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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Massachusetts Restraining Orders

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Restraining Orders

A restraining order or protective order is a legal order issued by a state court that requires one person to stop harming another. In Massachusetts, there are abuse prevention orders, harassment prevention orders, and extreme risk protection orders.

Abuse Prevention Orders

An abuse prevention order, also known as a 209A order, is civil order that provides protection from physical or sexual harm caused by a family or household member.

Basic information

What 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:

  • attempting to cause you physical harm;
  • causing you physical harm;
  • placing you in fear of immediate serious physical harm; or
  • causing you to have sexual relations against your will (involuntarily) due to force, threat, or duress.1

Note: If you don't qualify for an abuse prevention order, you may qualify for a harassment prevention order. For more information, see our Harassment Prevention Order section.

1 M.G.L.A 209A § 1

What types of abuse prevention orders are there? How long do they last?

There are three types of orders.

Emergency protective orders: The police may be able to help you get an emergency protective order, which is issued by a judge over the telephone through something called the "Emergency Judicial Response System," if you are unable to appear in court to file for an order because:

  • the court is closed; or
  • due to your physical condition, it would present a "severe hardship" for you to get to court.1

To grant you the order, the judge must believe that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. Once the judge authorizes the order over the phone to the police, the police would write it down on a form provided by the court and deliver it the next business day to the clerk-magistrate in the appropriate court. You will then have to appear in court on that date (the next business day) to file your complaint (petition) for an order. If your severe physical condition prevents you from appearing in court, then you can send someone else on your behalf to file the complaint and s/he will have to file an affidavit that explains the circumstances that make it impossible for you to appear in court yourself.1 You can read more about this process in the After-hours Abuse Prevention Packet Instructions, available on the Massachusetts Court System website.

Temporary (ex parte) orders: When you go to court to file for an abuse prevention order, you can request a temporary ex parte order. A temporary ex parte order can be granted immediately, without a full court hearing and without the abuser being notified beforehand if the judge believes there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. The order will last until the hearing, which will be within 10 business days.2

Long-term orders: A final (long-term) abuse prevention order can be issued after the abuser is given notice and the chance to appear at a court hearing where you and the abuser will each have a chance to present evidence to the judge. If you can prove that you were abused, the judge can issue you an order for up to one year. 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. When the expiration date stated on the order is on a weekend day, a holiday, or a date when the court is closed to business, the order shall not expire until the next date that the court is open. The order can later be extended permanently.4 For more information on how to extend an order, see How do I change or extend my abuse prevention order?

1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 5; see also M.G.L.A. 211B § 9(vi)
2 M.G.L.A. 209A § 4
3 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3
4 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(i)

What protections can I get in an abuse prevention order?

A temporary abuse prevention order can do any of the following:

  1. order the abuser to:
    • not abuse you as follows:
      • not harm you;
      • not threaten you;
      • not attempt to harm you physically;
      • not place you in fear of immediate serious physical harm; and
      • not use force, threat, or duress to make you have sexual relations;1
    • not abuse your children;
    • stop contacting you and any children in your custody;
    • move out of the home (if you live together), give you back the house keys, and not return to the home;
    • stay away from your residence and place of work;2
    • stay away from your school;3
    • stay away from your children's school or daycare;
    • have unsupervised visitation, supervised visitation with certain limitations put in place to protect you and your children, or no visitation;4
    • surrender any and all firearms and firearm identification cards to the police;5 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;6
  2. give you:
    • temporary custody of your children (but, see the "Note" below);2
    • possession, care, and control of any domesticated animal owned or kept by you, the abuser, or a child living in your household;6 and
    • other reasonable requests that the judge believes are necessary to protect you from abuse.3

A final abuse prevention order can:

  • include everything mentioned above; and
  • in addition:
    • pay you temporary child support if any children that you have with the abuser live with you;
    • pay you temporary spousal support if you are married; and
    • order the abuser to:
      • pay for any losses you suffered as a direct result of the abuse, such as:
        • lost wages;
        • costs for turning back on any utilities the abuser turned off;
        • any costs you spent due to injuries s/he caused, such as medical bills;
        • costs to change or repair locks to your door;
        • costs for personal property s/he destroyed; or
        • attorney's fees.7

