Massachusetts law about domestic violence (209A)

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on domestic violence law under Mass. General Laws c.209A.

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Table of Contents

Best bets

Abuse & harassment court orders, Mass. Trial Court.
Explains the difference between MGL c. 209A and MGL c. 258E as well as how to request an order under each law.

COVID-19 resources for Abuse Protection Orders (209A) and Harassment Prevention Orders (258E), Mass. Trial Court.
Resources and information for Abuse Protection Orders (MGL c. 209A) and Harassment Prevention Orders (MGL c. 258E) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Massachusetts law

Primary domestic violence law 

MGL c.209A  Abuse prevention; see also:

Other laws related to domestic violence

MGL c.186, §§ 23-29 Housing rights for victims of domestic violence

MGL c.209C, § 15 Children born out of wedlock--domestic violence record search

MGL c.258E Harassment prevention orders

MGL c.265, § 43 Stalking; punishment

MGL c.277, § 62A Violations of chapter 209A; jurisdiction

MGL c.277, § 62B Stalking; jurisdiction

Massachusetts regulations

950 CMR 130 Address confidentiality program

Massachusetts guidelines

Domestic violence law enforcement guidelines, Mass. Executive Office of Public Safety, July 2017.
"These guidelines set forth appropriate and effective responses to domestic violence for police departments in Massachusetts."

Massachusetts Guide to Evidence, s.1106: Abuse prevention and harassment prevention proceedings, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court.
"In all civil proceedings under the Abuse Prevention Act, G. L. c. 209A, the rules of evidence should be applied flexibly by taking into consideration the personal and emotional nature of the issues involved, whether one or both of the parties is self-represented, and the need for fairness to all parties."

Guidelines for Judicial Practice: Abuse prevention proceedings, Mass. Trial Court, September 2011.
Caution: In V.M. v. R.B., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 522 (2018), the court states that these guidelines "erroneously suggest[] that establishing the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant is necessary to confer 'subject matter jurisdiction to issue an abuse prevention order under c. 209A.'"

Selected case law

Bosse v. Bosse, SJC Single Justice 91-493 (1991)
"[W]here in-hand service is not reasonably possible, post-facto notice by mail to last known address and by publication is consistent with § 7...Mandating personal service where the defendant has, by disappearing, made personal service impossible would enable defendants, the perpetrators of abuse, to deny their victims the protection of our courts under G. L. c. 209A."

Boston Housing Authority v. Y.A., 482 Mass. 240 (2019)
Eviction and domestic violence. Even though the tenant did not tell her landlord that domestic violence was one reason she couldn't pay her rent, she did mention it in court to the judge. The judge should have asked further questions to decide if the tenant was entitled to protection under the Violence Against Women Act, 34 U.S.C. §§ 12291 et seq.

Comm. v. Collier, 427 Mass. 385 (1998)
The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted intentionally leading to a violation of the order when a third party is involved in the act that led to the violation.

Comm. v. Housen, 83 Mass. App. Ct. 174 (2013)
Defendant who had permission by former girlfriend to enter her home was still required to leave when each of her children came home because the children had the right to individual protection under the 209A order, and so could be charged with multiple offenses stemming from the same activity.

Comm. v. Jacobsen, 419 Mass. 269 (1995)
A warrantless arrest for abuse may be made under M.G.L. Ch. 209A, § 6(7) if there is reason to believe a person is in fear of serious imminent physical harm.

Comm. v. Sanborn, 477 Mass. 393 (2017)
This court concluded that G. L. c. 209A does not authorize the police to effectuate a motor vehicle stop to serve a civil abuse prevention order; instead, c. 209A requires law enforcement to take reasonable measures to serve abuse prevention orders, and in order for the service of such orders to be reasonable, the manner of service must comply with the terms of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

Comm. v. Shea, 467 Mass. 788 (2014)
When an out-of-state abuse protection order is allegedly violated within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it is treated as a violation under Massachusetts law.

Comm. v. Telcinord, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 232 (2018)
A 209A order to “stay away from” a residence is not unconstitutionally vague. Judges should explain to the jury what the stay away order means and what it is should accomplish within the order.

Comm. v. Watson, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 244 (2018)
There are "two ways that someone can violate an order to stay away from a workplace or residence: (1) entering the property on which the workplace or residence is located, or (2) taking actions that directly intrude on the workplace or residence.”  Close proximity to the property should be considered when determining whether a defendant has intruded on a workplace or residence in violation of the stay away order.

Cordelia C. v. Steven S., 95 Mass. App. Ct. 635 (2019)
Standard of proof for modification. Clarifies that the standard of proof required to modify an existing order "depends upon the status of the existing order, the nature of the modification sought, and, in some cases, whether the plaintiff or the defendant seeks the modification."

E.C.O. v. Compton, 464 Mass. 558 (2013)
Online dating counts. "Chapter 209A must be interpreted to protect all who are in a substantive dating relationship from abuse, regardless of whether the relationship was developed or conducted by the use of technology."

MacDonald v. Caruso, 467 Mass. 382 (2014)
To terminate an abuse protection order, "the significant change in circumstances must involve more than the mere passage of time, because a judge who issues a permanent order knows that time will pass. Compliance by the defendant with the order is also not sufficient alone to constitute a significant change in circumstances, because a judge who issues a permanent order is entitled to expect that the defendant will comply with the order."

