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Legal Assistance for Victims of Emotional Abuse or Domestic Violence in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, people who have been emotionally abused can get legal help in order to navigate the legal system, protect their rights, and make sure they are safe.

is Emotional Abuse a crime? Anxious woman confronting a man

Lawyers are a great source of advice and help because they can look at each victim’s unique life situation, explain their rights, and come up with a custom legal strategy. Domestic violence survivors need to know how they can access these legal resources and they need to understand them in order to deal with all the different kinds of abuse they may face.

Emotional abuse, also called psychological abuse, is a pattern of behaviour in which someone is hurt mentally or emotionally, usually by being manipulated, controlled, or treated badly. Emotional abuse can look like a lot of different things, like constant criticism, humiliation, threats, or being manipulated.

In the U.S., laws about emotional abuse vary from one state to the next. In Massachussetts Emotional abuse is considered a form of domestic violence. This is because of the state’s domestic violence laws, which protect people from abusive behaviour in close relationships or with family. Is emotional abuse a crime? In this situation, emotional abuse can be seen as a crime, especially if it causes the victim a lot of mental pain, fear, or distress.

In other states, laws about emotional abuse may be more or less strict. For example, California’s laws against domestic violence define psychological abuse as a type of domestic violence. On the other hand, some states may not talk about emotional abuse directly in their domestic violence laws, which gives victims less legal protection.

Legal Steps and Options for Victims of Emotional Abuse in Massachusetts

Emotional abuse is a subtle but sneaky way to hurt someone, and it can leave scars that last a long time. As victims try to heal and get their lives back, it’s important to know the legal steps and options available to them in Massachusetts to protect themselves and get justice. 

In this blog post, we’ll talk about the laws that apply to emotional abuse and domestic violence, with a focus on the rights and resources that help Massachusetts survivors. From getting a 209A protective order to understanding the state’s abuse prevention laws and we’ll give victims a full guide on how to move through the legal system, so they can make safe, well-informed decisions as they seek safety, well-being, and justice.

The American Bar Association published a good overview of your rights in case of domestic violence – Know Your Rights: Domestic Violence Brochure (PDF).

Restraining Orders:

Massachusetts victims can obtain a so-called 209A Protective Order, requiring the abuser to cease contact and maintain distance from the victim. A lawyer can help draft a compelling complaint, have police gather evidence, and represent the victim in court. Massachusetts laws provide strong protections to victims of domestic violence through protective orders, ensuring a safer environment for affected families.

209A Protective Order

A 209A protective order, also called a restraining order or an abuse prevention order, is a court order in Massachusetts that protects a person from abuse or harm by a family or household member or by someone with whom the person has or has had a serious dating relationship. The word “209A” comes from Chapter 209A of the Massachusetts General Laws, which is about abuse prevention orders.

The goal of a 209A protective order is to keep the person who is being abused or who is afraid of being abused safe and protected. A 209A order can have many different parts, such as:

No-contact order:
The abuser is told not to contact, approach, or talk to the victim, either directly or through a third party.

Stay-away order: 

The abuser is told to stay a certain distance away from the victim’s home, workplace, or other places. The abuser is told to leave the shared home and not come back, even if they own or rent the property.

Temporary custody order:

If there are any children involved, the court can give temporary custody to the victim, with or without visitation rights for the abuser.


The abuser may be told to give up any guns, ammunition, or identification cards or licences that let them use guns.

Other rules:

If needed to protect the victim, the court may add other rules, such as making the abuser go to a certified batterer’s intervention programme.

The victim (the plaintiff) must file a request for a 209A protective order at a Massachusetts District Court, Probate and Family Court, or Superior Court. The court will then look at the request, and if the judge thinks there are good reasons, they may issue a temporary order that lasts for up to 10 days. Then, a hearing will be set up where both the person who was abused (the plaintiff) and the person who did the abuse (the defendant) can say what they think about the case. After the hearing, the judge may give a final order that can last up to a year and can be changed or extended as needed.

In Massachusetts, it is a crime to go against a 209A protective order, and the person who does so can be fined or put in jail. (Sources / More Info you find here: Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209A – Abuse Prevention / Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries – Abuse Prevention (209A Orders) / Massachusetts Court System – Abuse Prevention (209A)).

Emotional Support Family Law Issues

Child Custody and Support:

In cases involving children, victims may need to address custody and support issues. Massachusetts courts prioritize the child’s best interests, considering the family’s history of emotional abuse. A lawyer can advocate for the victim’s preferences and ensure the parent and child’s needs are met. Attorneys specializing in family law can provide critical legal assistance in navigating complex legal issues surrounding child custody and support.

Financial Support:

Victims may require financial support to leave their abusive situation. In Massachusetts, victims can be eligible for spousal or child support to regain independence. A lawyer can help navigate the settlement process and negotiate fair agreements, ensuring victims can access the resources they need to rebuild their lives.

