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209A Protective Orders

Produced by Attorney Jeff Wolf for MassLegalHelp
Reviewed January 2012

What is a 209A protective order?

A 209A protective 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 protective order because the law that created it is Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A.

Is it the same thing as a "restraining order"?

Protective orders are also called "restraining orders," "abuse prevention orders," or "209A's." In this manual we use the term 209A protective order, because the order does more than just "restrain" your abuser. It protects you in other ways too. 209A protective orders say “Abuse Prevention Order” at the top of the order.

You may also hear about "Domestic Relations Protective Orders." These orders are like 209A protective orders but they are given as part of divorce, paternity and support cases in Probate and Family Court. Domestic Relations Protective Orders can give you the same protections as 209A protective orders. You should talk to a lawyer if you think you need a Domestic Relations Protective Order under one of these cases. You may qualify for free legal services. The information in this manual does not cover Domestic Relations Protective Orders.

There are other types of restraining orders that are not 209A protective orders. For example, you get a restraining order to stop harassment.  You can get a restraining order to keep a neighbor from dumping garbage on their front lawn. Or one person can get a restraining order to keep another person from spending all the money in a joint bank account until the court says it is ok. But we do not talk about those types of orders in this manual. We will be talking only about the kind of order that protects you from abuse by a member or former member of your household or family or someone you have been dating.

What is the difference between criminal charges and a 209A protective order?

Criminal charges are cases handled by the district attorney. The district attorney is the one who files the complaint, or who goes forward with a complaint filed by the victim. Criminal cases are for breaking criminal laws like laws against assault and battery, stalking, or criminal harassment. If a person is found guilty in a criminal case, he can go to jail or prison, get probation, have to go to a counseling program, and/or have to pay a fine.

A 209A protective order case is a civil case. This means that it is filed by one person against another person. The district attorney does not get involved in civil cases. The person who abused you will not be arrested or fined just because you get a 209A protective order. Instead, the court orders him to do or not to do certain things.

If the court gives you a 209A protective order and the person abuses you again, the person may be violating your order. Violating a 209A order is a crime.  209A orders say so right at the top. The violation might be a crime. The police can arrest someone for violating a restraining order.

You can file for a 209A protective order even if there are already criminal charges against your abuser. The 209A protective order does different things than criminal charges.

You also can get a 209A protective order if you do not file criminal charges against the person who abused you. If you get a 209A protective order without filing criminal charges, you can still decide to file criminal charges later as long as you do not wait too long.