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  • Writer's pictureBill Phelan

What is an Abuse Prevention Order and who can get one?

No one should live in fear of abuse. If you are experiencing domestic or partner abuse, there is help.

Massachusetts law allows people who are experiencing domestic abuse to obtain a court order to help protect them. Often called a restraining order or shortened to “209A order,” these orders often arise during contentious divorces but are also used in a variety of other situations.

You can request a 209A order against a family or household member who is causing or trying to cause you physical harm, or if their actions have caused you to fear that you will be harmed, or if they are forcing you 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.

To request a 209A order, you will appear as the plaintiff at a hearing before a judge. The person who is abusing you, the defendant, does not appear at this hearing. 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/abuser. The order will require the abuser to stop harming you and, usually, to stop contacting you, including by email, text or phone. If the abuser lives with you, the 209A order will order them to move out. If you have children with the abuser, a 209A order will award you temporary and exclusive custody of your children. An abuser 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.

If you are granted a 209A order and your abuser contacts you or comes near you, you can call the police and have them arrested. 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.

A lawyer can help you through the 209A process, but you don’t need a lawyer to get a 209A order.

The state of Massachusetts has a helpful step by step guide for those who want to request a 209A.

Domestic abuse prevention services can help. Two resources are listed below.

Domestic Violence Ended

Statewide, toll-free domestic abuse hotline


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