Protective Orders

In Maryland, you can obtain an order of protection from either the District Court or Circuit Court in your county.  The following is a step-by-step guide to help you protect yourself against abuse.

What counts as abuse, for a protective order?

  • An act that causes serious bodily harm (e.g., kicking, punching, choking/strangling, shoving, shooting, hitting with an object, stabbing, or biting);
  • An act that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm (including threats of harm);
  • Assault;
  • Rape or sexual assault (including attempts);
  • False imprisonment;
  • Mental injury to a minor child; or
  • Stalking.

Am I eligible for a protective order?

To be eligible for a protective order, you must fall into one of these categories:

  • A current or former spouse of the abuser (also called the Respondent);
  • A cohabitant of an abuser, who:
    • Is having a sexual relationship with the abuser, and
    • Has lived with the abuser in the home for at least 90 days within 1 year before filing for relief;
  • A person related to the abuser by blood, marriage, or adoption;
  • A parent, stepparent, or stepchild, if you have lived with the abuser in the home for at least 90 days within 1 year before filing for relief;
  • A vulnerable adult; or
  • A person who has had a child with the abuser.

**If you do not qualify for a protective order under one of these categories, you may still be able to file for a peace order.**  The following link will provide a detailed description of the process for filing a peace order:  http://www.peoples-law.org/peace-orders

 

How can I get protection under the law?

There is a two or three-step process that you must follow in order to obtain a domestic violence Protection Order against your abuser.  Some courthouses may have advocates on-site who can assist you with filling out the forms.  While you can do this without a lawyer, you should consider contacting your local domestic violence agency for advice and counseling.  Free or reduced fee legal representation may also be available through these agencies.  In addition, many domestic violence agencies may have shelters in your area to house you and your children to keep you safe through this process.  (Click here for a list of domestic violence shelters.)

 

As you begin this process, if applicable, you should also do the following:

  • Take pictures of any visible bruises.
  • Get copies of any police reports.
  • Determine whether anyone saw the abuse and ask that person to testify on your behalf.
  • If you have not already done so, talk to the police about filing criminal charges.
  • If you are seeking financial relief (also known as Emergency Family Maintenance), get copies of your most recent pay stubs, living expenses (mortgage, lease, utilities, car insurance, car payment, daycare, etc.) and any income (pay stubs) or bank information you may have regarding the abuser.

  

These links allow you to jump down the page to each step:

Step #1:  Interim Protective Order: Obtaining immediate protection when the courts are closed

When the Courts are closed, a victim of domestic violence (also known as a Petitioner) may file Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence (Petition) with the District Court Commissioner’s office.  Commissioner’s offices are open and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week around the state.  A victim of domestic violence can access a Commissioner either by going to any on-duty Commissioner’s office or by telephoning an on-call Commissioner.  Contact information for the Commissioners can be found on the District Court website.

1: Fill out the Petition at the office of the District Court Commissioner in your county.

At the Commissioner’s office, you will be asked to fill out a form, called a Petition.  On this form, you will list the reasons why you are seeking protection from abuse.  It is important to list every example of physical abuse and threats; the history of abuse; all pending or previous court actions between the parties; and the relief you are seeking.  If necessary, you may also write on an additional sheet of paper and attach it to the Petition.  If the abuser is responsible for providing you or a person eligible for relief financial support, you must request Emergency Family Maintenance on the Petition (you will need to support this request by submitting financial documentation at the time of the Final Protective Order hearing). 

If you are worried about your abuser learning your whereabouts, your address does not need to be disclosed on the Petition – you may provide an alternate address or simply ask that your address be kept confidential.

2: You will see a Commissioner.

After submitting the Petition, you will appear before a Commissioner to explain your reasons for seeking relief.  As the person seeking relief, you hold the burden of proof by “reasonable grounds.”  As such, it is important that you disclose any proof of abuse you may have, including, pictures, police reports, medical records, witnesses, etc.

