There was a time when the law and the court system would effectively ignore domestic abuse if the victim was married to the abuser. Fortunately, those days are long gone. If your spouse is abusive, you can request a court to issue a Restraining Order against your spouse in Massachusetts that will result in criminal charges against your spouse if violated.
In Massachusetts, a “Restraining Order” also known as a “209A Order” or an “Abuse Prevention Order” is a civil court order that provides protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat of harm from a family or household member. You may file for a restraining order against any of the following:
You can apply for a restraining order in the district or probate and family court in the county where you are a resident. If you temporarily leave your home because of the abuse, you may file in the county where you are currently staying. There is no filing fee for filing a restraining order. If the courts are closed, and you are in immediate danger of abuse the nearest police department can issue an emergency restraining order. An emergency restraining order, however, is only effective until the close of the next day that the court is open. To extend the restraining order past that time you must go to the appropriate court before it expires to request an abuse prevention order.
When requesting an abuse prevention order you will be asked to sign a sworn statement describing recent and/or past abuse. You will also need to provide the abuser’s name, birthdate and social security number, and contact information so he/she can be officially served with the order.
Your request for a restraining order should be reviewed by a judge that day. If the judge believes there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse the judge can issue a temporary ex parte abuse prevention order. “Ex parte” is a legal term meaning without the other party present. That temporary order is only good for 10 days within which time the court will conduct a hearing on the matter. Both parties have the opportunity to testify and present evidence at the hearing. If your spouse fails to appear after being properly served or appears, but the judge believes that you were abused after hearing both sides, a long-term abuse prevention order can be issued that is good for up to a year.
For purposes of requesting an abuse prevention order, Chapter 209A of the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act defines abuse as:
A restraining order can include several important orders from the court including, but not limited to, the following:
Note: If you have a divorce action pending in probate and family court, or you file one after getting a restraining order, the terms of your restraining order may be incorporated into temporary and/or final orders in the divorce.
Violation of the terms of a restraining order is a criminal offense in Massachusetts. A law enforcement officer is required to make an arrest if they believe that the Order was violated. For this reason, it is a good idea to always carry a signed copy of the Order with you.