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Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws

Note: If you're in an emergency situation, call 911.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts defines domestic violence as almost any criminal act of abuse committed by one "family or household member" against another. "Abuse" is defined as:

  • attempting to cause or causing physical harm;
  • placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; or
  • causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.

Domestic violence abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual in nature or can also involve economic control, and neglect. Examples of crimes associated with domestic abuse include assault and battery, violating a protective order, and witness intimidation.

Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws at a Glance

Usually when you have a question, you want a quick and easy answer. But, laws are usually written in a way that requires a decent amount of time to interpret and understand. Reading a summary of the laws in plain English can speed things along. The following table highlights the main provisions of Massachusetts domestic violence laws and provides links to relevant statutes.


Massachusetts General Laws:

  • Part II, Title III, Chapter 209A, Section 1, et seq. (Abuse Prevention)
  • Part IV, Title I, Chapter 265, Section 13M (Assault or Assault and Battery on a Family or Household Member)
Criminal Penalties

A person who commits an assault or assault and battery on a family or household member can be sentenced to:

  • Up to two and half years in a house of correction and/or a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense.
  • Up to five years in state prison or up to two and half years in a house of correction for a subsequent offense.

It's also possible for the defendant to be ordered to complete a certified batterer's intervention program.

Family/Household Member Definition

Family or household members are people who:

  • are or were married;
  • are or were living together;
  • are or were related by blood or marriage;
  • have a child together; or
  • are or have been in a "substantive dating or engagement relationship."
Relationship Definition

The court will look at the following factors to determine if two people have been in a "substantive dating or engagement" relationship:

  1. the length of the relationship;
  2. the type of relationship;
  3. the frequency of interaction between the parties; and
  4. if the relationship has ended, how long it's been since the relationship ended.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

What Protections Are Available in Addition to Criminal Prosecution?

There are several remedies and legal protections available for victims of domestic violence in Massachusetts. These may include:

  • Address Confidentiality Program (ACP): Victims can get a legal substitute address (usually a post office box) to use in place of their physical address; this address can be used whenever an address is required by public agencies. First class mail sent to the substitute address is forwarded to the victim's actual address.
  • Protective Orders: Victims of domestic violence can apply for a protective order, also called a "209A order."
  • Civil Lawsuit: The victim may file a civil lawsuit to recover losses and expenses such as medical bills or pain and suffering damages.
  • Orders Relating to Child Custody, Child Support, or Spousal Support: These may be modified to prevent any further incidence of violence between spouses, children, or other persons.

There are resources available for people affected by domestic violence or abuse. One such resource is the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws: Related Resources

Please visit the links listed below to learn more information related to this topic.

Have Questions About Massachusetts Domestic Violence Laws? Talk to an Attorney

Domestic laws can sometimes get complicated, so it's natural to have questions. If you do have questions about how Massachusetts domestic violence laws apply to your specific situation, it's a good idea to consult an experienced domestic violence lawyer near you.

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