What Is the Burden of Proof for a Restraining Order in Massachusetts?

Woman reading law book explaining the burden of proof for Massachusetts Restraining Orders.

In Massachusetts, the burden of proof for obtaining a restraining order, whether it’s an Abuse Prevention Order under Chapter 209A, or a Harassment Prevention Order under Chapter 258E, is a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means you must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that you have been subjected to abuse or harassment by the defendant. Abuse is defined as attempting to cause or causing physical harm, placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress. The definition of harassment includes 3 or more separate incidents of harassing behavior. This standard is lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is used in criminal cases, reflecting the protective purpose of the orders.

What is a Restraining Order?

Understanding Protective Orders

A Restraining Order, often referred to as a protective order in Massachusetts, is a court order that restricts the behavior of someone who harms or threatens to harm you. It is designed to prevent further abuse by prohibiting contact between your abuser and you.

Types and Purposes of Massachusetts Restraining Orders

In Massachusetts, the two most common forms of Restraining Orders are the Abuse Prevention Order under Chapter 209A, and the Harassment Prevention Order under Chapter 258E. The Abuse Prevention Order is specifically designed to protect you from abusers who are family or household members or who you are in a significant dating relationship with. These orders can demand that your abuser:

  • stop the abuse/harassment,
  • vacate the household, and
  • refrain from contacting you.

Legal Standards for Issuing a Restraining Order

Burden of Proof

The legal standard applied in these cases is “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that you must show that it is more likely than not that abuse has occurred. Think of it as the judge being 51% sure that the abuse has taken place. This standard is significantly lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases, reflecting the protective nature of the orders.

Evidence Required for a Massachusetts Restraining Order

Evidence can include:

  • testimony,
  • police reports,
  • medical records,
  • photographs of injuries, or
  • any relevant documentation

that can substantiate the claim of abuse or fear of imminent serious physical harm.

Filing for a Restraining Order

First Step: Application Form

The process begins at your local court where you fill out an application form detailing the nature of the abuse or harassment. It’s crucial to provide specific instances of:

  • physical abuse,
  • threats, or
  • harassing behavior

including dates and descriptions of each incident.

Emergency and Temporary Orders

If immediate protection is needed, a temporary restraining order can be issued on the same day without your abuser present (an ex parte hearing). These temporary orders last until a full court hearing can be conducted, usually within 10 court business days.

Restraining Order
Court Proceedings

Full Court Hearing

After a temporary order is issued, a full court hearing is scheduled, where both you and your abuser can present your evidence and testimony. Here, the burden of proof lies with the you to demonstrate the need for a continued protection order.

Extensions of Massachusetts Restraining Orders

If the judge finds sufficient evidence of danger or ongoing abuse, they will extend your 10-day order. Usually, the order is extended for one year. On that one-year date, you can go back to court and once again ask the court to extend it. Be sure to bring with you any evidence you might have of continued contact and any incidents of violations of the order.

After the Restraining
Order Issues

Enforcement of Orders

It’s imperative to understand that violating a restraining order is a criminal offense in Massachusetts. Law enforcement officers are required to arrest an alleged abuser if they believe a restraining order has been violated.

Legal Consequences for Violating a Massachusetts Restraining Order

A Restraining Order is civil in nature, however, a violation of that order is a crime. Violating a Massachusetts Restraining Order can result in criminal charges against your abuser or harasser, which might result in

  • fines,
  • jail time, and
  • a permanent criminal record.

Legal Assistance and Resources

Seeking Legal Help

Navigating the legal process for obtaining a restraining order can be overwhelming, especially if you are dealing with trauma from abuse. It’s a good idea to seek guidance from an experienced attorney who can help ensure that your rights are protected and your case is effectively presented.

Help Getting a Restraining Order in Massachusetts

If you’d like help getting a Restraining Order without paying an expensive attorney, we can help. With our Legal Coaching we can walk you through every step to make sure you’re ready for your hearing. The first thing to do is see if you qualify for a Massachusetts Restraining Order. Click on the link below to see if you qualify for either type of Restraining Order.

Empowerment Through Legal Action

Obtaining a restraining order is a significant step towards ensuring your safety and the safety of your family. Understanding the burden of proof and the legal process empowers you to take informed actions against your abuser.

Act Now for Your Safety

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact a knowledgeable attorney today. Remember, you are not alone, and legal help is available to protect you from further abuse.

Legal Disclaimer

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to discuss your specific circumstances and receive tailored guidance.

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