Legal and Court Services

Police Departments

  • Many police departments in Massachusetts have officers designated to follow domestic violence cases and/or civilian advocates stationed in the department. The domestic violence officer or advocate can assist the survivor with filing a police report for an incident, enforcing a restraining order, or following up on abuse incidents. In an emergency, a survivor should work with any police officer. However, after an incident, it is useful for the survivor to contact the domestic violence officer or advocate and update them regarding the situation. This allows for more consistent response by the police. If the abuser is a police officer, this resource may be compromised.

Courts

  • Many people who have been abused seek support and protection through the district (criminal) and/or probate (family) court systems. Frequently, this takes the form of a protection order (restraining order) from the court. This is explained in more detail in Unit 4.
  • Survivors of domestic violence can use the probate court to establish custody and/or visitation orders and/or divorce. Some probate courts have SafePlan advocates affiliated with DV service providers. Some have "lawyers for the Day" who can help self-represented litigants with forms. If possible, it is useful to have legal representation when pursuing probate court assistance. The legal system is fairly complicated to negotiate, and an attorney can provide a buffer between a survivor and abuser.
  • In most Massachusetts district courts there is a Victim Witness Advocate who can assist survivors with restraining orders and provide support through the prosecution of the batterer. The role of the Victim Witness Advocate is discussed in more detail in Unit 4. To determine if the survivor's local court has a Victim Witness Advocate and to obtain that individual's name, you can call the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA) at 617-727-5200, which oversees and funds these positions.

Legal Assistance

  • Survivors who are financially eligible may access a family law attorney through a local legal service agency. Such agencies provide free or reduced-fee legal assistance and often have attorneys who specialize in domestic violence cases. Domestic violence programs may also provide limited legal assistance around specific matters and/or have a listing of attorneys that provide free or reduced fees.

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