By Bill Phelan
Abuse Prevention Orders often come into play during contentious divorces or when domestic partnerships rupture. Often called a restraining order or shortened to “209A order,” these orders must be taken seriously. If you are served with a 209A order, you must follow its restrictions regardless of whether you dispute the underlying claims of abuse.
A person can request a 209A order against a family or household member who is causing or trying to cause physical harm, or if their actions have caused them to fear they will be harmed, or if they were forced to have sex. Under Massachusetts law, the definition of “family or household member” is broad. It includes spouses, people who live together, people related by blood or marriage, or people who have a child together regardless whether they ever lived together.
A person who requests a 209A order - the plaintiff - appears before a judge to present evidence of the alleged abuse. The hearing is ex parte, meaning that the alleged abuser - the defendant – is not present. There is no opportunity to dispute the claims of abuse at this point in the process. The judge will consider the type of abuse, how long and how often it has been happening and whether the abuse has stopped or is ongoing.
Once a judge grants a 209A order, a copy of the order is delivered to the defendant. The order will require the defendant to end the alleged behavior and, usually, to end all contact with the plaintiff. That means that you cannot see, email, text or phone. If the defendant and plaintiff live together, the defendant will be ordered to move out. If the parties have minor children, a 209A order will typically award temporary and exclusive custody of the children to the plaintiff. A defendant who is the subject of a 209A order must immediately surrender his or her firearms to the police. These orders are temporary; the maximum length of a 209A order is one year.
People who are going through contentious divorces may be surprised by a 209A order, and may dispute the allegations of abuse. You can request a hearing to modify, and sometimes expunge, a 209A order. But that will come at a later date. It is critical that you follow the restrictions in the 209A until you have your day in court.
While a 209A order is a civil order, a person who violates a 209A order commits a misdemeanor crime. Penalties for violating a 209A order are a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to 2.5 years or both. They will have a permanent probation record.
When relationships fray, emotions run high. Don’t let your emotions control your actions if you are served with a 209A order. A lawyer can guide you through the process of complying with and later challenging these orders.
You can read more about defending against 209A orders on the Massachusetts state website here. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/massachusetts-law-about-defending-against-a-c209a-order