or death to another
Threats (M.G.L. c. 27, section 4), which are verbal or written threats to do harm which a victim reasonably believes the abuser can commit
Trespassing (M.G.L. c. 266, section 120), which is entering or remaining in a house or on land in violation of a 209A Order
Malicious Destruction Of Personal Property (M.G.L. c. 266, section 127), which is the destruction of or injury to personal property, a house or building in a manner that is willful and malicious
Stalking (M.G.L. c. 265, section, 43 (a)), which is the willful, malicious and repeated following or harassing of an individual and the making of threats with the intent to place that person in imminent fear of death or serious bodily injury. The penalties are greater for a conviction of a stalking crime committed in violation of a 209A Order.