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Restraining Orders in Massachusetts

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Attorney Jason Chan

267 North Beacon Street, Suite 3
Boston MA 01235


Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: 617-226-7986

Restraining orders are orders by the court that are put in place to prevent someone from bothering or contacting a given individual.  The limitations put on the person who is being restrained, which can be restrained, and for how long varies widely by state.  In Massachusetts the law provides two types of restraining orders for different relationships and histories.  The primary type of order is the Abuse Protection Order, and is to protect people who have familial or close personal ties to the threatening person.  The second is the Harassment Protection Order, and is for people with limited or no ties to the threatening person.

Abuse Protection Law, the Basics

The first, more common type of order to protect the safety of an individual is a restraining order or protective order under the Abuse Protection Law.  It is put in place to prevent a family member or former romantic partner from contacting or threatening a person.   Protective orders in Massachusetts are found under the legal code, in Section 209A.  See Abuse Prevention Law, also See Mass Legal Help

The Standard and General Rules for an Abuse Protection Order

The legal standard of action that the law protects against is where “one person is being abused by another.”   Abuse is said to include actual physical violence, threats of physical violence, and forced or coerced sexual activity.  Massachusetts Governor’s Website

When a restraining order is issued, the details of how it may be enforced are laid out in the order, both for the safety of the threatened person and so the defendant can know how to comply with the order.  Restraining orders often include details about how far from the victim the threatening person must be.  Some have contained language about whether the threatening person may exit his or her vehicle near the victim.  They may be for a specific length of time or they may have a renewal date.

In the process, an individual can have an emergency order brought in court immediately.  The defendant is served with the order and it goes into effect on a short term basis. The individual comes before the court and requests the order.  A judge then reviews the order and the person named as threatening in the order, or the defendant, can defend against the order in a hearing within about 10 days of the emergency filing.  Orders Well Explained on Amherst Government Website

There is a related court order that provides similar protection as that under Section 209A, but it is issued by the family court system.  It is called a Domestic Relations Protective Order.  As it falls under the same laws it has a similar effect, but it is issued as part of the divorce, child custody and child support processes in family court. 

Protected Family Members Can Include Pets

The Abuse Prevention Law was primarily instituted to provide more protection for people suffering from domestic violence and related crimes.  It is a civil action that provides protection in civil court.

Since a tie between animal abuse and domestic abuse is often found, pets are protected under Massachusetts’ domestic abuse law.  At least one pet, a dog, was granted protection against its former owner in 2012.  CBS News Story, 2012

Harassment Protection Orders

In addition to protective orders, Massachusetts law also provides for a court order to prevent one person from harassing another in the absence of a familial or romantic history.  These orders are called Harassment Prevention Orders in Section 258E of the legal code. Harassment prevention orders are tailored to the specific circumstances.  Since the law was instituted in 2010, it has been used to protect many stalking victims and others who were not protected by the original Abuse Protection Order. 

The laws surrounding Abuse Protection Orders limits them to protection from people with a familial or former intimate relationship.  As a result, people who were harassed, threatened or hurt by people they did not have a personal history with were not protected.   To reduce misuse of the orders, there is a requirement that orders without a sexual component have at least three separate instances that would be considered threatening.  See Harassment Prevention Orders  

Penalties under the Laws

While both types of orders are issued by civil courts, the penalties for violating the orders may pull a defendant into criminal court.  Defendants who willfully violate an order can be arrested, jailed, and subject to significant fines. See Mass Legal Help Website

Alleged Misuse of Protective Orders

When it comes to restraining orders, some people think that they do not do enough and they are far too difficult to get, while others think they are too easy to get and too hard to fight against.  As far back as 1999 there were discussions about how common it was for restraining orders to become part of domestic financial disputes.  See Salon Article, 1999

When the orders have been misused, at least some were brought in in neighborhood conflicts.  While some of the protective orders filed were brought for good reason, many have been thrown out by the courts as frivolous and not about what the courts intended.   Some neighbors have requested orders to “protect themselves” from other neighbors who are legally walking around the neighborhood minding their own business.  There is a growing concern that the process is overburdening the courts to no one’s benefit with filings that should not be seriously considered.  See Boston.com Article, 2012


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