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Monday, May 4, 2009

One Court instead of Two for Domestic Abuse Cases in Norfolk County – A Pilot Program

Beginning May 4, 2009, Norfolk County will start a pilot program involving the interdepartmental transfer of certain abuse prevention proceedings. In plain English this means that 209A Restraining Order cases opened in a District Court in Norfolk County may be transferred to the Norfolk Probate and Family Court, if there is already an action pending in that Court.

EXAMPLE: Whitney and Bobby are married and live in Dedham. One night they get into a fight and Whitney calls the police. Bobby is not arrested but is escorted from the home by the police and Whitney is provided with an emergency 209A Order for Protection from Abuse (commonly called a Restraining Order). The Restraining Order requires that both Whitney and Bobby show up at the Dedham District Court the next day to go in front of a Judge who will decide whether the Restraining Order should be extended.

After a hearing the Judge extends the Restraining Order for two months ( “a cooling off period”). That afternoon, Whitney goes to the Norfolk Probate and Family Court in Canton and files a Complaint for Divorce. Whitney also files a Motion for Temporary Orders asking a Family Court Judge to give award her custody of the children and order Bobby to pay her child support.
At the hearing on Whitney’s Motion for Temporary Orders, Bobby asks for visitation because he hasn’t seen his children since the Restraining Order went into effect. The Probate Court Judge orders physical and legal custody to Whitney with a visitation schedule for Bobby.

Under the current rules, there are now two Orders from two different Courts that are different. The problem for Bobby is that the Dedham District Court Order is the one that the police will follow. If Bobby tries to pick up his children for visitation he may be arrested unless he and/or Whitney go to the Dedham District Court and ask the Court to amend the Restraining Order.

The pilot program would give the Norfolk Probate and Family Court Judge the power to transfer the Dedham District Court 209A Restraining Order case to the Norfolk Probate and Family Court. This means that when the Family Court Judge makes a decision it will apply in both cases and amendments can be made to the Restraining Order immediately to be consistent with the Probate Court orders.

This benefits Whitney and Bobby by having only one court for them to visit, allowing for less court hearings total, and by having one Judge who can hear all issues and make decisions that are consistent and take into account both the safety concerns of Whitney and the best interest of the children.

The full language of the Order can be viewed here. Under the pilot program, the transfer can be initiated by motion by either a party or sua sponte by the Probate and Family Court judge. The parties will have an opportunity to be heard on the question of transfer.

The pilot program will be for one year and will be reviewed after six months by the Chief Justices of the Probate and Family Court and the District Court.

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