A protective order, is a court order to protect victims of abuse and domestic violence from his or her abuser. A protective order is sometimes mistakenly called a restraining order. The term abuse has been defined by the Maryland Courts to include any behavior that causes or creates a reasonable fear of serious bodily harm, assault in any degree, a sexual offense, or false imprisonment.
In Maryland, the following people are defined as a “person eligible for relief” meaning that they can file for a protective order:
- A current or former spouse;
- A cohabitant;
- A person related by blood, marriage, or adoption;
- An individual who has a child in common;
- A parent, step-parent, child or stepchild who resides or has resided with the abuser or person eligible for relief for at least ninety (90) days within one (1) year prior to filing; and
- A vulnerable adult.
First and foremost, when someone is facing domestic violence, abuse, or their life is being threatened, they should call the local police and then if necessary, seek immediate medical attention.
After the victim is safe and no longer in harm’s way, they can go to the Court and file for a temporary protective order. In Maryland, a victim can go to either the District Court or the Circuit Court in the county where the abuse occurred and/or where the victim lives.
The first step is to file a petition for a protective order. In the petition, the victim is referred to as the petitioner and the abuser is referred to as the respondent. After filing a petition for a protective order, the victim will appear before the judge and will have to explain to the Court why they are in fear for their life and safety. The Court can then issue a Temporary Protective Order, which is generally good for one week, when the final protective order hearing will take place. The local sheriff will then serve the abuser with a copy of the temporary protective order.
At the Final Protective Order Hearing, the victim must prove by a preponderance of evidence that the abuse occurred. This is a change in the law as of Oct. 2014. Previously, the victim had to prove the abuse by clear and convincing evidence, which was a higher burden of proof.
Now, under the preponderance of evidence standard, the victim has to prove that it is more likely true than not that the abuse occurred. However, for a victim of domestic violence who is having to re-tell his or her story to a judge, even this burden of proof can still be challenging to meet. That is why it is so important to have a Maryland domestic violence lawyer there representing you. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through your testimony and also provide moral support during this very difficult time.
If the victim is able to prove the abuse occurred by a preponderance of evidence, the judge will issue a Final Protective Order. Final Protective Orders are generally good for one (1) year and can be extended. In the Final Protective Order, the judge can include any of the following terms:
- Prohibiting further abuse or contact of any kind with the victim;
- Awarding use and possession of the family home to the victim and requiring the alleged abuser to vacate the residence;
- Granting custody of any minor children to the victim;
- Establishing a temporary visitation schedule for the abuser to see the minor children;
- Requiring the abuser to pay emergency family maintenance (child support);
- Granting the victim use and possession of any jointly owned vehicle;
- Requiring that the abuser and/or the victim engage in counseling or the abused persons program (APP); and
- Requiring the abuser to surrender any and all firearms immediately.
What do you do if you are the victim of domestic violence, but the Courts are not open? If the Courts are closed, the victim can go to the County Commissioner in the county where they reside or where the abuse occurred. The Commissioner can issue an Interim Protective Order, which will be good until the next business day. For example, if the Commissioner enters an Interim Protective Order on Saturday, it will be good until Monday. On Monday the victim must appear in Court so the Court can conduct a hearing.
Depending on the type of abuse committed, criminal charges may also be filed against the abuser. If the police are called to the scene, the officers can initiate criminal charges. But, if the police were not involved, the victim can still go the Commissioner and ask the criminal charges be brought against the abuser.
If you are in the very difficult position of needing protection for you or your children, you don’t have to go through it alone. Our caring and supportive Maryland domestic violence lawyers will offer you the counseling you need to make the best choices for you.
If someone is attempting to get a protective against you by falsely alleging abuse, it’s in your best interest to speak to an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. Call our office to set up a consultation right away.