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Question of the Week: What is an Abuse Prevention Order?

In Massachusetts, M.G.L. c. 209A allows the court to create orders that protect people from abuse. These orders, known as “Restraining Orders”, “Abuse Prevention Orders” or “209A Restraining Orders” prohibit the defendant not to abuse or contact and to stay away from the person who has obtained the order, and, if applicable, the person’s minor children. 209A Restraining orders may be obtained against a current or former spouse, a current or former household member, the other parent of a child, a relative by blood or marriage, or anyone with whom the person has had a substantial dating relationship. If the parties do not have one of the relationships described above, the court will not issue a 209A Restraining Order.

Obtaining a 209A Restraining Order is a civil proceeding, rather than a criminal proceeding. That means that the person seeking the order must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they have a "reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm". Put another way, the person seeking the order must demonstrate that the abuser has caused or threatened to cause physical harm, or has placed the victim in fear of imminent serious physical harm. Violation of a 209A restraining order is a crime, provided the restrained person knew of the restraining order.

Of course, if you are facing an imminent risk to your safety, call the police or 911. Your immediate safety should be your first concern. While the police can alleviate the immediate danger, calling the police to report abuse does not automatically result in a restraining order. If the immediate danger has passed, then you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible, and attend Court to request a Restraining Order by filing a Complaint for Protection from Abuse.

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