If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
If you live in Massachusetts and the abuser does not, two issues could come up. First, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser, meaning the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her. Second, even if the judge issues an order, the judge could be limited in terms of what the order can include.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. You may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted. You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Limitations on what can be included in the order
If the judge finds that the court does not have personal jurisdiction over the out-of-state abuser, the judge might still be able to issue an order due to the Massachusetts Guidelines for Judicial Practice. The judge can order the abuser to “not” do certain things; however, the judge may not be able to make the abuser do certain things or take certain actions (known as “imposing affirmative duties”). For example, the order can say things like “do not harass; do not contact; do not come near the home of the petitioner” but it cannot say things like “pay child support; surrender your weapons to the state police; reimburse the petitioner for property damage.”1
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.
1 MA Abuse Prevention Proceedings Guideline 3:03A; see Caplan v. Donovan, 450 Mass. 463 (Mass. 2008)