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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.

What are the steps for obtaining an abuse prevention order?

back to topStep 1: Go to court to get and file the petition.

As soon as possible after the abuse occurs, go to the district court nearest to where you live or the probate and family court in the county in which you live. You can obtain a petition during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. To find the courthouse in your county, go to MA Courthouse Locations.

At the courthouse, tell the clerk that you want to file a petition for a final abuse prevention order. If you are in immediate danger, tell the clerk you also want a temporary ("ex-parte") order. The clerk will give you the forms.

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. If you are issued an emergency 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.

Note: You may also go to the superior court in the county in which you live, or to the Boston Municipal Court if you live in Boston, but most abuse prevention orders are taken out of the district courts or probate and family courts.

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back to topStep 2: Bring identification and information about the abuser.

It is sometimes helpful to bring the following information about the abuser:

  • a photo,
  • addresses of residence and employment,
  • phone numbers,
  • a description and plate number of the abuser's car,
  • history of drugs or gun ownership.
Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver's license or other identification that includes your picture).

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back to topStep 3: Fill out the necessary forms.

The clerk will provide you with the forms that you need to fill out. On the complaint for abuse prevention form, you will be the "plaintiff" and the abuser will be the "defendant." Write about the most recent incidents of violence, using descriptive language - words like "slapping," hitting," "grabbing," threatening," "choking," etc. - that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Be specific. It will also be important to write any previous court action you have taken against the abuser.

Be sure to write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a Post Office Box, not a street address.

If you need assistance filling out the form, ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you. Another option is to find help through one of the domestic violence agencies listed on our MA State and Local Programs page.

You will find links to the forms you will need at our Download Court Forms page.

Note: Be sure to sign the forms in front of the court clerk.

Once you have completed your paperwork, return them to the clerk. The probation department will then run a "check" of the abuser's criminal and protective order history.

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back to topStep 4: The ex-parte hearing

When the background check of the abuser is complete, the entire file is brought into the courtroom for your ex-parte hearing. This is a preliminary hearing that can grant you a temporary restraining order for 10 business days. At this hearing, the judge will read your petition and ask you why you want a 209A prevention order.*

If the judge grants a temporary restraining order, the court clerk will give you a copy of the order. Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. Be sure to keep it with you at all times. You may want to keep copies in your car, workplace, or daycare. The judge will also set a hearing date for your return hearing.

If the judge does not grant you a temporary restraining order at the ex-parte hearing, you will still be given a court date for a return hearing. This hearing will be scheduled to occur within the next 10 days, at the time shown on the notice of hearing.

* M.G.L.A. 209A § 4

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back to topStep 5: Service of process

The abuser must be "served," or given papers that tell him about the hearing date and your temporary restraining order (if the judge gave you one).

The clerk will either send the order to the police, or have you bring it to the police yourself. The police will then find the abuser and serve him notice of the temporary restraining order (if the judge gave you one) as well as the scheduled "return hearing". There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.

Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.

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back to topStep 6: What will I have to prove at the return hearing?

As the plaintiff requesting an abuser prevention order, you must:

  • Prove that the defendant has committed acts of domestic violence (as defined by the law) against you or your minor children, and
  • Convince a judge that you need protection and the specific things you asked for in the complaint (petition).
See the Preparing Your Case section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.

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back to topStep 7: The hearing

A judge will set a hearing date within 10 business days of filing your temporary order.

You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary restraining order will expire and you will have to start the process over. If you do not show up at the hearing, it may be harder for you to get abuse prevention orders in the future.

If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge will continue with the hearing. The temporary order will remain in effect and you will continue to be protected by it until the expiration date of the order. If the abuser has not received notice of the hearing and does not show up, the judge may order a new hearing date and extend your temporary restraining order.

Continuance. You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If you show up to court and the abuser has a lawyer and you do not, you may ask the judge for a "continuance" to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer for yourself.

It is a good idea to see a lawyer if you think the abuser will challenge custody or child support, or if you have been severely injured or expect an injury to last a long time. If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue or extend your temporary order since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.

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