Defense for those served or threatened with 209A orders

You are not alone. Each year thousands of people, mostly men, are falsely accused of abuse, which results in a 209A Restraining Order being issued. These orders are regularly used as power in divorce disputes, custody disputes, property disputes, and even as weapons to get the courts to force a breakup of a mere dating relationship gone sour. These reasons are not the intended purpose behind the 209A. The true purpose — protection from real abuse — has long ago been lost in the sea of false accusations and vengeance.

209A Defense approach:

  • You provide in detail to learn the exact circumstances of what has happened
  • I allow at least 2 hours for the initial conversation with you
  • You are not charged for this first meeting
  • You are given a frank and honest evaluation of the case
  • Once advised, if you wish to hire me to proceed and defend your case, we will discuss fees and sign an agreement

I use several interchangeable terms for the removal of a 209A Order. The Order can be:

  • removed
  • vacated
  • dismissed
  • overturned
  • lifted

To better understand what is involved in defending a 209A matter, read the information below.


Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS THE LEGAL DEFINITION OF ABUSE?

Chapter 209A, the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, defines abuse as:

  • actual physical abuse, or
  • an attempt to harm another, or
  • placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or
  • causing another to engage in sexual relations by force, threat of force or duress

WHAT IS A 209A ORDER?

An Abuse Prevention Order; called a “209A Order,” or “protective order,” or “restraining order,” is a civil court order intended to provide protection from physical or sexual harm caused by force or threat of harm from a family or household member. (Note that while the 209A proceeding is civil in nature, violations of 209A orders are crimes punishable by fines and/or incarceration.) In practice, these orders are often used as retaliation or tactical weapons in divorce, custody, or other domestic disputes. There have been instances of parents obtaining 209A orders against their adult children and vice versa. Disgruntled girlfriends have obtained them against their boyfriends, and vice versa. The instances of abuse of the system are common, and the courts make little effort to separate the legitimate cases from those that are not, usually relying solely on the story of the person asking for the order (the Plaintiff). The procedure for obtaining a 209A order is simple and the destruction that these orders cause in the life of the person who is being “restrained” (the Defendant) is tremendous. 209A orders are routinely granted against:

  • a spouse or former spouse
  • a present or former household member
  • a relative by blood or a present or former relative by marriage
  • the other parent of a minor child of the Plaintiff
  • a person with whom the Plaintiff has or had a substantial dating relationship

WHERE CAN ONE OBTAIN A 209A ORDER?

A 209A Order can be obtained in any District Court, Superior Court, Boston Municipal Court, or Probate and Family Court in Massachusetts. An emergency 209A Order can be obtained through any police department after court hours, on weekends and holidays. One does not need an attorney to file for a 209A Order; the Plaintiff will receive help from court personnel and Victim Witness Advocates (employees of the District Attorney’s Office whose sole job is to assist alleged victims with court procedures and filing criminal charges). There is no charge for filing for the order. Criminal charges are not necessary to obtain a 209A order, but Victim Witness Advocates often encourage the filing of criminal charges as well.

WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ASKED ON THE FORM?

On the application or complaint forms for a 209A order, a sworn statement (affidavit) must be completed describing the facts of any recent or past incidents of alleged abuse. Existing 209A Orders from any court must also be disclosed, as well as any pending divorce or child custody proceedings

WHAT RELIEF CAN A PLAINTIFF SEEK ON THE APPLICATION?

