Domestic abuse is a serious and even life-threatening situation—and there are legal remedies to help survivors protect themselves, their children, and their property as they make the brave decision to escape an abusive situation and begin moving forward with their lives. One of the most important tools available to victims of domestic abuse is the restraining order. In Massachusetts, a restraining order is known as a an “Abuse Prevention Order” or a “209A Order.” This name refers to Chapter 209A of the Massachusetts legal code, entitled the Massachusetts Abuse Prevention Act, which defines domestic abuse. According to Chapter 209A, domestic abuse may be: 1. Physical violence 2. Attempts to harm with physical violence 3. Causing another person credible fear of serious harm 4. Coercing another person into sexual relations through physical force, the threat of force, or duress Acts of physical violence are themselves criminal offenses subject to prosecution in Massachusetts. While emotional and verbal abuse are not defined as crimes under Massachusetts law, they are recognized as common features of abusive situations and relationships. Financial abuse—the withholding of or control over a partner’s financial or material resources—is another feature of abusive situations. A 209A protective order may be filed for at any Massachusetts court—superior, general, or probate and family. A protective order can require an abuser to cease abusive behavior, to avoid all contact with the protected party, to vacate a shared household, and/or to surrender firearms licenses and weapons. As mentioned above, probate and family courts can award
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