The procedure for obtaining abuse prevention orders in Massachusetts is roughly the same, whether you are looking for an “Abuse Prevention Order” under General Law 209A, or a “Harassment Order” under General Law 258E.
Where To Go
To apply for a restraining order, you will usually go to the District Court or Boston Municipal Court that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. You can find out where that is by Googling the name of your City or Town with the phrase “district court,” for example, “Watertown District Court.” 209A orders (for abuse by a family or household member) can also be issued in the Probate and Family Court or the Superior Court, although it is very rare for the Superior Court to hear them. The person seeking the order (called the Plaintiff) needs to go to the courthouse that serves the town where the Plaintiff lives, or if the Plaintiff left a household to avoid abuse, the Plaintiff may also go to the court with jurisdiction over that city or town.
What Happens When the Plaintiff Goes to Court
When you go to court to apply for a restraining order, the clerk will give you a stack of papers to fill out. These papers include what restrictions you want to ask for (no contact, no abuse, leave the household, child custody, etc), information about you, information about the defendant, and the reason you are seeking the order. You need to be able to show that the other person’s conduct either caused you harm, or caused you to have a reasonable fear of future harm, or that you were sexually abused. Once you fill out the paperwork, the clerk will send you to see a judge. If the judge believes that you are in immediate danger, the judge will issue the order without notice (called an “ex parte order,”) and the order will be in effect as soon as the Defendant learns of its existence. Whether or not the judge issues an ex parte order, they will schedule a two-party hearing, usually within 10 days of the date that you first went to court.
What Happens at the 2-Party Hearing
At the 2-party hearing, you (the Plaintiff) have to make a case for why you need protection. The Defendant, or their lawyer, will have the opportunity to ask you questions, or to show why they think you should not get a restraining order. At the end of the hearing, if the judge believes that you qualify for an order and need protection, the judge will issue a restraining order. These orders are usually good for one year.
Should I have a Lawyer?
It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer when you’re going to court, if you can afford one. A lawyer can help make sure that your case for protection meets the technical, legal requirements to get a restraining order, and help you express yourself in ways that a judge will understand. If the Defendant hires a lawyer, your lawyer can help you prepare for cross-examination, anticipate problem areas, and resist whatever challenge the Defendant brings to stop you from getting the order. People often seek restraining orders in times of extreme stress, and these are also the times when it is often hardest to advocate for yourself or to fully understand what is going on in the courtroom without expert assistance.
If you are seeking a restraining order in Massachusetts, give us a call at 617-245-1976 to set up a free consultation with a lawyer now!