Restraining Orders in Massachusetts
What are restraining orders?
Restraining orders, also called abuse protection orders in Massachusetts, are court orders that are aimed at preventing someone from potentially harming, actually harming, or harassing someone who may or may not be in their family.
Restraining orders are typically imposed for a limited time, but can be extended indefinitely and can protect someone from harm or harassment whatever the state the restraining order has been issued in, i.e. they may be valid across the U.S.
Two types of restraining orders in Massachusetts
There are two main types of restraining/ protection orders issued in Massachusetts. These are:
- Protection Orders for Violence Against Family Members (called a 296A Order);
- Protection Order for Harassment (called a 258E Order).
There are several significant differences between these two restraining orders. The 296A order is specifically aimed at preventing potential or actual physical harm, while the 258E order is to protect someone from being harassed, especially sexually harassed.
The 296A order is also specifically aimed at protecting family members against violence and physical abuse. A definition of what is meant by ‘family members’ is given further below. The 258E order, by contrast, is not just applicable to harassment of family members, but can be used to protect anyone from harassment.
The 296A Order: What is meant by ‘family members?’
Family members may include any of the following:
- married people;
- people who are living together;
- blood relatives;
- relatives through marriage;
- people who have had a child together, whether they are married or not;
- long term partners.
The 296A Order: What could cause someone to seek an abuse protection order?
- make an attempt to physically harm or actually harm the alleged victim;
- cause the alleged victim to be in imminent fear of serious physical harm; or
- have non-consensual sex as a result of intimidation, force or threat of violence;
The 296A Order: What must people do if issued an abuse protection order?
If someone has been issued an abuse protection order, they must take it seriously or face criminal charges. These could include assault if they have attempted to harm or have harmed the plaintiff (the person who sought the restraining order in the first place), a charge for violating the order and contempt of court for not obeying a court order. The safest way of responding to a protection order is to stay well away from the plaintiff and not call them or contact them. Violations of a 296A order could include any combination of the following:
- appear at the home of the alleged victim;
- appear at the alleged victim’s children’s daycare, school, or workplace;
- be in too close proximity to the alleged victim;
- call or text the alleged victim;
- contact any of the alleged victim’s children if the alleged victim has custody of them;
- make contact with the alleged victim via a third party;
- make contact through social media with the alleged victim;
- make contact with one of the alleged victim’s pets or other domestic animals;
- make any other sort of contact with the alleged victim;
- threaten violence against the alleged victim;
- possess firearms that have been prohibited by the police;
- appear at a formerly shared home;
- appear at or near the workplace of the victim;
- show up at the alleged victim’s workplace;
- threaten or attempt to harm the alleged victim.
The 258E Order: Why would someone seek a restraining order for harassment?
The 258R order is designed to protect a victim of sexual harassment, including sexual assault or stalking. Anyone who has experienced harassment of this nature, whatever the relationship they have or don’t have with the alleged perpetrator, may seek a protection order to prevent being harassed. Typically, anyone who has already been a victim of a sex crime, such as rape or sexual assault, or has been forced into non-consensual sex more than twice may be granted a protection order against the alleged perpetrator.
258E orders may also be ordered against anyone who has intended to cause abuse, damage to property, fear or intimidations three or more times and who was motivated by revenge, hostility or cruelty.
Note that this might seem to overlap with reasons for issuing a 296A order, but it must be remembered that the 258E order is valid against any type of alleged perpetrator, whatever their relationship with the plaintiff.
How to obtain a restraining order
Restraining orders must be sought by the plaintiff through a specific process. The plaintiff first files his/her complaint with the court in the county they are living in or the county where the abuse or harassment took place. An initial hearing called an “ex-parte” hearing is then held where the judge may ask the plaintiff questions about their complaint. If the judge decides the complaint has validity, the defendant is then served papers which result in a more formal court hearing. The judge must decide at this hearing whether a restraining order is justified. A clear history of intimidation, harassment, threats of physical abuse, actual attacks and forced sexual acts may be used by the plaintiff to convince the judge to decide whether to issue a protection order and which type of protection order to issue.
Typically, the judge will issue a protection order for an initially limited time. This could be for as little as 10 days or for weeks, months or a year. The judge may then decide to extend the protection order on request and may in more extreme cases make it permanent. The victim of abuse or harassment may be given an emergency protection order after filing the original complaint if it is thought that they are in danger of harm. This would initially last until the ex-parte hearing, but may be extended further.
Validity of interstate restraining orders
As long as state protection/restraining orders meet federal guidelines, protection orders issued in Massachusetts are valid in any state in the U.S. and this applies to all interstate protection orders used by a victim if located in Massachusetts. There is no particular requirement imposed on the protection order holder when used interstate, but many states do prefer that protection orders issued in another state are registered within the state where the victim has moved to. This doesn’t mean that an order that hasn’t been registered is invalid. Police officers are required to act on any copies of state protection orders presented to them, whether registered or not.