Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws

In the state of Massachusetts, domestic violence laws include physical harm or the intent to physically harm, the infliction of fear of physical harm, and involuntary sexual relationship against a family or other household member. This crime is especially serious if the victim was violated by the suspect while a protective order was in place.

Definition of a household member:

  • people who are or have once been married
  • individuals that have children together
  • individuals that are related through marriage or by blood
  • individuals who live together or have lived together, such as roommates
  • individuals in a dating or engagement relationship if the Court deems such relationship substantive after consideration of several factors, including the length of the relationship, type of relationship, frequency of contact, and duration since the relationship terminated.

Assault can range from actual physical harm or the intent to commit physical harm against another individual. This means that even a serious threat to commit physical harm can be considered assault. Simple assault is in itself a crime, but in Massachusetts, assault against a family or household member is considered a much more serious offense.

In order to obtain relief from abuse or the threat of abuse from a household member, Massachusetts law allows the filing of a Complaint for Abuse Protection. There is no cost to file the Complaint with the Court, and you would be heard by the judge without the alleged abuser present in the first instance. The Judge has a range of remedies to protect you from abuse or the threat of abuse, including entering a Restraining Order, an anti-abuse Order, temporarily assigning one party full custody of any related children, the assignment of child support, the temporary suspension of parenting time, and an order that the alleged abuser attend a Batter’s Intervention Program. A Restraining Order can be put into place for up to one year, and extended for a greater time period in the Court’s discretion.

If the abuser violates the terms of the Court’s protective orders, the abuser can be subject to criminal penalties and jail time, in addition to civil remedies.

Possible Penalties of Domestic Assault:

  • A first offense of assault can result in up to 2 years in prison and fines up to $1000
  • A first offense of assault while a protective order is in place could result in 2-5 years imprisonment and up to $5000 in fines
  • A second offense could result in 2-5 years imprisonment and felony charges depending on the circumstances

Possible Penalties of Domestic Stalking:

  • The first offense could result in 2-5 years imprisonment and up to $1000 in fines
  • The second offense could result in 2-10 years imprisonment
  • Stalking while a victim is under a protective order can result in 1-5 years imprisonment

In addition, stalking can be considered domestic violence if it is proven that the suspect intended to cause bodily harm or inflict fear to a household member. Repeatedly calling, emailing, or attempting to contact an individual after it was made clear they want contact severed can be considered stalking. Stalking can turn to domestic violence if the victim has experienced severe emotional distress due to threats or the repeated attempts to make contact.

If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or harassment, please contact our office for consultation.

Alternatives to Massachusetts Family Court

Family law disputes such as divorce, child custody, visitation, spousal support are often emotional and can be stressful. When two parties cannot agree, they may believe taking their case to court is the only option. Litigation, however, can be expensive and may be a very lengthy process. Additionally, the courtroom environment empowers the judge to make decisions instead of allowing the two parties involved to decide what is best.

There are viable alternatives to litigation and these options often allow the parties involved to determine what works best for them. Consider these effective alternatives.

1.    Use a Mediator. Mediation is a productive way for each party to discuss, debate and decide for themselves the issues that are important to them, including child custody, financial support and property division. A professional mediator is a neutral facilitator. Through one meeting or over the course of a series of meetings, the mediator will help the parties reach an agreement and draft a document outlining what was agreed upon. That document will then be submitted to the court for approval. The Agreement cannot be incorporated into a Judgment of Divorce until  it is approved by a judge. Since a mediator cannot give legal advice, it’s often recommended that both parties consult an attorney to discuss their individual rights and the consequences of certain decisions within the agreement drafted by the mediator.  Mediation may take place before or after a case has been filed with the Court.  Typically discussions had during mediation are confidential and cannot be shared with the Court. [Continue reading]

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