Massachusetts has enacted what is referred to as an “Abuse Prevention Statute,” which entitles a person to seek an Abuse Prevention Order, also known as a Restraining Order, from (1) a spouse or former spouse or fiancé, (2) someone they live with or used to live with, (3) someone to whom they are related by blood or marriage, (4) someone with whom they have or had a substantive dating relationship, or (5) someone with whom they have had a child.
A person is entitled to obtain a Restraining Order as protection from “abuse,” which the statute specifically defines as “attempting to cause or causing physical harm, placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat or duress.”
Restraining Orders are often requested from the Court at the same time that a divorce, custody or support matter is filed in the Probate and Family Court.
In some circumstances, a person is advised by a police officer (perhaps an officer who has responded to a domestic incident) to obtain an “Emergency Restraining Order.” Even if an “Emergency Restraining Order” is obtained, the person who requested the restraining order must then, often only a few days later, appear in Court and explain to the Court why the Restraining Order should continue.
Pursuing a Restraining Order for yourself, or defending another’s request for a Restraining Order, can be extremely intimidating. For many, it is their first experience speaking before a judge. All too often, a “plaintiff” (the person seeking the Restraining Order) or a “defendant” (the person defending another’s request for Restraining Order) do not understand the burdens of proof involved in Restraining Order actions, and are not prepared to properly present their evidence to the Court. The results can have long-term and significant consequences for both parties.
If you are pursuing a Restraining Order, or are defending another’s request for one, you likely need legal advice and you need it quickly.
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