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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
October 24, 2018

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 NCICPOF 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