    Note: If there is already a custody or child support order established (or pending) from the probate and 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 and family court can later change the terms of custody or support, however, and that judge will have the final say in the matter. If there is no established (or pending) custody order from the probate and family court, then an order of temporary custody can last for the full length of the abuse prevention order.8

    The Massachusetts Court System website has an information sheet that clearly explains in detail what each of the protections mean in your order. For example, if the abuser is ordered to leave the home, s/he cannot turn off the utilities, even if the utilities are in his/her name only. You can read more here.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A §§ 1; 3; 4; See complaint for protection from abuse, page 1
    2 M.G.L.A. 209A §§ 3; 4
    3 See complaint for protection from abuse, page 1
    4 See complaint for protection from abuse, page 2
    5 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3B
    6 M.G.L.A. 209A § 11(a)
    7 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3; see complaint for protection from abuse, page 1
    8 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3

    If the abuser gets visitation, what limitations can be included in the abuse prevention order to protect me and my child?

    If the judge gives the abuser visitation with your children as part of your abuse prevention order, the judge should make sure that your and your children's well-being and safety are protected by doing one or more of the following:

    • ordering supervised exchange of the child, either with a third party or in a protected setting, such as a visitation center;
    • ordering supervised visitation with the child by an appropriate third party or at a visitation center;
    • ordering the abuser to pay the costs for supervised visitation at a visitation center;
    • ordering the abuser to attend and complete a batterers' treatment program in order to get visitation;
    • ordering the abuser to not drink and to not have or use drugs during the visitation and for 24 hours before the visit;
    • prohibiting overnight visitation;
    • requiring the abuser to deposit money with the court (bond) as an incentive to ensure the safe return of the child;
    • ordering an investigation or appointing a guardian ad litem or attorney for the child; or
    • ordering any other condition that the judge believes is necessary.1

    Note: Although many courts can issue abuse prevention orders (i.e., superior, district, Boston municipal, and family and probate courts), if you are asking for visitation (supervised or otherwise) to be included in your order, only the probate and family court can order visitation in an abuse prevention order.2

    1 ​M.G.L.A. 209A § 3
    2 ​See Guide to Completing G.L. c. 209A Forms, available on the Massachusetts Court System website

    In which county can I file for an abuse prevention order?

    You can file for an abuse prevention order in the county where you live. If you have left your home temporarily to avoid abuse, you have the option of filing in the county in which you are temporarily living or in the county where you permanently live.1

    Although you can ask the court clerk to keep the address where you are living confidential ("impound" your address),2 if you have left your home to avoid abuse, you may not want to file in the county where you are temporarily staying because this would alert the abuser to which county you are temporarily living in.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 2
    2 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(g)

    Who can get an abuse prevention order

    Am I eligible for an abuse prevention order?

    You may be eligible for an abuse prevention order if an act of abuse (as defined by law) was committed by any of the following family or household members:

    • your spouse or former spouse;
    • someone with whom you live, currently or in the past;
    • someone related to you by blood or marriage;
    • someone with whom you have a child in common; or
    • someone with whom you have or had a "substantial dating relationship."1

    To determine whether or not your dating relationship was "substantial," the judge will look at the following factors:

    • the length of the relationship;
    • the nature of the relationship;
    • how often you interacted with each other; and
    • how long ago you broke up (if you are no longer dating).1

    Note: If you don't qualify for an abuse prevention order, you may qualify for a harassment prevention order. For more information, see our Harassment Prevention Order section.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 1

    Can a minor file for an abuse prevention order?

    In order for a minor to get an abuse prevention order, an adult (usually a parent or guardian) is supposed to file the complaint on the minor's behalf. The section of the complaint form that refers to minors specifically states "I am under the age of 18, and _____, my______ (relationship to Plaintiff) has filed this complaint for me." However, the guide to completing the complaint forms that is available on the Massachusetts Court System website says "If a minor plaintiff comes in without an accompanying adult, he or she must not be turned away, and the judge should be alerted to the situation." Therefore, it's possible that if a judge might appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the minor or take some other steps that would allow an unaccompanied minor to file the complaint.

    If you want to see how judges in your county typically handle a minor who comes to court without an adult, you can contact your local domestic violence organization or legal services organization. Go to our MA Places that Help page for referrals.

