In Vera V. v. Seymour S., the Appeals Court recently considered whether it was proper for a trial judge to deny a request for an extension of an ex parte abuse prevention order pursuant to G. L. c. 209A, based on the defendant ("husband") being subject to certain pretrial release conditions that had been ordered in the related criminal case and the subject of a Department of Children and Families ("DCF") investigation. The criminal case involved allegations of physical abuse of the plaintiff ("wife") by the husband while the wife was attempting to breastfeed the parties' newborn. The pretrial release conditions in that case included a "no abuse" order that could have resulted in the husband's being held without bail if he violated them.
For a plaintiff to obtain an abuse prevention order, colloquially known as a "restraining order," against a defendant, the issuing court must make a finding of abuse. For the purposes of 209A, abuse is defined as a) attempting to cause or causing physical harm; b) placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm; or c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations. In cases where no attempted or actual physical contact has occurred, the question is generally whether the defendant placed the plaintiff in fear of imminent serious physical harm. Past cases have established that such fear must be reasonable in light of the totality of the circumstances of the parties' relationship.