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Know the Laws: Massachusetts

UPDATED November 28, 2016

Abuse Prevention Orders

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An abuse prevention order is a civil order that provides protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat from a family or household member.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of abuse in Massachusetts?

This section defines abuse for the purposes of getting an abuse protection order.

The Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act defines "abuse" as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between "family or household members":

  • Actual or attempted physical abuse;
  • Placing another in fear of serious physical harm;
  • Causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress.*
"Family or household members" include:
  • A spouse or former spouse;
  • Someone you live with or used to live with;
  • A relative by blood or marriage;
  • The parent of your child;
  • A person you have or had a substantial dating relationship with.**
To read the exact wording of the law, please see "Chapter 209A: Section 1: Definitions" on the MA Statutes page.

* M.G.L.A 209A § 1
** M.G.L.A 209A § 1

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back to topWhat types of abuse prevention orders are there? How long do they last?

An abuse prevention order, called a "209A order," or a "protective 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.  There are three types of orders:

Emergency protective orders: If you are in immediate danger of abuse and the court is closed, you may get an emergency order by going to the nearest police department.  They will help you get a temporary protective order from a judge on call through the "Emergency Judicial Response System."  You will need to prove that you are in immediate danger of abuse to qualify for this order.   If you are issued this order, it will only be good until the close of the next day that the court is open.  For the protection to remain in effect, you must go to court before the close of the next business day to request an abuse prevention order.  If you are physically unable to appear in court, then someone may appear in court on your behalf and file for you.  Check with your local courthouse for instructions on who can be sent on your behalf and if there is anything you need to do in order to verify that s/he is appearing on your behalf.

Temporary (ex parte) orders: When you go to court to file for a final abuse prevention order, you can also ask for a temporary order.  This can be done without a full court hearing and without the abuser present (this is called "ex parte").  As soon as a temporary order is issued, the abuser will be notified that you have an order against him/her.  The court will give you a date (within 10 business days) for a full court hearing where you and the abuser have a chance to be present and tell your sides of the story.

Long-term orders: A final (long-term) abuse prevention order can be issued only after a court hearing where you and the abuser have a chance to each tell your sides of the story to a judge.  (It does not matter if the abuser actually shows up – it only matters that s/he was given notice of the hearing and had the chance to show up to give his/her side of the story.)  You must attend that hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order may expire and you will have to start the process over.  A long-term order will last for up to one year, unless otherwise stated.*  Orders may also be extended.  For more information, see How do I change or extend my abuse prevention order?

* M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(c)

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back to topHow can an abuse prevention order help me?

In an abuse prevention order, a judge may order the abuser to:

  • Stay away from you and your children;
  • Stay away from your residence, place of work, school, child's school or day care (you must specifically request these places);
  • Stop threatening or hurting you;
  • Stop contacting you;
  • Move out of the house (if you lived together) and not return;
  • Pick up his/her personal belongings with a police escort;
  • Pay temporary support for you and your child;
  • Pay for any losses you suffered as a direct result of the abuse, such as:
    • lost wages,
    • medical bills,
    • broken locks,
    • changing locks,
    • personal property;
  • Surrender any and all firearms and firearm identification cards to the police;
  • Return all house keys and family car keys to you;
  • Not spend money in a bank account, unless that money is necessary for him/her to survive;
  • Attend a batterer's intervention program (this is more likely to happen in a criminal case than in the abuse prevention order hearing);* and
  • Not abuse, threaten, take, interfere with, hide, harm or get rid of any animal owned or kept by you, the abuser or a child living in your household.**
The abuse prevention order can also:
  • Protect ("impound") your address if you moved to escape abuse so the abuser does not find out where you are;
  • Award you temporary custody of your children; (but see "Note" below)
  • Give you possession, care and control of any domesticated animal owned or kept by you, the abuser or a child living in your household; and
  • Other reasonable requests that the judge believes are necessary in order for you to be free from the violence.*
If the judge orders visitation with the abuser, the judge should make sure the well-being and safety of the child and abused parent are protected by:
  • Ordering supervised exchange of the child;
  • Ordering supervised visitation with the child;
  • Ordering the abuser to attend and complete a batterers' treatment program;
  • Ordering the abuser to refrain from drinking or using drugs during the visitation (and 24 hours before the visit);
  • Prohibiting overnight visitation;
  • Requiring a bond from the abuser to ensure the safe return of the child;
  • Ordering an investigation or appointing a guardian ad litem or attorney for the child; and/or
  • Ordering the abuser to pay temporary child or spousal support.*
Note: If there is already a custody or child support order established (or pending) from the probate / family court, the judge can still include an order for custody or support in your abuse prevention order as long as it is for a period of time that does not exceed 30 days.  The judge in the probate / family court can later change the terms of custody or support, however, and that judge will have the final say in the matter.*

* M.G.L.A. 209A § 3
** M.G.L.A. 209A § 11(a)

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back to topIn which county can I file for an abuse prevention order?

You can file for an abuse prevention order in the county where you live, or if you have left your home to avoid abuse, you have the option of filing in the county in which you are temporarily living.*

However, if you have left the home and want to keep the address where you are staying confidential, filing in that county would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.

*M.G.L.A 209A § 2

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