    Can I get an abuse prevention order against a minor?

    Yes. The section of the law that lists the protections that you can get in an abuse prevention order, such as ordering the abuser not to contact or abuse you, clearly states that they can be ordered "whether the defendant is an adult or minor."1

    1 See M.G.L.A. § 3

    Can I get an abuse prevention order against a same-sex partner?

    In Massachusetts, you may apply for an abuse prevention order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible for an abuse prevention order? You must also be the victim of an act of abuse, which is explained in What is the legal definition of abuse in Massachusetts?

    You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.

    How much does it cost to get an abuse prevention order? Do I need a lawyer?

    There is no filing fee to get an abuse prevention order. In addition, you cannot be charged for:

    • certified copies of the order;
    • any copies of the file that you may need for future court action or as a result of the loss or destruction of your copies.1

    You do not need a lawyer to file for a protection order but it is often helpful to have one, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer who is knowledgeable about abuse prevention orders to make sure that your legal rights are protected. Go to our MA Places that Help page for legal referrals and for contact information for local domestic violence agencies in your area that may be able to help you fill out the necessary court forms.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3

    Steps for getting an abuse prevention order

    Step 1: Go to court to get and file the complaint.

    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 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 filed in the district courts or probate and family courts. It is also important to know that if you are asking for visitation (supervised or otherwise) to be included in your order, only the probate and family court can order visitation in an abuse prevention order.1

    You can obtain the complaint during normal business hours, Monday through Friday or you can find the forms online at our MA Download Court Forms page. To find the courthouse in your county, go to MA Courthouse Locations.

    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.

    1 See Guide to Completing G.L. c. 209A Forms, available on the Massachusetts Court System website

    Step 2: Fill out the necessary forms.

    The clerk will provide you with the forms that you need to fill out or you can find links to the forms you will need at our MA Download Court Forms page. On the complaint, 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.

    Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver's license or other identification that includes your picture) in case the clerk needs it in order to notarize your signature.

    If the locations of your home, work, or school are confidential, you can ask the court clerk to keep the address confidential ("impound" your address)1 by filling out a Plaintiff Confidential Information Form. You can also check off various boxes on the complaint to request that the judge order that your home, work, and school addresses not appear anywhere on the abuse prevention order itself.2

    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 Advocates and Shelters page.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3(g)
    2 See complaint for protection from abuse, page 1

    Step 3: The ex parte hearing

    When you file for an abuse prevention order, there is generally an ex parte hearing where the judge will read your complaint and ask you why you want an abuse prevention order. If the judge believes there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse, the judge can issue an ex parte temporary order with any terms that the judge believes are necessary to protect you from abuse. The order will usually last for 10 business days until the return hearing.1

    Even if the judge does not grant you a temporary ex parte order at the ex parte hearing, it's possible that you can still be given a court date for a return hearing where the abuser will be present. At that time, you can try to prove your case as to why an order should be granted and the abuser can object and defend himself/herself.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 4

    Step 4: Service of process

    The abuser must be "served," or given papers that tell him/her about the hearing date and your temporary abuse prevention order (if the judge gave you one). The first step for this to happen is that the clerk-magistrate will send the following documents to the appropriate law enforcement agency:

    • a certified copy of the temporary ex parte order;
    • the order of suspension of the abuser's firearms license and order for surrender of firearms; and
    • a copy of the complaint and summons, which includes the return court date.1

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

    When serving the abuser, the police are also supposed to do the following:

    • immediately take possession of all firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, ammunition, any license to carry firearms, and any firearms identification cards in the abuser's control, ownership, or possession;2
    • fully inform the defendant of what is included in the abuse prevention order;
    • explain the possible penalties for violating the order; and
    • provide the defendant with informational resources, including, but not limited to, a list of certified batterer intervention programs, substance abuse counseling, alcohol abuse counseling and financial counseling programs in the area. The law enforcement agency shall promptly make its return of service to the court.1

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

    Step 5: The hearing

    A judge will generally set the hearing date within 10 business days of when you first filed your complaint.1

    You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over. If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge can continue with the hearing and grant you an order that lasts for up to one year.2 If the abuser was not able to be served, the judge may order a new hearing date and extend your temporary restraining order.

