If you are reading this, you have probably been served with a restraining order, either an “Abuse Prevention Order” under Massachusetts General Law 209A or a “Harassment Order” under Massachusetts General Law 258E. The restraining order includes a date when you must go to court. If you do not go to court on that date, and the person who got the restraining order does go to court and ask for it to be extended, it will be.
What Happens When I go to Court?
When you go to court, the judge will first ask the other person, called the “Plaintiff,” whether they want to extend the restraining order against you. If so, the judge will ask them why they think they need protection from the court. The judge will then ask you for anything that you have to say for yourself. If the two sides have different accounts of what happened, the judge will decide whom to believe, and then decide whether the testimony they believed meets the legal requirements to issue a restraining order.
Why Should I Have an Attorney?
There are a number of reasons why it makes sense for a Defendant to have an attorney for the two-party hearing. You may be facing criminal charges, or the restraining order application may accuse you of committing crimes that you haven’t been charged with. An attorney can help you to defend the case in a way that doesn’t expose you to criminal prosecution — sometimes the smartest thing to do in these cases is to let the restraining order happen in order to protect your rights in the criminal case. In other cases, that might involve using cross-examination, witnesses, and documentary evidence but not saying anything yourself. That said, you should know that if you don’t oppose the restraining order at the 2-party hearing, you forever waive your right to argue that it shouldn’t have been issued.
Many Defendants make the mistake of thinking that the truth of their cause is self-evident: that the Plaintiff is “obviously” lying, or that the judge will automatically believe them and disbelieve the Plaintiff because they are telling the truth and the Plaintiff is not. Unfortunately, the truth is not its own lawyer–you will have a much better time making your case if you have an expert help you. In many cases, this will involve finding witnesses or documents that help corroborate your version of events and show that the Plaintiff’s story is untrue, exaggerated, or misunderstood.
An attorney can also help you challenge whether the Plaintiff’s application even meets the legal requirements. Sometimes Plaintiffs will make vague statements like “I just don’t know what he’s going to do,” that sound ominous but fall short of the legal requirement that the Plaintiff show a concrete basis for the order.
Finally, there are times when the restraining order is going to issue no matter what happens, but you need help making sure that the provisions of the restraining order make sense. For example, perhaps the Plaintiff asked for an order that you stay 1,000 feet away from them, but your homes are closer than that! Or the Plaintiff asked you to stay away from their college, but you work in a different part of the campus where you will never come into contact with them. In these cases, a lawyer can help make sure that the terms of the order protect your interests in being able to live your life while also protecting the plaintiff.
If you are facing a restraining order hearing in Massachusetts, give us a call at 617-245-1976 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.