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What happens after I file a complaint for a 209a restraining order?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed April 2021

You are the “plaintiff”.

The abusive person is the “defendant.”

What do I do after I fill out the complaint for a restraining order?

Give the signed and completed complaint and other forms to the clerk at the court. This is called “filing the complaint.”

The Probation Department will check to see if the defendant has a criminal history. They will also find out if the abusive person has any other restraining orders. After the Probation Department runs their check the clerk will bring your forms and the information from the Probation Department into the courtroom.

You talk to the judge in the courtroom.

What happens in the courtroom?

The judge conducts a hearing. They read your complaint and your affidavit. They may ask you questions.

Tell the judge why you need a restraining order. Talk about the facts that you wrote in your affidavit. Show the judge any police reports, medical records, or pictures of the abuse that you brought to court.

If an advocate attends the hearing with you, the judge may let the advocate stand with you while you speak. The judge may ask the advocate questions about your case.


The 1st hearing is called an "ex-parte hearing." “Ex-parte” means the defendant is not present at the hearing.

What can the judge do at the ex-parte hearing?

At the ex-parte hearing the judge can do 3 things:

  1. Give you a restraining order and schedule a 2nd hearing. Your order is only good for up to 10 business days and the 2nd hearing will be scheduled on the date the order ends. The 2nd hearing is usually called a "10-day hearing."
  2. Decide they need to hear from the defendant before they can make a decision. The judge schedules a 2nd hearing within 10 business days. Judges usually call this a "two-party hearing."
  3. Deny your complaint. If the judge denies your complaint, the court will not send any information about your complaint to the defendant.

What happens if the judge makes the order?

If the judge decides to make an ex-parte restraining order, they:

  1. Schedule a 2nd hearing within 10 business days.
  2. Order the defendant be “served” with a copy of the order.
  3. Give the restraining order to the clerk. The clerk will give you copies of the order before you leave the courthouse.

Read the order before you leave the courthouse. Make sure the information on the order is right. If you find a mistake, go back to the clerk and explain what is wrong. If the clerk cannot correct the mistake, you will need to go back in front of the judge to get the order corrected.

See a Sample Abuse Prevention Order.

Keep a copy of the order with you at all times. You need the order with you so you can show it to the police if the abusive person does something that is against the order.

If the order says the defendant must stay away from your work, your child’s school, or your place of worship, give those places a copy.  Keep spare copies of the order in other important places, like your car, with your babysitter, your child's doctors, your friend's house, your parent's house, etc.

If you lose your copy of the order, you need to go back to the same court and ask them for another copy.

What happens after I receive the ex-parte order?

The clerk’s office gives a copy of the order to the police department for where the defendant lives. The police will deliver a copy of the order the defendant. This is called “serving the order” or “giving notice.”


The order does not start working until the police “serve” the defendant with a copy. It may take the police a little while to find them. Call the police to find out when they have given the defendant the order. 

If your order says that the defendant must leave your home, the police will serve them and wait while they leave. If the defendant needs to get personal belongings from the house, they can make an appointment to return to the house with the police to take only personal belongings like clothes or medications.

If I have my ex-parte order, why do I have to go back to court so soon for a second hearing?

The second hearing gives the defendant a chance to tell the judge their side of the story.

The order the judge made at the ex-parte hearing is only good for up to 10 business days. The 2nd hearing is scheduled for the date the ex parte order ends. This 2nd hearing is called the “10-day hearing.”

You must return to court for the 10-day hearing if you want your restraining order to be extended.

What can I do if the judge does not give me the ex-parte order?

If the judge does not give you a restraining order, talk to an advocate about what you can do to appeal the judge's decision.

Who to call for help

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