    Although you do not need a lawyer, it is often helpful to have one, especially if the abuser is going to object to the order being issued or if the abuser has a lawyer. Go to our MA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. 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. Even if you cannot find an attorney to represent you, you may want to try to talk to an attorney to get advice as to what types of evidence you can bring to court and other ways to represent yourself. You can also go to our Preparing Your Case page for more information when representing yourself.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 4
    2 M.G.L.A. 209A § 3

    After the hearing

    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 Tips 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 2.5 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.

    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.

    Harassment Prevention Orders

    A harassment prevention order is a civil court order that can be granted to a victim of "harassment," regardless of the relationship between you and the person harassing you. "Harassment" for these purposes includes forced sexual relations, stalking, and many other crimes, in addition to what someone might typically define as harassment. The specific acts that are considered harassment are explained in this section. This section also has information about who is eligible for an order, how a harassment prevention order can help you, what happens if the harasser violates the order, and more.

    Basic information

    What is the legal definition of harassment?

    For the purpose of getting a harassment prevention order, the law defines harassment as any of the following:

    1. three or more acts of cruel behavior when the harasser has the intent to cause, and actually causes, any of the following:
      • fear;
      • intimidation;
      • abuse; or
      • damage to property;
    2. causing another person to have sexual relations against his/her will by force, threat, or coercion; or
    3. committing one of the following crimes against another person, even if the crime is never reported to the police or the harasser is never arrested for it:

    Note: Filing a civil harassment prevention order does not affect your right to also report the harasser to the police for harassing you, stalking you, or committing any of the above crimes against you if you choose to.2

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 1
    2 M.G.L.A. 258E §§ 3(g); 4

    Who is eligible for a harassment prevention order?

    Any person who is being harassed can file for a harassment prevention order. It does not matter who the person harassing you is. It can be a stranger, someone you know, an intimate partner, a friend, or family member.1

    However, if the person harassing you is a spouse, intimate partner, or a family or household member, you may want to consider getting an abuse prevention order instead. With an abuse prevention order, the judge can include a lot more types of protections than in a harassment prevention order.

    1 See M.G.L.A. 258E § 1

    What type of harassment prevention orders are there? How long do they last?

    There are two types of orders: temporary ex parte orders and final orders.

    If the judge believes that you are in immediate danger of harassment, the judge can grant you a temporary ex parte order. A temporary order will last until the final hearing, which usually takes place within 10 business days.1

    If the court is closed or you are unable to go to court because of your physical condition, the judge can issue a temporary ex parte order by phone. Once it’s issued, the order goes to a police officer who would then get it approved by the clerk. This temporary order would only last until the next business day. Then you or someone on your behalf (a “representative”) would have to file the petition and an affidavit explaining your physical condition.1

    The court will immediately have to notify the abuser about the temporary harassment prevention order and about the upcoming hearing date.2

    The final prevention order can be given at a hearing where both you and the harasser can be present, and it can last for up to one year.3

    At the final hearing, you and the abuser will both have the opportunity to present your sides of the story through witnesses, testimony and other evidence. Then the judge will make a decision whether to give you a final harassment prevention order or not. You have the right to have a lawyer with you and it is generally best to have one, especially if you believe the harasser will have one. Go to our MA Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.

    If the abuser does not show up on the date of the final hearing, your temporary prevention order would continue to be valid.2

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 6
    2 M.G.L.A. 258E § 5
    3 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(d)

    What protections can I get in a harassment prevention order?

    As part of a harassment prevention order, the judge can order that the harasser:

    1. stop abusing or harassing you;
    2. stop contacting you, unless contact is permitted by the court;
    3. stay away from your home or workplace; and
    4. pay you back for any money that you lost because of the harassment, such as:
    • loss of earnings from work;
    • medical expenses;
    • damage to property;
    • the cost of replacing your locks;
    • the cost of getting an unlisted phone number; and
    • your attorney’s fees.1

    Note: You can ask for numbers 1 through 3, above, whether the harasser (defendant) is an adult or a minor. You can only ask for number 4, above, if the harasser is an adult.1

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(a)

    Getting a harassment prevention order

    When I apply for the order, can I keep my address confidential?

