Understanding Restraining Orders: What You Need to Know

July 3, 2024 O'Connor Family Law Divorce

It’s a harsh truth that once-loving marriages can, in some cases, become high-conflict. Whether that means one or both spouses engage in emotional, verbal, or even physical abuse, it can be extremely difficult to navigate a separation from an abusive spouse. It’s important to take steps to keep yourself and/or your family safe. Domestic or family abuse is the misuse of power and control. It is a pattern of behavior used by one person to control another through force or threats. According to the Massachusetts Health Legal Advisors Committee, you may be able to obtain a restraining order if your spouse has:

  • Physically harmed you or your dependent children
  • Given you viable reason to believe that they may cause you or your children such harm through threats or other coercive behavior

Domestic violence is violence within a marriage or an intimate relationship. In its most inclusive sense, it also includes violence against former spouses or partners, children, and parents. Domestic abuse can be physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, or financial. Domestic violence ranges from subtle and coercive violence to violent abuse.  The behavior is meant to obtain physical or psychological control over the victim. It is important to note that anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a perpetrator. Individuals of any gender identity are capable of abuse in all forms and domestic abuse is never an acceptable way to handle conflict or tensions within a relationship. Both abusers and victims can seek assistance and resources 24/7 with the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website, “Domestic violence is not caused by or provoked by the actions or inactions of the victim. Alcohol or drug abuse, depression, lack of money, lack of a job, mental illness or abuse as a child do not directly cause domestic violence. However, existing problems often create additional stress in a relationship and may increase the risk of violence. Many abusers blame the victim or other things for their violent acts and do not take responsibility for their abusive behavior.”

You should be alert to these signs, which may reflect an abusive temperament:

  • Explosive Temper
  • Extreme Jealousy 
  • Two-Facedness
  • Controlling Personality

Data from Jane Doe, Inc., a Massachusetts organization whose objective is to end domestic violence and support survivors, shows that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has averaged about 18 domestic violence homicides per year in the last decade. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly half of women in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Among those, seventy-five percent of female victims reported that they were first victimized before the age of 25. One in three women in the U.S. has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

How to Protect Yourself From Domestic Violence

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, protecting yourself and your family from domestic violence can be done through legal action to obtain a restraining order. A restraining order can be issued on an emergency basis for 10 days (known as an “emergency restraining order “) or on a permanent basis. These are also sometimes referred to as a “209A Order,” referencing the pertinent statutory section, as well as “An Abuse Prevention Order.” Our firm has created a guide to help you understand the ins and outs of restraining orders in Massachusetts which you can access here.

 Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as:

  • Physically abusive actions
  • An attempt to harm another
  • Placing another in fear of serious physical harm
  • Causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force, or duress

The abuse prevention law is designed to protect victims from abuse. The purpose of a restraining order is to protect you and/or your family from harm, physical or sexual, from a family or household member. Orders can be obtained against: 

  • A spouse or former spouse
  • A present or former household member
  • A blood relative, or a relative by present or former relative by marriage
  • The parent of a minor child, even if the parents never married or lived together
  • A person involved in a substantial dating relationship with the victim.

The court can order the abuser to:

  • Stop or refrain from abuse
  • Stop all contact with the victim
  • Vacate or remain away from a house or workplace
  • Turn over all firearms and firearm identification cards

The court can also award temporary support and custody of minor children to the victim.

If you are not eligible for a restraining order, you may be eligible for a harassment prevention order, which we discuss further in our free restraining order e-book.

What Must You Prove to Obtain a Restraining Order?

A restraining order is a civil order that carries criminal penalties if violated. It is issued by a Massachusetts district, superior, probate, or family court. An emergency restraining order can be issued after an ex-parte hearing, meaning only the abused party needs to be present. It can also be issued by a judge over the phone. A restraining order is initially issued for up to 10 days and may be further extended at the following hearing. On the weekends and after court hours, an emergency restraining order is available through any police department.

An initial restraining order hearing is held in front of a judge in a courtroom immediately after filling out the application for a restraining order. The accused abuser is not present for nor notified of this hearing until after it has occurred. If a 10-day restraining order is granted, a second hearing will be scheduled to occur at the end of that period. Both parties will be invited to this hearing and offer evidence and testimony explaining why the order should or should not be extended. At this first two-party hearing, a judge may issue an order for up to one year. At the end of one year, a judge may issue a permanent order. 

An order will be issued if a judge finds that the person seeking the order has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the issuance or extension of the order is necessary to protect him or her from the likelihood of ‘abuse’ as defined in the statute. 

If you have a restraining order and the abuser violates the order, you should call the police immediately. It is recommended that you carry the order with you at all times. You may also want to notify neighbors, employers, and childcare providers of its terms. If a person against whom an order is issued violates the terms of that order, the police may arrest them. Violating a restraining order is a criminal offense and, if proven, can impact an individual’s criminal record accordingly.

Contact a Westborough Restraining Order Attorney Today

Whether you are seeking a restraining order against an abusive individual or defending yourself against false accusations, consulting a Westborough or Hanover restraining order attorney can help you prepare for your hearing and protect your future.

Here at O’Connor Family Law, we understand the toll that abuse and restraining orders can take on your life. Several members of our team have undergone divorce and custody processes to end marriages with abusive partners. We have lived through the fear of wondering what the future holds and that’s exactly why we do what we do. It takes courage but there is a path to a brighter future on the other side and we’re here to help you through it.

Give us a call today at 774-314-4725 to speak to a member of our team or learn more about local domestic violence resources here.

About the Author

As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Danielle holds a special place in her heart for working with people who have been treated wrongly by their partners. It’s the ability to help clients break away from the past that has always drawn her to guiding clients through difficult divorces. Attorney LaPointe prides herself on being a steady foundation for clients to lean on in the moments when support is most crucial, not only for legal outcomes but for their lives going forward.

100% of our attorneys at O’Connor Family Law have personal or familial experience with family law issues which means that we know what it’s like to deal with a difficult ex because we’ve been there.