- What is the legal definition of abuse?
- What is a 209A Order?
- Where can I get a 209A Order?
- How can I get an order in district court?
- What questions are asked on the form?
- What relief can I ask for on the application?
- What about child custody and visitation?
- What happens next?
- What will the judge do before speaking with you?
- What is a Ten Day Hearing?
- What happens at the end of a year or end of the effective date?
- What should you do if you want to change the terms of the order?
- Can a minor obtain a 209A Order?
- What happens if the order is violated?
- What happens if an arrest is made?
- What happens after an arrest?
- What happens at the arraignment?
- What happens after the arraignment?
What is the legal definition of abuse?
Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as:
- Actual physical abuse, or
- An attempt to harm another, or
- Placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or
- Causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress.
What is a 209A Order?
An Abuse Prevention Order, called a "209A Order," or a "protective order," or "restraining order," is a civil court order intended to provide protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat of harm from a family or household member. You can obtain an order against:
- A spouse or former spouse.
- A present or former household member.
- A relative by blood or a present or former relative by marriage.
- The parent of your minor child.
- A person with whom you have or had a substantial dating relationship.
Where can I get a 209A Order?
A 209A Order can be obtained in any District Court, Superior Court, or Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts.
If you live in the Marshfield, MA:
Plymouth District Court
52 Obery Street
Plymouth, MA 02360
An emergency 209A Order can be obtained through any police department after court hours, on weekends and holidays.
You do not need a lawyer to file for a 209A Order and there is no charge for filing.
How can I get an order in district court?
Should you decide to go to a District Court for a 209A Order, you may go to the District Court in the area where you live or, if you have fled to another area to avoid abuse, you may go to the District Court in the area where you now live (Massachusetts Barnstable County Court Locations). Go to the Clerk's Office in the court and ask for a "protective order" or a "209A Order." You will receive a packet of forms to complete as an application for a protective order.
In some courts, there may be a Court Advocate from a local battered women's service agency to help you with the form. A Victim/Witness Advocate from the District Attorney's Office is also usually available for assistance and to discuss the option of filing criminal charges against your abuser. Ask someone at the Clerk's Office to direct you to the District Attorney's Victim/Witness Office for help. You do not have to file criminal charges in order to obtain a 209A Order. However, criminal charges can be helpful in holding a batterer responsible for criminal acts committed against you. If there is a criminal violation, the Court can also require a batterer to obtain counseling or other treatment.
What questions are asked on the form?
On the application or complaint forms for a 209A order, you need to make a sworn statement (affidavit) describing the facts of any recent or past incidents of abuse. It is important to provide as much information about the abuser as possible. You must also disclose any other existing 209A Orders from any court or any Probate Court action you are involved in, including any divorce or child custody proceedings.
What relief can I ask for on the application?
You may request the judge to order that the abuser:
- Stop or refrain from abusing you.
- Have no contact with you or a child in your custody.
- Vacate or move out of the house or apartment where you live.
You may also request the judge to order that you receive support and temporary custody of your children, if the abuser has a legal duty to support or shares custody. You may request payment for medical costs incurred due to injuries caused by the abuser and related loss of wages. You may ask that the abuser not contact you at work or at a relative's home, and that your new address be kept confidential from the abuser for your safety.
What about child custody and visitation?
A 209A Order from a District Court can provide you with temporary support and custody of your minor children. Only the Probate and Family Court, however, can decide child visitation rights. A 209A Order from that court may be more helpful in dealing with abuse protection that also involves divorce, long term financial support, child custody and visitation issues. You may want to speak with a private attorney for Probate Court or call one of the legal services or victim's services listed on this brochure for an attorney referral list. Pro bono (free) or reduced fee legal services may be available.
What happens next?
After you have completed the 209A complaint or application forms, return them to the Clerk's Office and ask when the judge will hear the applications for protective orders. The Clerk's Office will tell you the time and courtroom location for your hearing. At your hearing, the judge will ask why you need a protective order and will review your complaint or application forms and affidavit. The judge will be deciding whether it appears there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. He or she will probably ask you some clarifying questions. In some court's, a "209A Briefing Session " is held before the hearing and a Court Advocate or a District Attorney's Victim/Witness Advocate will explain the hearing process and be with you in the courtroom.
What will the judge do before speaking with you?