3: What relief may the Commissioner order?

Depending on your specific circumstances, the Commissioner may order as relief any (or all) of the following:

  • Order the abuser to stop abusing or threatening you;
  • Order the abuser to stay away from you and to not try to contact you or harass you at your home, school, job, the place where you may be staying, from your children’s school(s), and from your family members’ homes;
  • Order the abuser to stay out of your home;
  • If you and the abuser are married and were living together at the time of the abuse:
    • order the abuser to leave the home where the two of you live; and
    • award temporary custody of any children that you have with the abuser;
  • If you are NOT married to the abuser, but were living together at the time of the abuse AND your name is on the lease or deed for the home, the court can order the abuser to leave the home;
  • If you are not married to the abuser and you lived with the abuser for at least ninety (90) days within the past year, the court can order the abuser to leave the home; or
  • Award temporary possession of any pet of the Petitioner or the abuser.

4: Contents and notice requirements of an Interim Protective Order. 

The Commissioner shall forward the Interim Protective Order to law enforcement as well as the District Court.  Thereafter, a law enforcement officer will immediately serve the person you allege as the abuser with a copy of the Interim Protective Order.  The Interim Protective Order will state:

  • The day, time and location of another hearing for a Temporary Protective Order; and
  • The tentative day, time and location of a final hearing for a Final Protective Order.

5:  How long will the Interim Protective Order remain in effect?

The Interim Protective Order will expire at the end of the second business day after issuance or at the Temporary Protective Order hearing, whichever is the earliest.  If the court is closed on the day the order is due to expire, the order shall remain in effect until the District or Circuit Court holds a Temporary Protective Order hearing.

6: Temporary Protective Order Hearing.

You must attend a Temporary Protective Order hearing to extend the length and scope of protection contained in the Interim Protective Order.  If the other side has not received a copy (i.e. been served), the Court will issue a Temporary Protective Order and serve the abuser with notice of the final hearing. Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §§ 4-504, 4-504.1

Step #2:  Temporary Protective Order: Obtaining immediate protection during court business hours

1: Go to the District or Circuit Court in your county.

Normal business hours for Court are Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. When you arrive at court, tell the Clerk of the Court (Clerk) that you want to file a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence (Petition).  The abuser does not have to go to court with you.

NOTE:  If you have an Interim Protective Order, you do not need to see the Clerk.  Instead, take a seat in the assigned courtroom and wait for your case to be called because you already have a scheduled hearing.  Skip to “4: You will see a Judge.” 

2: The Clerk will give you Petition to complete.

On this form, you will list the reasons why you are seeking protection from abuse.  It is important to list every example of physical abuse and threats; the history of abuse; and the relief you are seeking.  If necessary, you may also write on an additional sheet of paper and attach it to the Petition.  If the abuser is responsible for providing you or a person eligible for relief financial support, you must request Emergency Family Maintenance on the Petition (you will need to support this request by submitting financial documentation at the time of the Final Protective Order hearing). 

If you are worried about your abuser learning your whereabouts, your address does not need to be disclosed on the Petition – you may provide an alternate address or simply ask that your address be kept confidential.

3: In which court (District or Circuit) should I file the Petition in?

On the Petition, there will be a question asking whether there are any previous or pending court cases between yourself, the person you want protection for and the abuser.  These include: paternity, child support, divorce, custody, domestic violence, juvenile matter or criminal cases.  If you reply “yes,” your case may be heard before a Circuit Court Judge or Family Master.  In some circumstances, the District Court will, on its own initiative, transfer the case to the Circuit Court for further handling.  

4: You will see a Judge.  

Whether you received an Interim Protective Order or submitting a Petition for the first time, you will appear before a Judge to explain your reasons for seeking relief.  As the person seeking relief, you hold the burden of proof by “reasonable grounds.”  As such, it is important that you disclose any proof of abuse you may have, including, pictures, police reports, medical records, witnesses, etc.

