Restraining Orders: What You Should Know

Having a restraining order issued against you can be devastating. For as long as the order is in effect (usually a year, at a minimum) you’ll need to be vigilant about where you go and who you meet. You will not be able to possess a firearm, even if you are properly licensed to do so. If you are living with the plaintiff, you will also be forced to leave your home. A restraining order will also appear on your permanent record, and can be used against you in certain legal proceedings. Usually, the plaintiff will request a restraining order through the district court where he/she lives. The plaintiff will go in front of a judge, who will issue a temporary restraining order for 10 days. You will then be served with the order, and at the end of the 10 days, a formal hearing before a judge will be scheduled. At this hearing, you’ll have an opportunity to question the plaintiff and to explain your side of the story. Pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 209A, a plaintiff will need to convince the court that the defendant is doing one or more of the following things:

  1. Causing or attempting to cause physical harm,
  2. Placing the plaintiff in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or
  3. Causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.                                                                                                                                                

It should be noted that Ch. 209A restraining orders only apply to certain intimate relationships: family or household members, dating relationships, married or previously married, relatives by blood or marriage, or having a child in common. It is important that you have a qualified criminal lawyer represent you at this hearing. You do not want to be in a position of questioning the plaintiff yourself. Likely, there is a great deal of tension between you and the plaintiff, and emotions will prevent you from making a compelling argument for yourself. Any sign of anger or frustration will only hurt you, and help the plaintiff’s case. Of course, restraining orders serve an important purpose in some cases. When an individual is truly in fear of bodily harm, they should be able to seek the protection of the court. Unfortunately, I have seen many cases where someone seeks a restraining order for other, less valid reasons: revenge after a breakup, during a custody battle, or for fodder during a divorce. A person should only seek a restraining order if they are truly in fear of bodily harm, and for no other reason. Understandably, courts are quick to issue these orders. These hearings are often a “he said, she said” situation, where the judge will err on the side of protecting the plaintiff. For this reason, it is crucial to hire an attorney and prepare for your hearing. Gather all of the evidence you can. With technology these days, it is easy to obtain phone records, text messages, and emails, that may contradict what the plaintiff is alleging. Show all of this evidence to your attorney so that they can compile it in a cohesive way to present to the judge. If you go in empty-handed, and without the assistance of an attorney, the odds are stacked against you. If you have been served a restraining order, and need an attorney, contact Attorney Hinman for a free consultation and evaluation of your case.

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