Divorce Proceedings:

For married victims, filing for divorce may be necessary to break free from an abusive relationship. A lawyer can help understand their rights and options, including property division, spousal support, and child custody arrangements. Divorce proceedings in Massachusetts can be complex, and legal assistance is essential for victims to protect their rights and interests during this process.

Massachusetts-Based Resources and Support Networks

Several organizations in Massachusetts support victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse, offering them legal services, assistance, counseling, and crisis support. Access to these legal services and resources is crucial for victims in Massachusetts to regain control of their lives and break free from abuse.

Jane Doe Inc. ( 

A statewide coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence, offering resources, support, and advocacy for victims throughout Massachusetts, including western Massachusetts and Cape Cod.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline and SafeLink are essential resources for domestic violence survivors seeking support, crisis intervention, and access to local services. They play a crucial role in providing immediate help to those experiencing domestic violence and connecting them with appropriate services in their area.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE):

The hotline aims to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, support, and referrals to local services for domestic violence survivors across the United States, including Massachusetts.

It operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ensuring that help is available whenever it is needed.
The hotline is confidential, meaning that callers can discuss their situation without fear of their information being shared without their consent.
Language Accessibility:
The hotline offers support in multiple languages, making it accessible to a diverse range of survivors.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has a website ( that provides additional resources, including safety planning, recognizing the signs of abuse, and understanding the legal options available to survivors.

SafeLink (1-877-785-2020)

SafeLink is a Massachusetts statewide domestic violence hotline that offers support, crisis intervention, and referrals to local shelters and services.
Here you find an Overview with Flyers in several languages, the english safelink poster you get here: People who are Deaf and hard of hearing can reach SafeLink through the Mass Relay service:

Like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, SafeLink operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
SafeLink also maintains confidentiality for callers, ensuring that their privacy is protected.
Specialized Assistance:
SafeLink is specifically designed to help domestic violence survivors in Massachusetts, including those in western Massachusetts and Cape Cod. By focusing on the state, SafeLink can connect survivors with appropriate local resources more effectively.
Multilingual Services:
SafeLink provides services in multiple languages, ensuring that language barriers do not prevent survivors from accessing the help they need.

Massachusetts Legal Help (

A resource for civil legal assistance, information and self-help materials for low-income residents, including information on domestic violence and family law. This organization provides civil legal assistance and resources to empower victims and their families in Massachusetts.

Local Domestic Violence Programs:

Across Massachusetts, numerous local organizations provide support and services to victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse. These programs offer a variety of services such as emergency shelter, counseling, support groups, and legal advocacy. Examples of these organizations include:

a. Casa Myrna ( Located in Boston, Casa Myrna offers comprehensive support for survivors of domestic violence including a Chat, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a 24-hour hotline. An Overview of all their programs and services you can find here:

b. REACH Beyond Domestic Violence ( Serving the Metro West area, REACH provides a range of services, such as crisis intervention, safety planning, and community-based advocacy.

c. Independence House ( Based in Cape Cod, Independence House offers counseling, legal assistance, and emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

d. YWCA Central Massachusetts ( With a focus on empowering women, the YWCA offers a domestic violence program that includes emergency shelter, counseling, and legal advocacy. Their services are available throughout Massachusetts, including western Massachusetts and the Bay State region.

Employment and Financial Support:

Individuals affected by emotional abuse in Massachusetts may require support in maintaining or securing employment. Legal resources and attorneys can help these individuals understand their rights concerning employment and collaborate with employers to ensure a safe and supportive work environment. Massachusetts laws protect the rights of domestic violence survivors in the workplace, and legal assistance can aid them in enforcing these protections.

Local Government Support:

Local government agencies in Massachusetts play a vital role in providing support and resources for victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse. By connecting with these agencies, victims can access a range of assistance and services tailored to their specific needs, including housing, financial support, and counseling. Local government involvement is essential for coordinating efforts and addressing domestic violence at the community level. In this article, we will explore the various support services that local government agencies in Massachusetts can provide to victims of emotional abuse.

Housing Assistance:
Local government agencies may offer various housing assistance programs to help victims of emotional abuse find safe and stable living situations. These may include:

a. Emergency shelters: Temporary housing for individuals and families fleeing abusive situations.
b. Transitional housing: Time-limited housing options that provide support services to help victims transition to independent living.
c. Permanent supportive housing: Long-term housing solutions that offer ongoing support services for individuals with specific needs, such as mental health or substance abuse issues.
d. Rental assistance: Financial aid to help cover rent costs for those in need.

Financial Support:
Local government agencies can provide financial support to victims of emotional abuse through various programs, such as:

Public assistance: Access to benefits like food stamps (SNAP), cash assistance (TAFDC), and health care (Masshealth) coverage.
TAFDC stands for “Transitional Help to Families with Dependent Children”. Welfare is another name for these monetary handouts. If a family has children and their income is low enough, they may qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. If an adult in the household is working or enrolled in an approved education or training program, they are eligible to receive TAFDC benefits, which include cash payments every month, an annual clothing allowance for each kid, and help paying for child care. 

