You can also go to the Superior Court in your county. If you live in Boston, you can go to the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) near where you live. Most people get 209A restraining orders from District Court, BMC, or Probate and Family Court.
If you have moved to another town in Massachusetts since the abuse, you can go to the court where you live now or to the court where the abuse happened. It is your choice.
In this chapter, everything we say about the District Court also applies to the Boston Municipal Court and the Superior Court.
Is it better to go to District Court or to Probate and Family Court?
It is up to you. Some things to think about when you are deciding which court is better for you are:
Travel and distance
- If it is hard for you to get places that are far away, find out which court is closer to you. You might want to pick the closest court. There are more District Courts than Probate and Family Courts, so the District Court may be closer to your home.
- Find out when the courts near you are open. In some counties, the Probate and Family Court is only open part of the day. If you go to a Probate and Family Court when it is not open, they will send you to the District Court. You might want to call both the District Court near you and the Probate and Family Court in your county to find out when they are open.
Help with the papers and the hearing
Many courts have advocates in the courthouse who can help you file for a 209A restraining order. Advocates may be from:
- SAFEPLAN, a program of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA). SAFEPLAN advocates work with local domestic violence programs.
- the District Attorney's office Victim/Witness Advocate program;
- a domestic violence advocacy program; or
If the other parent wants to visit your child
The District Court is not supposed to order visitation between the other parent and your child as part of a 209A case. If the District Court judge asks you if you want to set up a visitation schedule, you have the right to say no.
The Probate and Family Court can order visitation in a 209A case.
If you want to get visitation settled right away, you might want to go to the Probate and Family Court to file for the 209A restraining order. If you do not want the court to decide about visitation, you might want to go to the District Court for your 209A restraining order. If you start in the District Court and the other parent wants to visit your child, they will have to go to the Probate and Family Court and file a new case there.
If you go to the Probate and Family Court, you should be prepared to talk about visitation. If it is not safe for the other parent to visit your child, you can ask for no visitation. If it is safe for the other parent to visit your child, you should think about what kind of visitation schedule you want. Write it down and be prepared to give it to the court. That way, your 209A protective order can set a visitation schedule that will work for you.
Think about if supervised visitation may be the best option for you.
Even if there is a Probate and Family Court order, a District Court can make a new custody or child support order as part of a 209A order,
- The District Court must send a copy of its 209A custody or child support order to the Probate and Family Court right away; and
- The District Court 209A custody or child support order can only last up to 30 days; and
- The Probate and Family Court can replace the District Court 209A custody or child support order with its own custody or child support order at any time.
In an emergency, a District Court judge can make a custody or visitation order that conflicts with an order of the Probate and Family Court. Read more about what District Court judges can do about conflicting custody or visitation orders in an emergency.
If the person who abused you is facing criminal charges
If the person who abused you is facing criminal charges related to the domestic violence, you might want to file for your 209A restraining order at the District Court where that case is. That way, you may be able to work with the same Victim/Witness Advocate for both cases.
What if the courts are closed when I need the order?
There is always a judge on call through the "Emergency Judicial Response System." Call the police if you need a 209A restraining order at night, on the weekend, or on a holiday. They will help you get an emergency 209A restraining order from the judge who is on call.
An order from an on-call judge is good until the court opens the next business day. The police will tell you when and where to go to get the emergency order continued.
Read about what happens when the courts are closed.
What if I go to the "wrong" court?
If you need a 209A restraining order, you are supposed to go to the court that covers the area where you live. If you moved away because you were being abused, you can still go to the court where you used to live. You can also go to the court that covers your new residence.
You may end up at the “wrong” court, a court that does not cover either your new or your old residence. If that happens, the judge is not supposed to just send you away to the "right" court.
Read about what the judge is supposed to do if you go to the wrong court.
What if I go to court and there is no judge on duty?
If you go to a court and there is no judge on duty, the court clerk should help you get a hearing with a judge at another court, over the telephone.
Read about what the clerk should do if no judge is on duty.