Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws

Under Massachusetts’ laws, it is a crime to commit domestic violence (also called domestic abuse), which includes physical harm, attempts to cause physical harm, inflicting fear of imminent serious physical harm, and involuntary sexual relations between family and household members. It is also a crime in Massachusetts to violate a protective order.

Family and household members include people who:

  • are or were married
  • are or were living together
  • are related by blood or marriage
  • have children together, and
  • are dating or have dated.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 1.)

Arrests for Domestic Violence

A police officer must make an arrest if the officer has probable cause (reason to believe) that a person has committed any of the following crimes against a family or household member:

  • any felony
  • any misdemeanor that constitutes domestic abuse, or
  • assault and battery.

Police must also make an arrest anytime they have reason to believe that a person has violated a protective order.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 6; ch. 276, § 28.)

Protective Orders

A protective order (also called a restraining order) is a court order requiring one person (the defendant) to not contact and stay away from another person (the plaintiff). It is a crime in Massachusetts to violate a protective order.

Any family or household member who is suffering from domestic abuse can file a petition for a protective order. Also, if a person arrested or charged with a crime of domestic violence is released from custody, the victim can seek a protective order.

Usually, the plaintiff files a petition for a protective order and the defendant is served (given a copy).A court hearing is held, where both the plaintiff and the defendant appear.

If the court finds domestic abuse, it can issue a protective order:

  • prohibiting the defendant from abusing or contacting the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s children
  • ordering the defendant to vacate and stay away from any residence or workplace
  • awarding the plaintiff temporary custody of any minor children
  • restricting visitation with any minor children, including ordering supervised visitation or requiring the defendant to attend counseling as a condition of visitation
  • ordering the defendant to pay temporary spousal support or child support
  • ordering the defendant to pay restitution (reimbursement) for any costs incurred as a result of abuse, such as lost earnings, replacement costs for locks, medical expenses, or moving expenses
  • ordering the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, and
  • recommending the defendant attend counseling.

Generally, a protective order will remain in effect for one year, but the plaintiff can seek an extension.

A person can also file with the court any protective order issued in another state and it will be enforced in Massachusetts.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, §§ 1, 3, 5A.)

Temporary or emergency orders

The court may also issue an order without notice to the defendant and without the defendant first appearing in court (known as an “ex parte” order).

The court can enter any order necessary to protect a plaintiff who has demonstrated an immediate danger of abuse. A plaintiff may even be given the opportunity to file a complaint the following day if the court is closed or if the plaintiff is not able to personally appear in court.

The defendant must be notified immediately after the ex parte order is issued and given an opportunity to appear in court within ten days. If the defendant does not appear, the order automatically remains in effect.

As part of a temporary or emergency order, the court can order the defendant to surrender all firearms and firearm licenses. The defendant may ask the court to review any order of surrender.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, §§ 1, 3B, 4, 5.)


A person commits the crime of assault by attempting to use physical force or demonstrating an intention to use physical force. For example, trying to hit someone is assault. A person commits the crime of assault and battery by making physical contact that is unwanted or likely to cause harm. For example, kicking someone is assault and battery.

While assault and assault and battery are always crimes, second and subsequent assaults and assaults and batteries against family and household members are punished more severely. For the purpose of assault charges, the defendant and the victim must have been family or household members within five years of the alleged offense.

Any assault or assault and battery committed by a defendant who knows that he or she is under a protective order is also punished more severely.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13M.)

For more information on assault in Massachusetts, see Massachusetts Assault and Battery LawsMassachusetts Aggravated Assault Laws, and Assault With a Dangerous Weapon in Massachusetts.


A person commits the crime of stalking by making threats intended to place the victim in fear of death or bodily injury, or repeatedly contacting or engaging in alarming or annoying behavior aimed at the victim and that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress or threats.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 43.)

For example, repeatedly calling or emailing someone after the person has asked you to stop might be considered stalking.


Violating a protective order is punishable to up to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. The defendant must also pay a special fine of $25, pay for all expenses incurred by the plaintiff as a result of the abuse, and complete a batterer’s intervention program and pay an accompanying fee of $350. The defendant may also be ordered to attend substance abuse treatment.

The court may also order defendant to stay out of a defined geographic zone that includes the plaintiff’s residence and workplace, and order defendant to wear a GPS tracking device to monitor defendant’s whereabouts.

If the court finds the defendant violated a protective order in retaliation for the plaintiff reporting a failure to pay child support, the court must sentence defendant to 60 days in jail and impose a fine of $1,000 to $10,000.

Violating an order to surrender firearms is punishable up to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Assault and assault and battery are punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Assault and battery by a defendant under a restraining order is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail, or up to five years’ imprisonment, and a fine of up to $5,000.

Second and subsequent convictions for assault or assault and battery on a family or household member are punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail or up to five years’ imprisonment.

Stalking is punishable by up to two-and-a-half years in jail, or five years in prison, and a fine of up to $1,000. Second and subsequent convictions for stalking are punishable by between two years in jail to ten years in prison. Stalking in violation of a protective order is punishable by between one year in jail and five years in prison.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, §§ 3C, 7, 10; ch. 265, §§ 13A, 13M, 43.)

Getting Legal Advice and Counsel

If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence or if someone seeks a protective against you, you should contact a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A conviction for domestic violence or a protective order can have serious, lasting consequences. An attorney can help you navigate the court system and obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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