NOTE:  If you filed an Interim Protective Order, the Commissioner’s decision to grant or deny any relief is not binding on the Judge who will hear your case for a Temporary Protective Order.

5: What relief may the Judge order?

Depending on your specific circumstances, the Judge may order as relief any (or all) of the following:

  • Order the abuser to stop abusing or threatening you;
  • Order the abuser to stay away from you and to not try to contact you or harass you at your home, school, job, the place where you may be staying, from your children’s school(s), and from your family members’ homes;
  • Order the abuser to stay out of your home;
  • If you and the abuser are married and were living together at the time of the abuse:
    • order the abuser to leave the home where the two of you live; and
    • award temporary custody of any children that you have with the abuser;
  • If you are NOT married to the abuser, but were living together at the time of the abuse AND your name is on the lease or deed for the home, the court can order the abuser to leave the home;
  • If you are not married to the abuser and you lived with the abuser for at least ninety (90) days within the past year, the court can order the abuser to leave the home;
  • Award temporary possession of any pet of the Petitioner or the abuser;
  • Order the abuser to surrender any firearm to law enforcement authorities in the abuser’s possession, provided the abuser caused or threatened to cause serious bodily injury or, used or threatened to use a firearm against you.

6: What happens if the abuser appears in court for the Temporary Protective Order hearing after having been served with an Interim Protective Order?

The Court may proceed with a Final Protective Order hearing provided that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the abuser and the parties expressly consent to waive the Temporary Protective Order hearing.  See Step #3: Final Protective Order: Obtaining long-term protection.”

7: Contents and notice requirements of a Temporary Protective Order. 

The Court shall immediately forward the Temporary Protective Order to law enforcement to locate and serve the person you allege as the abuser with a copy of the order.  The Temporary Protective Order will state the day, time and location of a final hearing for a Final Protective Order.

8: How long will the Temporary Protective Order remain in effect?

The Temporary Protective Order shall remain in effective for not more than seven (7) days after law enforcement has given the abuser a copy of the order (i.e. service).  If the Court is closed on the day the order is due to expire, the order shall remain in effect until the court holds a Final Protective Order hearing.  The Judge may extend the order, as needed, up to six (6) months to serve the abuser with the order or for good cause.

9: Final Protective Order hearing.

You must attend a Final Protective Order hearing to extend the length and scope of protection contained in the Temporary Protective Order.  The Judge will schedule another hearing that will be held in one (1) week.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505

Step #3:  Final Protective Order – obtaining long-term protection

1: Final Protective Order hearing.

At the Final Protection Order hearing, if the abuser has been served with a copy of the Temporary Protective Order but fails to appear for the hearing, you should ask the Judge to enter an order of protection against the abuser – this is called a Default Order.

If your abuser is present at the hearing, the abuser may or may not be represented by a lawyer.  When the case is called, both you and your abuser will have a chance to tell the Judge what happened that led you to file the Petition.  This is a formal hearing and the rules of evidence apply.  As the person seeking relief, you hold the burden of proof by “preponderance of the evidence,” to show more likely than not that the abuse occurred and you are eligible for relief.  Please note that the Judge who hears the case may not be the same Judge as the one who presided over the Temporary Protective Order hearing, so it is important that you repeat all the reasons why you are seeking relief, this includes submitting into evidence any documentation of abuse (police report, hospital records, photographs, etc.) and calling witnesses on your behalf.  If you are afraid of the abuser, have safety concerns for yourself or children or if the abuser has attempted to contact you within the past week (under the protection of a Temporary Protective Order), you must let the judge know.  It is also important to present documentation and discuss reasons why you may need financial assistance during the pendency of the Final Protective Order.  Be aware that the abuser or the lawyer will ask you questions in cross-examination and will have an opportunity to disprove your case.  Do not be surprised or upset if the abuser lies about what happened.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge will decide whether or not the abuse occurred.  

