How Do I File for a Restraining Order in Massachusetts?

Woman filling out restraining order request in Massachusetts.
  1. Determine the Type of Order: Decide if you need a domestic violence restraining order (209A) or a harassment prevention order (258E).
  2. Obtain the Forms: Visit your local Massachusetts courthouse or their website to get the necessary forms. Courthouses have Court Service Centers where staff can help.
  3. Complete the Forms: Fill out the application forms, providing detailed information about the incidents and why you need protection.
  4. File the Forms: Submit your completed forms to the court. There is no fee for filing.
  5. Attend the Hearing: Initially, you may receive a temporary order. You must attend a court hearing, usually set within 10 days, where both parties can present their case for a final order.
  6. Receive the Order: If the court issues a restraining order, get copies and understand the conditions. Ensure law enforcement is notified if necessary.

Understanding Your Options

When facing situations of abuse or harassment, knowing your legal options for protection is crucial. In Massachusetts, there are two primary forms of legal protection:

  • the Abuse Prevention Order, under the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, applicable in cases involving a family or household member, and
  • the Harassment Prevention Order, designed for situations where the abuse does not involve a family or household member.

Identifying the correct order is your first step towards ensuring your safety and legal protection.

Filing Your Application

To apply for a restraining order in Massachusetts, you will need to fill out an application form available at your local court clerk’s office. This includes providing detailed information about the abuse or harassment, any previous incidents, and the type of protection you are seeking. Confidential information, such as your social security number or address, may be required but will be kept secure to protect your privacy.

The Importance of Affordable Legal Advice

Seeking the guidance of an experienced attorney is a good idea when dealing with complex legal matters such as restraining orders. An attorney can provide valuable legal advice, help you understand the nuances of your case, and represent your interests in court. This professional support is particularly important in situations where the other party might contest the order or if there are overlapping legal issues like child custody, divorce, or criminal charges.

But lawyers can cost a lot of money. At Afford Law, our mission is to provide experienced legal help you can afford. We offer a sliding-scale fee where our legal fee is based on your income. The less you earn, the less you pay. We want to make ourselves as affordable as possible for as many people as possible.

The Role of the Court System

Once you file your application, it will be processed in either the family court, district court, or superior court, depending on the nature of the case. A Temporary Order can be granted ex parte (without the other party present) if there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. This temporary order is typically valid until a full court hearing can be scheduled, usually within 10 days.

Emergency Orders

If you need an order immediately and the courts are closed, you can get an emergency order. To get an emergency order, go to your local police department. Explain that you need an order right away. There is a judge that is on call 24 hours a day. They will call the judge and you will speak to them. If they grant you an emergency order, it will be valid until the end of the next business day. You’ll then have to go to court the next day and apply for an order.

Preparing for Your
Court Hearing

The court hearing is your opportunity to present your side of the story and provide evidence supporting your need for a restraining order. Evidence can include:

  • medical records,
  • police reports, and
  • photographs of injuries or property damage.

Bring any witnesses with you. Now is the time to give the judge all the information they will need to decide in your favor.

Understanding the
Legal Standards

For a judge to grant a restraining order, the burden of proof lies with the petitioner, that’s the person asking for the Restraining Order. This means you must demonstrate by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant poses a threat. A preponderance of the evidence just means that it is more likely than not that you need the protection of an order. It’s not as stringent as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard used in criminal cases, but it does require a significant amount of credible evidence.

The Aftermath of the Order

If granted, a restraining order can impose various restrictions on the abusive person, such as:

  • prohibiting contact with you,
  • ordering them to stay away from your home or work, and
  • granting you custody of your children.

It’s important to keep a copy of the order with you at all times and inform local police departments of the order for your safety.

Enforcement and Violations

A restraining order is a civil court order, but violating it is a criminal offense that can lead to:

  • arrest,
  • criminal charges, and
  • potential jail time for your abuser.

If the abuser violates the terms of the order, you should contact law enforcement immediately. Police officers can take action based on the order’s terms, providing you with immediate protection from harm.

Seeking Further Assistance

Apart from legal protection, victims of abuse or harassment may need additional support. Massachusetts offers resources such as:

  • victim witness advocates,
  • counseling services, and
  • shelters.

These services can provide emotional support, guidance on safety planning, and assistance with any practical needs arising from your situation.

Conclusion

Navigating the process of obtaining a restraining order in Massachusetts can be daunting, but understanding your rights and the steps involved is the first step toward protecting yourself and your loved ones. With the right legal advice and support, you can secure the protection you need and start moving forward in safety.

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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