What does an abuse prevention order do?
An abuse prevention order is a court order. That means that only a judge can change the order. The person who requested the order can’t change or end the order without going back to court. Even if the plaintiff seems to request or allow conduct forbidden by the order, you will be in violation of the abuse prevention order unless a judge has changed it.
If you’re ordered not to abuse the plaintiff, this means that you can’t:
- Physically assault or threaten the plaintiff
- Do anything that gives the plaintiff reason to fear that you might cause them physical harm.
- Use force or a threat of any kind to make the plaintiff have sex unwillingly
If you’re ordered to have no contact with the plaintiff, this means that:
- You can’t live with the plaintiff.
- You must stay a specific number of feet/yards away from the plaintiff. The distance you must remain away is listed on the order.
- You can’t contact the plaintiff in any way. This includes, but isn’t limited to, phone calls, text messages, emails, gifts and contact through friends, relatives, neighbors or anyone else, sending or posting messages on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site, unless specifically allowed in the order.
- Leave a place as quickly as possible if you are already at a place and the defendant comes to that same location
If you’re ordered to leave a home, this means that:
- You must leave the residence immediately and stay away from that residence while the order is in effect, even if the plaintiff isn’t there at the time. If the residence is an apartment, you may be ordered to remain away from the entire building, even if the lease is in your name.
- You can’t damage the residence in any way.
- You can’t shut off any utilities or interrupt mail delivery to the plaintiff.
If you’ve been ordered to stay away from your home, the order may permit you to, in the company of the local police, pick up your personal belongings at a time agreed to by the plaintiff. Contact the local police so that they can arrange a time to go with you to the house so you can get your clothes and other things you may need.
If you’re ordered to stay away from the plaintiff’s work, this means that:
- You must stay away from the place where the plaintiff works as long as the order is in effect, even if the plaintiff isn’t there at the time.
If the plaintiff has been given custody of children, this means that:
The children will live with the plaintiff unless or until a judge changes that order.
If you’re ordered to have no contact with the children, this means that:
- You must stay a specific number of feet/yards away from them (the distance is listed on the order) and have no contact with them while the order is in effect unless and until a judge permits contact with them. The order may include that you stay a specific number of feet/yards away from a child’s school or daycare.
- If you’re permitted to have contact with the children but not with the plaintiff and the children live with the plaintiff, you must be careful to speak only to the children, following exactly what contact the order permits (for example, phone or email contact or visitation) and not to speak with or have any contact with the plaintiff.
The Probate and Family Court can change a District Court judge’s abuse prevention order with regard to custody and contact with children. Even if the Probate and Family Court does change the parts of the order that deal with the children, all other parts of the District Court order remain in effect.
If you’re ordered to pay certain money, this means that:
- You can be ordered to pay temporary support if you’re legally obligated to do so (for example, if you’re married).
- You can be ordered to pay child support for your children.
- You can be ordered to pay for costs related to the abuse, such as medical bills, lost wages or money for changing the locks.
If you’re ordered to give up firearms, this means that:
- You must immediately transfer possession of any firearms, ammunition, license to carry firearms or a firearms identification card that you have to the police department listed on the order.
- You can’t purchase any firearms or ammunition while the order is in effect.
What happens after I receive an abuse prevention order?
You will need to appear for the 10-day hearing. The date and time of the next court hearing is listed on the order, and the name and location of the court that issued the order is listed on the top right hand corner. It will usually be in about 10 days, but sometimes it’s sooner. It’s very important that you don’t do anything to violate the order during the time between when you get the order and your first hearing. You can hire an attorney during this time. You can also go to the court that issued your order and ask to get a copy of the court file.
It’s very important that you go to the hearing. If you’re not there, the order may be extended for up to 1 year. On the day of the hearing, get to court early so you can find the right courtroom. Ask the people in the clerk’s office for help if you can’t find the right courtroom. You may need to wait in the courtroom for your case to be called.
During the hearing, the judge will listen to the evidence and decide if the order should continue in its present form, be amended in some way(s), or be ended. Both the plaintiff and the defendant have a right to be heard at the hearing and to present evidence that the judge finds relevant.
If the judge grants the order, it will normally be good for 1 year, but it may be for a shorter time. The order will say how long it will last, and will tell you when you need to go back to court if the plaintiff wants to renew it. You need to pay careful attention to the next hearing date, because if you miss the next hearing, it could be renewed for another year or even made permanent without you getting a chance to be heard on whether or not the order should be extended or changed.
What if I want to change or end an abuse prevention order against me?
If you want to change or end the order, you can come to the court that issued the order Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.– 4:00 p.m. to file a request that the judge make changes or end the order. The clerk-magistrate’s office can help you file the documents to make this request. A hearing will be set and the plaintiff will be given notice of the hearing. The court staff will tell you if they will let the plaintiff know about the hearing or if you need to send the plaintiff notice by mail and when that has to be done.
Can I appeal an abuse prevention order against me?
You have 30 days to appeal after the judge issues the order. No matter what court issued the order, you must appeal to the Appeals Court. To start your appeal, you must file a Notice of Appeal at the clerk’s office of the court that issued the order within 30 days of your hearing. See the Appeals Court Help Center for information on the appeals process.