You can apply for TAFDC here: and more Info about MASSHEALTH you get here: MassHealth.

Emergency financial assistance: One-time or short-term financial aid for individuals facing immediate financial crises related to abuse.


Lawyers play a crucial role in supporting emotional abuse victims in Massachusetts, helping them navigate the legal system and access protections. By working with a knowledgeable attorney and connecting the attorney with support networks, victims can increase their chances of achieving a favorable outcome and breaking free from the cycle of abuse. 

Massachusetts offers a good range of legal services, resources, and support networks to assist domestic violence survivors in overcoming challenges and rebuilding their lives. These organizations serve as a primary source of assistance and protection for victims and their families, ensuring that those affected by emotional abuse have the support and resources they need to heal and move forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following situations qualify for requesting a 209A restraining order:

  • you are or were married to them;
  • you are or were dating them;
  • you are or were parents to their child;
  • you currently or formerly shared a residence with them;
  • you are or were siblings; or you are linked to them by blood or marriage (for example, a cousin, brother-in-law, brother).

You may still be able to seek a 209A restraining order if you require protection from someone in your “family” who is not on this list. A criminal complaint may also be an option.

You can obtain a 209A restraining order against any of the following individuals:

  • You were physically harmed,
  • attempted to be physically harmed,
  • or were afraid of being physically harmed,
  • or you were coerced into having sex or sexual contact,
  • or coerced into having sex or sexual contact by threatening you or making you feel helpless.

Cases involving a 209A Restraining Order and a 258E Harassment Prevention Order are all about your safety and the safety of your children. Only you know how much security you require to protect your information and specific documents from the general public.

Even if you are not filing a 209A or 258E, you can nonetheless ask the court to protect your information. 

In a 209A or 258E case, you must always complete the Plaintiff Confidential Information Form. The court maintains the form separately from the rest of your case file and does not make it available to the defendant or the general public.

But occasionally you need more protection:
You can ask the court to seize your Plaintiff Confidential Information Form.
In 209A and 258E instances, a Motion for Impoundment and Affidavit may also be filed. Use this form when you need to protect particular facts in your case from the other party, the public, or court personnel who should not be able to see it.

The protection of your address
Even though the Plaintiff Confidential Information Form safeguards your addresses, if you ask the court to order the person who assaulted you to keep away from your school, place of employment, and residence, this information will be included in the court order.

This includes the individual who abused you. To exclude your home, work, and school addresses from your 209A restraining order, check Boxes 4(a), 4(b), and 4(c) on Page 1 of the 209A application. If the judge approves, your restraining order will instruct the defendant to stay away from your address, regardless of its location.

Domestic violence victims have the ability to get restraining orders against “family or household members” who have assaulted them. A 209A restraining order is only available if the individual who abused you is a family or household member.

What is a “member of the family or household”?

  • The individual to whom you are or were married.
  • A non-spouse who is or was connected to you via blood or marriage (for example, cousin, brother-in-law, brother)
  • A person with whom you have a child, regardless of whether you have ever been married or lived together; 
  • A person with whom you are not related but who is or was a member of the same household;
  • A person with whom you have had a child, regardless of whether you have ever been married or lived together.
  • A person with whom you have or have had a dating or engagement connection.

A “violation” occurs when a 209A restraining order recipient breaks the order.

Abuse, touch, or coming closer than the order allows is a crime.

“No contact” under the 209A restraining order implies the individual cannot contact you directly or indirectly by letters, mail, phone calls, gifts, or any other methods. NO CONTACT! The person is violating the order if they attempt to contact you in any of these ways.

Report the order violation to the police. The Police can arrest them. The police must arrest the abusive individual if they saw or suspect they broke the injunction. You must appear in court if the police arrest and charge them. 

You can file a criminal complaint against the person at the District Court if the police was not involved.

In Massachusetts, a minor can obtain a 209A Abuse Prevention Order, also known as a restraining order. However, the process typically requires the involvement of a parent, guardian, or another responsible adult who can file the order on the minor’s behalf.

Minors who are facing abuse from a family or household member, such as a parent, stepparent, or sibling, or from someone they have had a substantial dating relationship with, can seek protection under the 209A Abuse Prevention Order. The order can provide various forms of relief, including prohibiting the abuser from contacting the minor, requiring the abuser to stay away from the minor’s home or school, and ordering the abuser not to abuse or threaten the minor.

In the United States, emotional abuse is not always considered a crime by itself. However, emotional abuse may be incorporated into broader criminal statutes related to domestic violence, harassment, or stalking, depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances.

If the emotional abuse involves a pattern of conduct that causes the victim to feel threatened, fearful, or intimidated, it might be prosecuted under criminal harassment or stalking laws. Additionally, some states may have laws that specifically address emotional or psychological abuse within the context of domestic violence.

It’s important to note that laws and definitions related to emotional abuse vary from state to state. If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional abuse, it is essential to consult with an attorney or seek assistance from a local domestic violence agency to understand your rights and the legal options available in your jurisdiction.

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