The Plaintiff may request the judge to order that the Defendant:

  • stop or refrain from abuse of Plaintiff or a child in Plaintiff’s custody
  • have no contact with the Plaintiff or a child in the Plaintiff’s custody
  • vacate or move out of the house or apartment where the Plaintiff resides, even if the lease or title is in the Defendant’s name
  • stay away from the Plaintiff’s place of employment
  • pay support to the Plaintiff or a child in Plaintiff’s custody, if there is an obligation to support
  • pay Plaintiff’s medical costs, lost wages, cost of changing locks, attorney’s fees, and other expenses resulting from the alleged abuse
  • attend a Batterer’s Intervention Program

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

After the 209A complaint or application forms are completed, the case will be heard before a judge, who will ask the Plaintiff the reasons for a protective order, and will review the complaint or application forms and affidavit. The judge should be deciding whether it appears that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse. The judge will probably ask some clarifying questions. In some courts, a “209A Briefing Session ” is held before the hearing and a Court Advocate or a District Attorney’s Victim / Witness Advocate explains the hearing process and be remains in the courtroom to assist the Plaintiffs. Because the Defendant is likely not present in court, the judge will only hear the Plaintiff’s story. Based on that one-sided account, the judge will grant (or rarely deny) the order. When granted, a Temporary Order is issued for 10 days, and the police will serve (deliver) a copy of the order on the Defendant as soon as they can, because the order cannot be enforced until the Defendant is aware of it. This need for speed means that the police will serve the Defendant at work, or an equally awkward and untimely place.

Within the order there will be a date for a second hearing, to take place within 10 days of the first. At the second hearing, the judge will decide whether to make the Temporary Order into a Permanent Order, one that lasts up to a year in duration and can be renewed thereafter. The Temporary Order is in effect immediately after it is served. If the Defendant is served at home and the order states that the Defendant must vacate the residence, the police will escort the Defendant out immediately, with the opportunity to only get dressed and grab the most basic personal items. If the Defendant is served at work and the order states that the Defendant must vacate the residence, going home that day would constitute a violation of the order, no matter how brief the visit. The Defendant may report to the local police department and ask to be accompanied to the residence to gather personal belongings. The police will arrange a time when the Plaintiff is not present and accompany the Defendant to the residence.

Again, the opportunity to collect belonging will be very brief, as the police will not wait around more than a few minutes. Finally, if the Defendant has a license to carry firearms, the Temporary Order will state that the Defendant must surrender all firearms immediately. If there are any items under dispute, the Defendant will not be able to take them.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A VIOLATION OF THE ORDER?

The smallest infraction of the “stay away” and “no contact” orders could be considered a criminal violation, no matter how innocent, no matter how benign, and no matter if the contact or invitation was initiated by the Plaintiff. Not only is personal contact considered a violation, but indirect contact by mail, e-mail, text messages, and the act of sending flowers have all been considered violations. The Plaintiff calling the Defendant on the phone to apologize could be a violation for which the Defendant would be criminally liable unless the Defendant immediately hangs up. The Defendant noticing the Plaintiff at a busy restaurant by chance could be a violation of a stay-away order, unless the Defendant leaves the area right away. There have been numerous real cases, better described as horror stories, of the most innocent acts being prosecuted as violations to the fullest extent.

Consider a 2001 case where a Weymouth Defendant was ordered to stay 50 feet away from his ex-wife but was allowed to come by the ex-wife’s apartment building to pick up and drop off the couple’s two children “as long as he remained in the vehicle.” On one Saturday, while the Defendant was dropping off his 6-year-old son, he honked the horn to get his ex-wife’s attention. When the ex-wife did not come out to greet the child, as she usually did, the Defendant walked his son into the lobby of the apartment building and rang the buzzer to enable the boy to get inside the building’s common foyer. The Defendant did not enter the ex-wife’s apartment and did not have any contact with the ex-wife. The ex-wife called the police, and the Defendant was charged and convicted of violating the 209A order.

Once the police are aware of a possible violation, they are directed by law to arrest the Defendant if they have probable cause to believe that a violation occurred. Once the arrest is made, the incident is mostly treated like other crimes and generally follows the same process. One important note is that if the court determines that the alleged violation took place in retaliation for the Defendant being reported for failure to pay child support, the court must impose a 60-day imprisonment term and a fine between $1,000-$10,000.

WHAT IS A TEN DAY HEARING?

