- Executive Office of the Trial Court
- Massachusetts Court System
Media Contact for Trial Court Responds to Needs of Domestic Violence Victims During Pandemic
Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago
BOSTON, MA — In an effort to raise awareness of the resources available to domestic violence and stalking victims during the pandemic, the Massachusetts Trial Court is informing the public about practices in place and how to get help from the court system.
Since March 18, when the Trial Court announced reduced court operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the court set up a system to accept requests for protection orders without requiring plaintiffs or defendants to come to the courthouse.
“The Trial Court worked quickly to implement a system to continue to provide critical services to victims of domestic and sexual violence while court buildings have been closed to the public,” said Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey. “While the reduction of in-person access to the courts, and quarantining circumstances have reduced the number of applications filed with the court, those numbers are continuing to rise week to week.”
The Trial Court compiled data that shows that in Fiscal Year 2020, from the week of March 8 to the week of March 15, the number of abuse or harassment protection order filings dropped significantly, but rose in successive weeks through the week of May 31. The number of filings overall are lower than the same time period in Fiscal Year 2019.
Instead of going to the court in person to request an abuse or harassment protection order, the person filing the complaint (plaintiff) should first contact their local court clerk's or register's office by phone and, if safe and able to do so, can fill out the relevant form using a fillable PDF, or can give a court employee the information over the phone. Plaintiffs can access information about the process and forms on the court system's website here. Contact numbers for individual courts and offices can be found online on the Courthouse Locator page.
Once the preliminary paperwork has been completed, the plaintiff will be connected to a judge and, if an order issues, the plaintiff will receive a copy of the order either by email or, if necessary, in person, which includes notice of the scheduled hearing at which the defendant can challenge the order. The order can be emailed to the appropriate police departments to ensure rapid notice to the defendant.
The Trial Court has obtained Zoom licenses to improve the court’s ability to conduct these hearings virtually and allow for face-to-face interaction. Additionally, the court is coordinating with the victim services community, other governmental agencies, and the governor's office to help inform the public of this change in practice and the availability of remote hearings. Court Service Centers, Trial Court law libraries and individual courts have updated contact information for victim advocates to provide to callers, including the 24/7 SAFEPLAN hotline (877-785-2020). The court website has a resource guide that lists region-specific advocacy services for individuals seeking abuse or harassment prevention orders.
For general questions, or if a caller cannot reach a clerk’s or register's office, the Trial Court established a Help Line that the public can call to ask general questions about their civil and criminal cases and help them navigate the court system. The Help Line is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can be reached by calling 1-833-91COURT.