Abuse Prevention Orders - The Basics

Produced by Attorney Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Reviewed January 2012

This article is from Where Do We Go From Here?, a self-help “know your rights” manual designed to provide community legal education to victims and survivors of intimate partner violence, shelter and other intimate partner violence service provider staff, and other non-lawyers who have questions about getting out of and staying out of abusive situations. 

"Where Do We Go From Here?" was produced in 2004 by Western Massachusetts Legal Services.  Western Massachusetts Legal Services is now Community Legal Aid.

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2019

What is a 209A restraining order?

A 209A restraining order is a court order that protects 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 "209A's."

209A restraining orders say “Abuse Prevention Order” at the top of the order.

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 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, like assault and battery, larceny, or homicide. A criminal case starts when district attorney files a criminal complaint against someone who breaks a criminal law or prosecutes a criminal complaint filed by the victim of a crime.  

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

  • to go 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.

Note

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 order. 209A 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 criminal charges.

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 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.