The Ten-Day Hearing requires the Plaintiff to return to court on the date specified in the Temporary Order. On that date, the Defendant may appear as well, with or without an attorney, and try to oppose the issuance of the Permanent Order through his own statements (testimony) and a limited right to ask questions (cross-examine) the Plaintiff. The rules of evidence are not strictly enforced at a 209A hearing. While this makes it easier for a Defendant to speak for himself or herself without an attorney, this allows nearly free reign to the Plaintiff who can say just about anything, and the determination will come down to the Plaintiff’s word against the Defendant’s, compounded by the Defendant’s criminal history or past instances of domestic violence, if any. If the Defendant does not appear for this hearing, there will be no one to oppose the Permanent Order, and it is even more likely to be granted

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF A YEAR OR THE END OF THE EFFECTIVE DATE?

If a 209A Order is issued by the judge for a year, the Plaintiff must return to the court for an extension of the Order at the end of that year or the Order will expire.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE THE TERMS OF THE ORDER OR TO TERMINATE IT ENTIRELY?

Any changes in the Order before the expiration date must be made with both Plaintiff and Defendant appearing in the same court where the Order was first issued. A request to change, amend, or altogether vacate the Order can be made at the Clerk’s Office by either party, and a hearing will be arranged before a judge. Many times the Plaintiff feels remorse for seeking the order and wishes to have it terminated, but does not know how to proceed. The Victim Witness Advocates will be cautious or try to put off helping the Plaintiff who asks the court to terminate the order, because of their bias. While the Defendant with a “no contact” order may not speak to the Plaintiff, the Defendant’s attorney may, and this helps to bring about peaceful termination of the 209A order and reconciliation of the parties

CAN A MINOR OBTAIN A 209A ORDER?

A minor under 18 years old can obtain a 209A Order with some restrictions. Generally, a parent or guardian needs to be present, but the judge can decide to issue a 209A Order without a parent present if the minor appears to be in danger. In some cases, the Department of Social Services may offer assistance in offering assistance to a minor. Many high schools and colleges also offer assistance with obtaining 209A orders. A parent may also obtain a protective order for his or her child.


10 Dos and Don’ts after receiving a 209A Order

  1. DO calm down. This is important. Wait one hour before doing anything else.
  2. DO NOT contact the person who took out the order in any manner whatsoever. This includes text messages, e-mails, sending flowers, or contact through third persons. It is tempting to ask “Why did you do it??” but this is a dangerous temptation.
  3. DO read the order carefully to see which provisions are checked. Is there a “No Contact” provision? Is there a “Stay Away” provision? Note the addresses of the stay-away locations. Are there provisions regarding children?
  4. DO note the date and location of the next scheduled hearing. This will be indicated on page 2 of the 209A Order. If you cannot read the writing, call the Clerk’s Office for the court listed at the top of the 209A Order.
  5. DO contact family and friends to arrange for a place to stay at least until the next hearing date, which should be in about 10 days.
  6. DO NOT return to the residence to retrieve personal belongings if the order specifies your residence as a stay-away location. Doing so would be a violation of the order, which is a serious crime.
  7. DO NOT disconnect utilities or telephone lines even if the rental lease or the house is in your name. Doing so may negatively impact your chances of getting the order dismissed later. If the other person has no legal claim to the residence from which you were ordered to stay away, you may be able to force them to leave via an eviction proceeding.
  8. DO NOT go near the other person’s workplace, school, or any other place where they may be spending time even if it is a public place.
  9. DO contact an attorney. The attorney can help you to retrieve your belongings by communicating with the police on your behalf. The attorney will also advise you of your rights and what options may be available. If you and the other person work or go to school at the same place, the attorney will have the order modified to allow you access to these places without placing you in violation. The attorney will also advise you whether there is a good chance of getting the order dismissed (removed) and what procedures will be involved.
  10. DO try to distract yourself and keep yourself occupied with other things. The next few weeks will be especially tough. It is important to surround yourself with supportive people, family, and friends so that the nightmare of the 209A order seems less daunting. Most importantly, ABIDE BY THE ORDER. Doing so will give you the best chances of successfully presenting your case in court in order to get the order removed.