    Your home address and work address will appear on the order unless you specifically ask that this information is kept confidential.1 Be sure to tell the clerk that you want this information confidential when filling out the forms.

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 10

    How much does it cost?

    There is no fee to file a petition for a harassment prevention order or to get certified copies of the order.1

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(c)

    Can I change or extend my harassment prevention order?

    Changing the order
    Either you or the harasser can file a motion to change (modify) the order at any time and the court will set a hearing date. Either the person who files the motion or the court will serve notice on the other party. At the hearing, both sides can argue their case and tell the judge why the order should or should not be changed.1

    Extending the order
    There are two ways you can ask the court to extend the order:

    1. When you get your final order, it should list a date and time when the order expires and when you can go back to court (to ask for an extension). You can go to court on that date and ask the judge to extend the order for a specific time period or make it permanent. If it expires on a date the court is closed, you should go to court the next day that the court is open.2 The harasser might come to court on the expiration date too.
    2. Instead of showing up in court on the expiration date, you can file a motion in court before the order expires, asking for an extension. Usually, after someone files a motion, the court notifies the other party and sets a date for a hearing. At the hearing, both sides can argue their case as to why the order should or should not be extended.

    You can still ask for an extension of your final order even if there have not been any new incidents of harassment since the first order was issued.2

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(e)
    2 M.G.L.A. 258E § 3(d)

    What happens if an abuser violates a harassment prevention order?

    You can call 911 to report a violation to the police if the harasser violates the harassment prevention order. Each harassment prevention order issued must contain the following statement “VIOLATION OF THIS ORDER IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE.” Any violation of a harassment prevention order can be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, by imprisonment for up to 2 ½ years, or both.

    You can also file a contempt petition in the civil court that issued the order. The judge can hold the harasser in “civil contempt” and punish the harasser.1

    1 M.G.L.A. 258E § 9

    Extreme Risk Protection Orders (to remove firearms)

    An extreme risk protection order is a civil order issued by a judge that restricts a person's right to have firearms. A judge can issue an emergency order (when the courts are closed), an ex parte order, or a final order after a hearing against a respondent who poses a risk of causing harm to himself/herself or another person by having any of the following in his/her possession:

    • a license to carry firearms;
    • a firearm identification card; or
    • a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, weapon or ammunition.1

    If the order is granted, as soon as the respondent is served with the order, s/he would immediately have to surrender all of the above items to the local licensing authority that is serving the order.2

    The petition can be filed by any of the following:

    • a family member of the respondent;
    • a household member of the respondent; or
    • the "licensing authority of the municipality" where the respondent lives.3

    We will be adding more information about extreme risk protection orders in the future. For now, you can read the law on our Selected Massachusetts Statutes page to learn more.

    1 M.G.L.A. 140 §§ 131S(c); 131T(a),(b)
    2 M.G.L.A. 140 §§ 131S(f); 131T(c)
    3 M.G.L.A. 140 §§ 121; 131R(a)

    Moving with an Abuse Prevention Order

    If you are moving out of state or are going to be out of the state for any reason, your abuse prevention order can still be enforceable.

    General rules

    Can I get my abuse prevention order from Massachusetts enforced in another state?

    If you have a valid Massachusetts abuse prevention order that meets federal standards, it can be enforced in another state. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is a federal law, states that all valid restraining orders granted in the United States receive “full faith and credit” in all state and tribal courts within the US, including US territories. See How do I know if my abuse prevention order is good under federal law? to find out if your order qualifies.

    Each state must enforce out-of-state restraining orders in the same way it enforces its own orders, which means that if the abuser violates your out-of-state order, s/he will be punished according to the laws of whatever state you are in when the order is violated. This is what is meant by “full faith and credit.”

    How do I know if my abuse prevention order is good under federal law?

    An abuse prevention order is good anywhere in the United States as long as:

    • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.1
    • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
    • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
      • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.2

    Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

    1 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
    2 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a) & (b)

    Getting your Massachusetts abuse prevention order enforced in another state

    How do I get my abuse prevention order enforced in another state?

    Federal law does not require you to take any special steps to get your abuse prevention order enforced in another state.

