Supreme Judicial Court, March 11, 2014

A defendant seeking to terminate a permanent abuse prevention order “must show by clear and convincing evidence that, as a result of a significant change in circumstances, it is no longer equitable for the order to continue because the protected party no longer has a reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm.”

In this case, the defendant alleged several change in circumstances in support of his motion to terminate plaintiff’s permanent 209A order.  The Court found that neither the mere passage of time nor the defendant’s compliance with an order is sufficient alone to constitute a significant change in circumstances because a judge issuing the order knows that time will pass and expects the defendant will comply with the order.  However, these two factors can be considered in conjunction with a change of circumstance that was unforeseen at the time the court issued the permanent order.  The Court found that the defendant’s relocation to Utah, 2,100 miles away from the plaintiff’s residence, did not diminish her reasonable fear of imminent serious physical harm because the initial abuse occurred when the defendant and plaintiff resided in separate states.  Next, the Court considered the defendant’s argument that he “moved on with his life” but this assertion was not substantiated with documentation to show that he had moved on from his history of domestic abuse and retaliation.  The Court concluded that the judge did not abuse her discretion in denying the defendant’s motion to vacate the order.