209A Restraining Orders: an overview

Also in
Show Endnotes
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

A 209A restraining order can be a tool to protect you if you are being abused. This article explains what a 209A restraining order is, the other types of restraining orders there are, and things to keep in mind when you are deciding whether to get a 209A restraining order against someone.

Important: The 209A law is being changed to include coercive and controlling behaviors in the definition of domestic violence. It will go into effect on September 18. We will update this article with more information soon.

What is a 209A restraining order?

A 209A restraining order is a court order that can protect you from being abused by:

  • a member or former member of your household or family, or 
  • someone you have been dating. 

It is called a 209A restraining order because the law that created it is Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A.

Restraining orders are also called "protective orders," "abuse prevention orders," or "209As." 209A restraining orders say “Abuse Prevention Order” at the top of the order.

A 209A restraining order says that a person must not do certain things like abuse you, contact you, or come within a certain distance. If the person does these things anyway, they are “violating” the order. It is a crime to violate a 209A restraining order and the police can investigate. The police might press charges. A 209A restraining order can also order the abusive person to do things like pay utility bills or child support.

Who can I get a 209A restraining order against?

You can ask for a 209A restraining order against a person if:

  • you are married to the person;
  • you used to be married to the person;
  • you are dating the person;
  • you used to date the person;
  • you have a child with the person;
  • you live in the same home as the person;
  • you used to live in the same home; or
  • you are related by blood or marriage to that person (for example, a cousin, brother-in-law, brother).

If you need protection from someone who is in your “family” but who is not on this list, you might still be able to get a 209A restraining order. You may also be able to file a criminal complaint against the person.

Can I get a restraining order if the person didn’t hit me?

You can get a restraining order against any person on the list above who has:

  • hurt you physically;
  • tried to hurt you physically;
  • made you scared or threatened they would physically hurt you; or
  • forced you to have sex or sexual contact by pressuring you, threatening you, or making you feel that you have no choice.

See more about domestic violence and how to get help

To learn more about the specific rules for getting a 209A restraining order, see the Massachusetts Trial Court’s Chapter 209A Abuse Prevention Guidelines.

Will a restraining order make me safer?

A restraining order can be a helpful tool for a lot of people. A restraining order helps many people feel safer. But sometimes, trying to get a restraining order can make things worse or put someone in more danger.

A restraining order is an official order from a court. It tells the abusive person that you are serious about stopping the abuse. It might scare the abusive person into leaving you alone.

If you have a restraining order the police can do more to help you. The order gives the police the power to arrest the abusive person for doing things that are against the order. But the order only works if you are willing to call the police and report the abusive person if they do something that goes against the order.

A restraining order might not be enough to stop the abusive person from hurting you. It is a court order. In other words, it is just a piece of paper. Sometimes a court order makes an abusive person angrier.

You know the person who is abusing you. You know if they are someone who will respect an order from a court. You know if they are someone who won't care if there is a court order and will do whatever they want anyway. You also know if getting an order from a court is likely to make that person mad enough to want to hurt you more.

If you do get a restraining order, it should only be one part of your safety plan. You should think about all the ways that you can protect yourself. The other person might abuse you even though you have a restraining order. You can get help with making a safety plan. Most domestic violence advocacy programs have counselors who can talk to you and help you make a plan. Find a program near you.

Is a 209A case a “criminal” case?

No. A 209A case is a “civil” case. This means that you, the “plaintiff,” file it against the person who abused you, the “defendant.” There is no prosecutor from the state. If you get a 209A restraining order, the defendant will not automatically be arrested or fined. Instead, the court orders them to do or not to do certain things, like abuse you, contact you, or come within a certain distance.

How is a criminal case different?

A criminal case is for punishing and rehabilitating someone who has violated a criminal law. This could be assault and battery, larceny, or homicide. A criminal case starts when the police or the victim file a criminal complaint against someone. The case is prosecuted by the District Attorney.

A person who is found guilty in a criminal case can be ordered:

  • to go to jail or prison,
  • to serve probation,
  • to go to a counseling program,
  • to pay a fine, and/or
  • not to contact the victim of the crime.


The district attorney does not represent you. They represent the state, not the victim of the crime.

It is not a crime to have a restraining order against you but it is a crime to violate a restraining order209A orders say so, right at the top. The police can arrest someone for violating a restraining order.

You can file a restraining order against someone who abused you even if there are no police reports or criminal cases.

Are there other types of restraining orders?

Yes. The term “restraining order” is used many different ways, but not all restraining orders are 209A restraining orders.

Harassment Prevention Orders

A Harassment Prevention Order is a court order to protect you from harassment and abuse by someone who is not a member or former member of your household or family, or someone you have been dating.