    Many states do have laws or regulations (rules) about registering or filing of out-of-state orders, which can make enforcement easier, but a valid abuse prevention order is enforceable regardless of whether it has been registered or filed in the new state.1 Rules differ from state to state, so it may be helpful to find out what the rules are in your new state. You can contact a local domestic violence organization for more information by visiting our Advocates and Shelters page and entering your new state in the drop-down menu.

    Note: It is important to keep a copy of your abuse prevention order with you at all times.

    1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)

    Do I need anything special to get my abuse prevention order enforced?

    In some states, you will need a certified copy of your abuse prevention order. A certified copy says that it is a “true and correct” copy; it is signed and initialed by the clerk of court that gave you the order, and usually has some kind of court stamp.

    In Massachusetts, a certified copy has a raised seal and the signature of one of the court clerks. If your copy is not a certified copy, call or go to the court that gave you the order and ask for a certified copy. You can find contact information for courthouses in Massachusetts on our MA Courthouse Locations page.

    Note: It is important to keep a copy of the order with you at all times. You will also want to bring several copies of the order with you when you move. 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. Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.

    Can I get someone to help me? Do I need a lawyer?

    You do not need a lawyer to get your abuse prevention order enforced in another state.

    However, you may want to get help from a local domestic violence advocate or attorney in the state that you move to. A domestic violence advocate can let you know what the pros and cons are for registering your order, and help you through the process if you decide to do so.

    To find a domestic violence advocate or an attorney in the state you are moving to, go to the Places that Help tab on the top of this page and choose the state you are moving to. See Finding a Lawyer or Advocates and Shelters for resources in your area.

    I have a temporary (ex parte) order. Can it be enforced in another state?

    An ex parte temporary order can be enforced in other states as long as it meets the requirements listed in How do I know if my abuse prevention order is good under federal law?1

    Note: The state where you are going generally cannot extend your ex parte temporary order or issue you a permanent order when the temporary one expires. If you need to extend your temporary order, you will have to contact the state that issued the order and arrange to be at the hearing in person or by telephone (if that is an option offered by the court). However, you may be able to reapply for one in the new state that you are moving to if you meet the requirements for getting a protective order in that state – but, if you apply for one in a new state, the abuser would know what state you are living in, which may put you in danger.

    1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(b)(2)

    Enforcing custody provisions in another state

    I was granted temporary custody with my abuse prevention order. Can I take my kids out of the state?

    It may depend on the exact wording of the custody provision in your abuse prevention order. You may have to first seek the permission of the court before leaving. If the abuser was granted visitation rights with your children, then you have to have the order changed, or show the court that there is a fair and realistic alternative to the current visitation schedule.

    If you are unsure about whether or not you can take your kids out of the state, it is important to talk to a lawyer who understands domestic violence and custody laws and can help you make the safest decision for you and your children. You can find contact information for legal assistance in Massachusetts on our MA Finding a Lawyer page.

    I was granted temporary custody with my abuse prevention order. Will another state enforce this custody order?

    Custody, visitation, and child support provisions that are included in an abuse prevention order can be enforced across state lines. Law enforcement and courts in another state are required by federal law to enforce these provisions.1

    1 18 USC § 2266

    Enforcing Your Out-Of-State Order in Massachusetts

    If you are planning to move to Massachusetts or are going to be in Massachusetts for any reason, your protection or restraining order can be enforced.

    General rules for out-of-state orders in Massachusetts

    Can I get my protection enforced in Massachusetts? What are the requirements?

    Under Massachusetts state law, any ex parte, temporary, or final protection orders issued by civil or criminal court in another state, territory, or possession of the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, or a tribal court can be enforced throughout Massachusetts as long as the order was issued for the purpose of preventing:

    • violent or threatening acts against you;
    • harassment against you;
    • contact or communication with you; or
    • physical closeness to you.1

    In addition, under federal law, which applies to all states, there are slightly different rules about which types of orders can be enforced in Massachusetts. Your protective order can be enforced in Massachusetts under federal law as long as:

    • It was issued to prevent violent or threatening acts, harassing behavior, sexual violence, or it was issued to prevent another person from coming near you or contacting you.2
    • The court that issued the order had jurisdiction over the people and case. (In other words, the court had the authority to hear the case.)
    • The abuser received notice of the order and had an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story.
    • In the case of ex parte temporary and emergency orders, the abuser must receive notice and have an opportunity to go to court to tell his/her side of the story at a hearing that is scheduled before the temporary order expires.3

    Note: For information on enforcing a military protective order (MPO) off the military installation, or enforcing a civil protection order (CPO) on a military installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A §§ 5A; 1; MA Abuse Prev. 14:00
    2 18 U.S.C. § 2266(5)
    3 18 U.S.C. § 2265(a), (b)

    Can I have my out-of-state protection order changed, extended or canceled in Massachusetts?

