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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Restraining Orders

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Laws current as of
December 14, 2023

Can the abuser have a gun?

If the judge believes that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse, the judge is supposed to order the immediate suspension of the abuser’s license to carry firearms and firearm identification card as part of your temporary ex parte order or emergency order. In addition, unlike in other states, Massachusetts law clearly states that when law enforcement serves the abuse prevention order, summons, and complaint upon the defendant, the defendant must immediately hand over (surrender) all of the following to law enforcement:

  • his/her license to carry firearms;
  • his/her firearms identification card; and
  • all firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns and ammunition that s/he controls, owns, or possesses.1

The defendant does have the right to petition the court to ask the judge to reconsider the order for suspension and surrender. The issue would then be set down for a hearing within ten business days after the the abuser files the petition. However, if the defendant files an affidavit with the petition in which s/he explains that a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or ammunition is required for his/her job, s/he can request that the hearing be held within two business days.2 You will be notified of the hearing and have an opportunity to be present.

For additional information about firearms restrictions, go to our MA State Gun Laws section and our Federal Gun Laws section to understand the federal laws that apply to all states.

You can read more about keeping an abuser from accessing guns on the National Domestic Violence and Firearms Resource Center’s website.

1 M.G.L.A 209A §§ 3B; 7
2 M.G.L.A 209A § 3B

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some ideas for things that you may want to do when leaving court – you will have to decide which ones work for you:

  • Make several copies of the protective order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the protective order.  If they have not, you may want to ask if you can deliver a copy to them.
  • Take steps to safety plan, including possibly changing your locks and your phone number.

Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many batterers obey protective orders, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  For more information please visit the Safety Planning page.  Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.

What can I do if the abuser violates the order?

Generally, if the abuser violates an order, you can call the police or you can file a complaint for contempt in the court that issued the order to report the violation to the court. It can be a crime and contempt of court for violating an abuse prevention order.

Under Massachusetts law, a violation of an order can be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to two and a half years, or both. In addition, the judge is also supposed to order the abuser to complete a certified batterer’s intervention program, unless the judge finds good cause why this should not happen.1

Note: If the judge determines that the abuser violated the order as retaliation for you reporting him/her to the Department of Revenue for failure to pay child support or for the establishment of paternity, the abuser will be ordered to pay a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000 and will be sentenced to at least 60 days in jail. The 60-day jail sentence cannot be suspended and s/he cannot be eligible for probation or parole and the jail-time cannot be reduced due to good behavior. S/he has to serve the full 60 days.1

If the police are not involved or do not arrest him/her or file a criminal complaint against him/her, you may still be able to go to the district court and take out a criminal complaint against him/her.

For more information about contempt, including the difference between criminal contempt and civil contempt, go to our general Domestic Violence Restraining Orders page.

1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 7

How do I change or extend my abuse prevention order?

If you want to change (modify) your order or if you want to end (terminate) the order, you can file a motion to modify or terminate the order. The judge may let you appear in front of him/her right away if the changes are urgently needed or the judge could set the matter down for a hearing.1 The abuser also has the right to file a defendant’s motion to modify or terminate. If s/he files such a motion, you would be notified and the matter would be set down for a hearing where you can be present and object to the termination or modification.

You may apply to the court to have your abuse prevention order extended even if no new acts of abuse occurred while you have had your order. When you get your one-year order, the order will state the time and date that the order will expire as well as the date and time that you can appear in court to ask for the order to be extended. (If the expiration date is on a weekend, a holiday, or a date when the court is closed, the order will not expire until the next date that the court is open.) If you go to court at the date and time the order is to expire – or, if you file a motion to extend the order and it is set down for a different date – the judge will decide whether or not to extend the order for any additional time that the judge believes is “reasonably necessary” to protect you and your children. The judge can even make the order “permanent.”​2 You may be able to extend your order without the abuser appearing in court.

1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(i); see also Notice to Plaintiff Regarding Abuse Prevention Order, Massachusetts Court System website
2 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(i)

Can I enforce my abuse prevention order if I move?

Your abuse prevention order can be enforced even if you move to another state. If you move, your order must be given “full faith and credit” in any other state, territorial or tribal court, which means that your order will be good wherever you go. Please see our Moving with an Abuse Prevention Order page.

If I get a protection order, will it show up in an internet search?

According to federal law, which applies to all states, territories, and tribal lands, the courts are not supposed to make available publicly on the internet any information that would be likely to reveal your identity or location. This applies to all of these documents:

  • the petition you file;
  • the protection order, restraining order, or injunction that was issued by the court; or
  • the registration of an order in a different state.1

1 18 USC § 2265(d)(3)