Automatic Restraining Orders

An Automatic Restraining Order does not deal with domestic violence. It deals with money and property in a divorce or separate support case. It is issued automatically when you file that kind of case. It says you can only use your money and property to pay for reasonable living expenses. You cannot hide or move your money or property. You must follow this order until you get another order from the court about using your money and property.

Domestic Relations Protective Orders

Domestic Relations Protective Orders are like 209A restraining orders but they are granted as part of divorce, paternity, and support cases in Probate and Family Court. Talk to a lawyer if you think you need a Domestic Relations Protective Order. 

If I get a restraining order against someone, will they have a criminal record?

No. A person does not get a criminal record just because they have a restraining order against them. It is only a crime to disobey, or “violate,” the restraining order.

When you get a restraining order against someone, it is entered into the statewide court record system. The police and the courts can see this system.

If the abusive person does something that the order says they cannot do, you can report it to the police. The police may file criminal charges against them, which would give the abusive person a criminal record.

Getting a restraining order can cause other things to happen for someone who already has criminal problems. When you ask for a restraining order against someone, the court checks to see if they have a warrant against them. A warrant means the police are looking for the person and have a reason to arrest them. The police might arrest the abusive person when they give them a copy of the restraining order.

If the abusive person is on probation because they had a criminal case against them before, a restraining order can cause them to be “surrendered” on their probation. This means that they could be brought back to court because of the things you said they did to you.

If I get a restraining order against someone, could they lose their job?

This depends on the rules at their job. Some employers have rules that say you cannot work there if you have a restraining order against you.

Employers do not automatically find out when an employee has a restraining order against them. A restraining order would not show up on a criminal background check unless the person has had criminal cases because of it.

Restraining orders also say that the abusive person cannot have a gun. Some people have jobs where they are supposed to carry a gun, like police or security guards. A restraining order could affect their job.

Is there a statewide system that keeps track of restraining orders?

Massachusetts has a "Statewide Domestic Violence Record Keeping System" that has records of new and old restraining orders from all over the state. 

The state also has computerized systems that keep track of civil and criminal court activity and criminal records. These records include violations of restraining orders and other domestic violence crimes. 

Every time someone asks the court for a restraining order, the Probation Department checks these records. The Probation Department tells the judge if the abusive person has had other restraining orders against them, if they have a criminal record, or if there are any warrants out against them. 

When the court issues a restraining order, the Probation Department records the order in the Domestic Violence Record Keeping System on the same day. This makes it so the police and other courts know the order exists.

Can I get a restraining order if the person who abused me lives in another state?

Yes. In Massachusetts you can get a restraining order against someone who lives in another state. Depending on where the abuse happened, it might limit what the court can order the abuser to do. When asking for an order against someone who lives in another state, you should think about whether this could make you less safe. This is especially important if the abusive person does not know where you live and you do not want them to come to Massachusetts.

The abusive person will get a copy of the restraining order that says what court it is from. The court name could tell the abusive person where you are living. For example, if it says it is from “Quincy District Court” they will know you are living in or around Quincy. Also, part of the restraining order process is a hearing where the abusive person can come and ask the court not to continue the order. This means that when the abusive person gets a copy of the order, they will have a reason to come to court in Massachusetts and see you. This can be dangerous. It might be a reason why filing for a restraining order is not a good option for you.

If I have a restraining order from another state, is it good in Massachusetts?

Yes. Restraining orders from other states will be enforced as if they were issued in Massachusetts.

The out-of-state restraining order does not need to follow the same rules that you would have to follow if you filed for a restraining order in Massachusetts. Massachusetts enforces any current court order that protects you from abuse.

To have your out-of-state restraining order enforced in Massachusetts:

Show a copy of your order to the police.

If your order has already been entered into the Statewide Domestic Violence Record Keeping System, tell the police that you have a current order in the system. You do not need to show them a copy.

To have your out-of-state restraining order entered into the Statewide Domestic Violence Record Keeping System:

  1. Ask the court that issued the order to send you a certified copy. You may have to pay a fee.
  2. File the certified copy of your restraining order in a District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Probate and Family Court, or Superior Court in Massachusetts. And
  3. File a sworn statement that says to the best of your knowledge, the order is currently in effect. Use the form Affidavit for Filing of Out-of-State Protective Order.

When you file your out-of-state order, the court must enter the order into the Massachusetts record system on the same day. This means that courts and police will now be able to see that your restraining order exists.

Once your order is in the record system, if you need a police officer to enforce it, you can tell the officer you have a restraining order that is still in effect. The officer can look up your order in the system. 

Resource Boxes
More Resources
Who to call for help with domestic violence
DV - Who to call for help

Call 911 if you are in danger right now.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

See Jane Doe's list of Massachusetts domestic violence programs and court resources for safety and support.

Get help applying for a 209A
DV Help applying for 209A
Was this page helpful?