    Generally, only the state that issued your protection order can change, extend, or cancel the order. You cannot have this done by a court in Massachusetts.

    To have your order changed, extended, or canceled, you will have to file a motion or petition in the court where the order was issued. You may be able to request that you attend the court hearing by telephone rather than in person, so that you do not need to return to the state where the abuser is living. To find out more information about how to modify a restraining order, see the Restraining Orders page for the state where your order was issued.

    If your order does expire while you are living in Massachusetts, you may be able to get a new one issued in Massachusetts but this may be difficult to do if no incidents of abuse have taken place in Massachusetts. To find out more information on how to get an abuse prevention order in Massachusetts, visit our MA Restraining Orders page.

    I was granted temporary custody with my out-of-state protection order. Will I still have temporary custody of my children in Massachusetts?

    As long as the child custody provision complies with certain federal laws,1 Massachusetts can enforce a temporary custody order that is a part of a protection order.

    To have someone read over your order and tell you if it meets these standards, contact a lawyer in your area. To find a lawyer in your area, go to our MA Finding a Lawyer page.

    1 The federal laws are the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) or the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980.

    Registering your out-of-state order in Massachusetts

    If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?

    To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1

    There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.

    Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCIC–POF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.

    However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.

    1National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
    2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016

    How do I register my protection order in Massachusetts?

    To register your protection order, bring a certified copy of your order to any district, probate, family, or superior court, or the Boston municipal court in order to file in with the court. You will have to swear under oath in an affidavit (a written statement) that, to the best of your knowledge, the order is currently in effect as written.1 See MA Courthouse Locations for contact information. You may want to ask the court to “impound”, or keep confidential, your address so that the abuser cannot learn where you are from a court record.

    You do not need a lawyer to register your protection order. If you are confused or worried about the process, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Massachusetts to ask for help from a local advocate. To find a local domestic violence organization in Massachusetts, please go to our MA Advocates and Shelters page.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 5A

    Do I have to register my protection order in Massachusetts in order to get it enforced?

    Police officers must enforce your out-of-state protection order whether or not you register it. If it is not registered, you will need to show the officer a copy of your protection order, and you may have to swear in writing that it is still in effect.

    While you do not have to register your protection order in order to get it enforced, one benefit of registration is that you may be able to get your order enforced, even if you are not carrying a copy of the order with you when the police officer arrives at the scene.1

    Protection orders that are registered in Massachusetts are kept in the Massachusetts statewide registry operated by the Commissioner of Probation, and Massachusetts police officers should have access to this registry when they arrive at the scene.

    1 M.G.L.A. 209A § 5A

    What if I don’t register my protection order? Will it be more difficult to have it enforced?

    aybe. While neither federal law nor state law requires that you register your protection order in order to get it enforced, if your order is not entered into the state registry or the NCIC database, and you do not have a copy of your order with you when the police officer arrives, it may be more difficult for a law enforcement official to determine whether your order is real. Meaning, it could take longer to get your order enforced.

    However, if you have a certified copy of your protection order with you, and if it is listed in the NCIC, then it may not matter if your protection order is registered in Massachusetts or not.

    If you are unsure about whether registering your order is the right decision for you, you may want to contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. An advocate there can help you decide what the safest plan of action is for you in Massachusetts. To see a list of local domestic violence organizations in MA, go to our MA Advocates and Shelters page.

    Will the abuser be notified if I register my protection order?

    Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1  However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.

    However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to.  It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living.  We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Safety Tips page.  You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our MA Advocates and Shelters page.

    1 18 USC § 2265(d)

    Does it cost anything to register my protection order?

    There is no fee for registering your protection order in Massachusetts.1

    1 See MA Abuse Prev. 14:00