M.G. v. G.A., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 139 (2018)
"Judges sitting in the District Court and Boston Municipal Court hearing a complaint for relief under G. L. c. 209A, after notice to the defendant, are not authorized to dismiss the complaint at the close of the plaintiff's case simply because they do not believe some or all of the plaintiff's testimony. Instead, the resolution of questions of credibility, ambiguity, and contradiction must await the close of the evidence."

Rauseo v. Rauseo, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 911 (2001)
Court held that even the sending of flowers by defendant who was under abuse prevention order could be construed by wife as a hostile and threatening act in light of the existing order.

Szymkowski v. Szymkowski, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 284 (2003)
Courts should not issue an order under MGL c. 209A because it would be a good idea or because it won’t cause any inconvenience to the defendant. Orders should be issued only when there is an imminent threat of serious physical harm.

V.M. v. R.B., 94 Mass. App. Ct. 522 (2018)
The "existence of a substantive dating relationship is an element of a c. 209A claim and not a prerequisite for subject matter jurisdiction."

Yahna Y. v. Sylvester S., 97 Mass. App. Ct. 184 (2020)
Where "the plaintiff seeks protection from the effects of past sexual abuse, she need not allege a fear of imminent future sexual abuse."

Court forms



PO Box 690267
Quincy, MA 02269
617-471-1234 – 24 hour hotline

"DOVE, Inc. is committed to serving communities, families, and individuals impacted by domestic violence. We seek to empower our clients and the community by providing safety, shelter, education, and support services. By promoting an environment free from abuse, we strive to see - Domestic Violence Ended."

Jane Doe, Inc.
PO Box 960849
Boston, MA 02196
(617) 248-0922

Information and referrals for battered men and women. Also has a statewide online resource guide. Website lists a toll-free "Safelink" hotline that is available 24 hours per day: (877) 785-2020.

Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance
One Ashburton Place, Suite 1310
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 586-1340

Coordinates victim assistance programs on a statewide basis.

Web sources

Address Confidentiality Program, Safe Address. 1-866-SAFE-ADD.
ACP provides a means by which domestic violence victims may use a confidential address in order to stay safe from actual or threatened violence.

Attorney General's Advisory concerning M.G.L. c. 149, s. 52E employment leave for victims and family members of abuse, Mass. Attorney General, 2014.
Provides an explanation of the law granting leave for victims of domestic violence, with guidance for employers.

Domestic violence, Mass. Legal Help.
"The Domestic Violence section of MassLegalHelp has important information for victims and survivors of domestic violence about their rights concerning child support, housing, employment, immigration, making it on your own, criminal complaints, Chapter 209A Abuse Prevention Orders ("restraining orders"), custody and visitation, separation and divorce, paternity, the Department of Social Services, personal property, and doing a case in the Probate and Family Court."

Find out if you're eligible to request an abuse prevention order 
An excellent resource which details the differences between MGL c.209A and MGL c.258E, Mass. 2-1-1 service.
"HelpSteps connects individuals to local health and human resources." Provides information about domestic violence resources, including hotlines and shelters.

Massachusetts Prosecutors' Manual: Domestic violence and sexual assault, Mass. District Attorneys Association, 2010.
This "training manual for the prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases" provides detailed information on the prosecution of these offenses.

MDAA domestic violence trial notebook, 3d ed., Mass. District Attorneys Association, 2015.
"This trial notebook is to aid district court prosecutors in handling the many issues that arise in prosecuting domestic violence cases."

Need to take time off from work to deal with domestic violence?, Mass. Legal Help.
Explains who may take off and for what purposes under the 2014 domestic violence law.

Orders concerning domesticated animals in conjunction with restraining orders, Memo from Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Court Administrator, October 31, 2012.
Includes explanation of the law and procedures, with forms.

Safety and protection issues: Family law advocacy for low and moderate income litigants, 3d ed., 2018. Chapter 3. Mass. Legal Services.
"This chapter covers information about how the law can help you if you are a victim of domestic violence and what help is available for children who have been abused or neglected. This chapter contains basic information on how to obtain a restraining order (an order that aims to protect you from abuse and also known as an abuse prevention order); how to defend yourself against the same kind of order; an overview of Department of Social Services (DSS) child abuse investigations; and how all of this can affect a family law court case."

Where do we go from here: A self-help guide for domestic violence survivors and advocates, An AmeriCorps project of Western Massachusetts Legal Services, 2012.
Online book covers safety planning, finding shelter, child support, criminal complaints, 209A orders, custody, visitation, divorce, paternity, DSS, property and cases in probate and family court. Includes many sample forms.

Provides "plain-language legal info for victims of abuse".

Print sources

“Any liar can get an order by merely asserting fear”:  Why Chapter 209A must be revamped to protect against the issuance of unnecessary abuse protection orders. Brittany Pierce, 47 New Eng. L. Rev. 427 (No. 2, Winter 2012).

Domestic abuse in divorce & custody litigation, MCLE, 2012.

Family law and practice: with forms, 4th ed. (Mass Practice v.2A), Thomson Reuters, 2013 with supplement. Chapter 77 Pleadings, Orders and Appeals in Chapter 209A Abuse Prevention Cases.

Ins and outs of restraining orders, MCLE, 2022.

Massachusetts domestic relations, 5th ed., LexisNexis, loose-leaf, Chapter 22 (includes forms).

Obtaining, enforcing and defending c. 209A restraining orders in Massachusetts, 3rd ed., MCLE, loose-leaf, Appendix O relative to domestic animals.

Obtaining or fighting a restraining order, MCLE, 2021.


Last updated: February 6, 2023

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