The judge may grant or deny the 209A Order after speaking with you. If the judge grants the Order, you will receive a Temporary Order for up to ten days. A court date will be scheduled within 10 court days for you to return to court for a Permanent Order, which lasts for a year and can be renewed. Keep your copy of the Order with you at all times. The judge will also order the abuser to surrender all guns and gun permits he or she possesses. The police will deliver (serve) a copy of the Order to your abuser and will keep a copy on file at the police station. It is important to provide the abuser's home, work, or other likely addresses so that the police can serve the Order as quickly as possible and provide the required notice of the next court date. A violation of certain terms of a 209A Order (orders to vacate the premises, refrain from abuse and have no contact with you) requires that the police arrest your abuser. A violation of a 209A Order, once the abuser has notice of the Order, is a criminal offense.
What is a Ten Day Hearing?
The Ten Day Hearing requires that you return to the court on the date given on the Order. If you do not return to court, the Order will not be in effect after that date. The hearing offers the chance for both parties, you and the abuser, to come before the judge and offer information (evidence) as to why a permanent 209A Order, which lasts for one year, should or should not be granted. Bring any hospital records, photographs or police reports you may have for the judge to review. You may also bring a support person with you. The abuser may be present at the ten-day hearing and may oppose the 209A Order. If the abuser is not present and has been served with the Order, the judge can still grant the Order for one-year period.
What happens at the end of a year or end of the effective date?
If a 209A Order is issued by the judge for a year, you must return to the court for an extension of the Order at the end of that year or the Order will expire.
What should you do if you want to change the terms of the order?
Any changes in the Order before that date must be made with both you and the abuser appearing in the same court where the Order was first given. A request to change or amend the Order can be made at the Clerk's Office, and a hearing will be arranged before a judge.
Can a minor obtain a 209A Order?
A minor under 18 years old can obtain a 209A Order with some restrictions. Generally, a parent or guardian needs to be present, but the judge can decide to issue a 209A Order without a parent present if the minor appears to be in danger. In some cases, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) may offer assistance in gaining help for a minor. Many high schools and colleges also offer support groups for students in violent relationships. A parent may also obtain a protective order for his or her child.
What happens if the order is violated?
Once a 209A Order is issued, violation of certain terms of the Order is a criminal offense. Violations of orders to refrain from abuse, to have no contact, and to vacate a household, multiple family dwelling or workplace, can be prosecuted criminally under chapter 209A. If the abuser violates the order, call the police immediately. Show the Order to the police and explain how it was violated (a punch, slap, threat; entering your house or apartment or refusing to vacate; or, any contact with you at home or your workplace, either in person, by telephone or mail). The police must arrest the abuser if they believe or can see that the terms of the Order were violated. If you do not call the police, you may be able to file an application for a criminal complaint on your own at the Clerk's Office in the District Court. A Victim/Witness Advocate can assist you with that process. If you put yourself in contact with the abuser, he is vulnerable to arrest. Therefore, if you want any terms of the order to no longer apply, you should return to court and ask that the order be modified or vacated.
What happens if an arrest is made?
If the abuser is arrested, seek assistance from the Victim/Witness Advocate in the District Attorney's Office the next morning after a nighttime arrest, or at any time during the day at the courthouse. A Victim/Witness Advocate will explain what the charges mean and what will happen next. The Advocate will also offer ongoing information, referral for services and cases updates throughout the time the case is in court.
What happens after an arrest?
Once a criminal complaint has been issued or an arrest made, the abuser will be charged with the crime or crimes at an arraignment proceeding in the District Court. A bail hearing will be held to determine whether the defendant/abuser will be released from custody, the court must make a reasonable effort to notify you of the release, even if you are not present in court.
What happens at the arraignment?
It is important to provide information to the Assistant District Attorney before the arraignment and bail hearing regarding the history of the abuse and a description of the most recent abuse, including any pictures or hospital records of injuries. You should also mention the location of any guns or other weapons that you believe the abuser has in his or her possession. The Assistant District Attorney will bring this information to the attention of the judge, along with your safety concerns and fears at this time. The judge may also consider whether the defendant/abuser should be jailed until trial; or, if the defendant/abuser is to be released, what the bail and conditions of bail will be. The Assistant District Attorney represents the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in prosecuting the case, and works with the Victim/Witness Advocate to address your interests and assist you during trial.
What happens after the arraignment?
Interviews will be held with you before the trial, to gather information and evidence for prosecution. Every effort will be made to consider your needs and safety in going forward with the case. The safety of your children will also be priority. Prosecution may provide the means to gain batterer's intervention services for the defendant/abuser as part of a sentence recommendation. Very few batterers' seek or stay with these services on their own, without court orders and probation supervision. An Assistant District will speak with you about different sentences that can be imposed if the defendant/abuser is found guilty by a judge or jury or pleads guilty. The sentence asked for may include drug or alcohol counseling, required attendance at a batterer's intervention program, supervised probation and/or jail time.
This information is provided by:
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Office of the Attorney General
One Ashburton Place
Boston, Massachusetts 02108