2: What the Judge Can Order.

If the Judge finds that the abuse did occur, the Judge may order one (or all) of the following for up to one year:

  • Order the abuser to stop abusing or threatening to abuse you;
  • Order the abuser to stay away from you and to not try to contact you or harass you;
  • Order the abuser to stay out of your home;
  • If you are married to the abuser AND you were living together at the time of the abuse, the court can order the abuser to leave the home where the two of you live;
  • If you are not married to the abuser, but were living together at the time of the abuse AND your name is on the lease or deed for the home OR you lived with the abuser for at least ninety (90) days within the past year, the court can order the abuser to leave the home;
  • Order the abuser to stay away from your job, your school, the place where you may be staying, from your children’s school(s), and from your family members’ homes;
  • Order that you be given temporary custody of any children that you have with the abuser (including the use of reasonable and necessary force to return the minor child to the custodial parent) and, depending on safety considerations, the Judge may condition or restrict visitation;
  • Order that you be given temporary custody of any pets you own with the abuser;
  • If you are married, order the abuser to pay money to help support you during the order;
  • If you have children with the abuser, order the abuser to pay support for the children;
  • If you own a car with the abuser, the court may order that you have sole use of the car for the period of the order (you must tell the judge that the car is necessary in order to get you to work or to transport a child);
  • Order the abuser or you to participate in a counseling program (domestic violence and/or drug/alcohol);
  • Order the abuser to surrender firearms; or
  • Order the abuser to stay away from a child care location.

You and the abuser will each receive a copy of the Protective Order at the time of the hearing.  If the abuser fails to appear, the Court will mail the abuser a copy of the Protective Order via first-class mail.  You should keep a copy of the order with you at all times.

3: Mutual orders of protection.

The Judge may issue a mutual Final Protective Order provided the Judge makes a detailed finding of fact that:

  • Both parties acted primarily as aggressors; and
  • Neither party acted primarily in self-defense.

4: How long will the Final Protective Order remain in effect?

The Final Protective Order shall be effective for the period stated in the order, not to exceed one (1) year. 

5: If the Protective Order is Violated.

If the abuser continues to harass you or contacts you, you should call the police immediately!  If your abuser does not follow the order, the abuser may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and be subjected to a fine of up to $500 or a jail sentence of up to ninety (90) days.  The penalties are increased for a second and subsequent offense of violating the Protective Order.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §§ 4-508, 4-509

If your abuser violates the Protective Order by failing to pay the required Emergency Family Maintenance, you may want to file in court for contempt.  If you file for contempt, there will be a contempt hearing, and the abuser will be ordered to pay what he/she owes you in Emergency Family Maintenance if the Judge finds that the abuser has violated the terms of the Order.  The Judge also has the authority to order an immediate and continuing wage withholding order.

6: Extending a Protective Order.

The Court may extend the length of a Protective Order under certain circumstances, as follows:  

  • After a hearing and good cause shown, you may extend the length of a Protective Order by six (6) months.  The form you use to make this request is available at the Clerk’s office where you originally obtained the Protective Order.
  • If the abuser abuses you while the Protective Order is in effect, you can seek to extend the order for up to two (2) years.  The form you use to make this request is available at the Clerk’s office where you originally obtained the Protective Order.
  • If the abuser abuses you again within one year of the expiration of a Protective Order and the prior Protective Order was valid for at least six (6) months, the Court may award you a 2-year Protective Order.

The Court may not, however, add any relief that was not previously awarded.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §§ 4-506, 4-507

7: Superseding Circuit Court orders.

A later Circuit Court order that pertains to custody, visitation, use and possession, and Emergency Family Maintenance will supersede those provisions contained in the Final Protective Order. 

8: Permanent Orders.

A permanent order can be issued against an individual that was convicted and served a term of at least five years of imprisonment.  Read the Law: Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506

Source: 

Edited by www.peoples-law.org/contributors

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