What is a Protective Order
A Protective Order is a civil legal order issued by a state court which requires one person to stop harming another person. All Protective Order laws are state laws, not federal laws, and each state has a different law (also called a statute).
In general, domestic violence Protective Order laws establish who can file for an order, what protection or relief a person can get from such an order, how the order will be enforced and the length of time that the Protective Order is in effect. Beginning October 1, 2009 in Maryland, a Protective Order can remain in effect for up to two years from the date issued. While there are differences from state to state, all Protective Order statutes permit the court to order the abuser to stop hurting or threatening you, to stay away from you, your home, your workplace or school and stop contacting you. You may ask the court to order that all contact, whether by telephone, notes, mail, fax, e-mail or delivery of flowers or gifts, is prohibited.
Maryland statutes also allow the Court to order the abuser to pay you temporary support (Emergency Family Maintenance). The Court can also award you sole use of and possession of the family home and vehicle owned by both of you.
Maryland courts order the abuser to turn over any firearms and ammunition he has, and may also order him / her to attend an abusers treatment program or start alcohol or drug abuse counseling.
The Court may also make decisions about the care and safety for your children. Courts can order the abuser to stay away from and have no contact with your children's doctors, daycare, school or after-school program, and make temporary custody decisions. The Court can issue visitation, or specify a safe arrangement for transferring the children back and forth between you and the abuser.
When the abuser does something that the Court has ordered him not to do, or fails to do something the Court ordered him to do, the Protective Order has been violated. When this happens, the victim can ask police, the Court or both, depending on the violation to enforce the order. The police can generally enforce provisions relating to the safety of the victim such as violations of "stay away" and "don't abuse'. Victims should call the police immediately if an abuser violates these provisions.
Other violations not easily enforced by the police, such as failure to pay support or attend treatment programs-those are enforced by the Court. If you file a "motion for contempt" explaining how the abuser violated the order, the Court will hold a hearing to determine if the facts prove that the abuser violated the order. If the Court finds a violation did occur, it will determine a penalty. Depending on the nature of the violation, the penalty may be a finding of civil or criminal contempt, which could result in a fine, jail time or both. In some cases, it may result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment.
( Information adapted from Womens Law)
Who is Eligible
Current and former spouses.
Cohabitants for 90 Days during the last. (does not have to be consecutive)
A person related to the abuser by blood, marriage, or adoption.
A parent, stepparent, or stepchild (under certain circumstances).
A person who has a child with the abuser.
How is Abuse Defined in Maryland
An act that causes serious bodily harm.
An act that places the victim in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.
Rape or sexual offense.
Types of Protective Orders
Interim Protective Order
In Maryland, victims of domestic violence can get legal protection even when the courts are closed. The District Court Commissioners can issue an Interim Protective Order and Interim Peace Orders on weekends, holidays or at night. Interim Protective Orders last until a judge holds a court hearing on the petition for the protective order (usually within 48 hours).
Victims of domestic violence may petition for a Temporary Protective Order (TPO). If the judge grants your petition the TPO can last until a hearing can be scheduled (usually 7 days). They may be extended by the judge if needed for up to 30 days. A Law Enforcement Officer must serve the abuser in person with the Temporary Protective Order and notice of the hearing date for the Final Protective Order.
Final Protective Orders
After a hearing in the District or Circuit Court, a Final Protective Order, effective for up to twelve months may be granted if the judge decides that there is sufficient evidence of abuse. A judge can extend the term of the order, however extensions are usually not more than twelve months (beginning Orctober 1, 2009). The Final Protective Order may contain the same remedies provided in the Temporary Protective Order, or the conditions may be modified.
How Can Protective Order Help You
A Protective Order can do more than protect you and your children. It may:
- Order the abuser not to assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass, or interfere with you and your children in person, at work, on the telephone, or by other means;
- Order the abuser to stay away from any place you request including your school, your children's school, your work place, your friends' homes, family members homes or any place where you are seeking shelter;
- Allow you to live in the home where you and your abuser have lived together and order the abuser to move out and not return;Give you possession of personal property including a car, except for the abuser's personal property;
- Give you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation;
- Award Emergency Family Maintenance if your abuser has a duty to support you. This includes an immediate and continuing withholding order on all earnings of the abuser in the amount of the ordered Emergency Family Maintenance in accordance with the procedures specified by Maryland state law;
- Order the abuser to attend an abuser's treatment program.
- Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of the case.
- You do not need a lawyer to file for a Protective Order, but it may be better to have one. If your abuser has a lawyer, you should try to get one too. Even if your abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact MSCFV to obtain a lawyer or a lawyer directly yourself to make sure that your legal rights are protected.
The Final Protective Order
You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your Temporary Protective Order will expire and you will have to start the process over. (If you do not show up for the hearing, it may be held against you if you file for an order in the future). If you cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the judge's office and ask that your case be "continued", but the judge may deny your request.
If your abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may enter a default order, granting you what you requested in the petition. The judge may also decide to postpone the date of the hearing in order to be able to hear testimony from your abuser. If the judge postpones the hearing (a continuance), then be sure to ask to have your Temporary Protective Order extended until that time.
Commonly Asked Questions
How do I prepare for my hearing?
If your case is contested you will need to call witnesses to testify to information favourable to your case. You do not need more than one witness to testify to the same facts. Make sure to speak to your witnesses prior to the hearing and prepare them for the questions you will be asking. Never ask a witness in court a question you do not know the answer to. Witnesses MUST come to court. Do not bring letter or other statements from witnesses.
Is it possible to observe a hearing before I go to court?
Yes, most hearings are open and you can take a seat in the courtroom and observe other cases.
What else can I do to prepare?
Prepare what you are going to say in court ahead of time. Write down any issues that have been agreed upon. These issues can be presented to the court at the beginning of the case. The master/judge will only have to hear and decide matters relating to the issues that you have not been able to resolve. Write down what you need to have the master/judge hear and see in order to rule in your favor. First, what is it that you are asking for? What are your reasons for asking for this? Who are the people who can testify in support of those reasons? What documents or things support those reasons and who can testify that those documents or things are what you say they are? (For example, pay stubs can be introduced as evidence of how much an individual earns). Once you have decided these things, make an outline of the order you will present your evidence and what each fact is going to help the master/judge decide. Write out the questions that you are going to ask your witnesses.
What do I do on the day of the hearing?
On the day your case is scheduled, make sure you are there early. Often you will need to check in with the court personnel in the courtroom. If you are not there when your case is called, your case could be dismissed by the Court. Therefore, if you need to leave the courtroom even for a brief time, notify the clerk that you are leaving. If you cannot attend on the scheduled hearing day, tell the court in writing well in advance of your court date and ask for a continuance.
Do I bring anything to the hearing?
Bring all documents that have been filed or received to date. Have them arranged in chronological order, according to date, or in a sequence that makes sense to you, so that you can easily find any document to which you may need to refer. Also, bring your marriage certificate to the hearing.
What if there has been domestic violence in my case?
If there has been a history of domestic violence in your case, and if there is a concern about physical danger from the other party, notify the clerk and request a separate waiting area. You may also want to bring along a family member or advocate to support you during the hearing.
Should I make an opening statements?
Both parties will be given the option of an opening statement. If you choose to present an opening statement, be as brief as possible-a few sentences. Some masters/judges will swear the parties in as soon as the hearing starts, and others when it is time to give your testimony.
What happens next?
After the opening statements, the Petitioner/Plaintiff (person who started the case) presents his/her case first by calling witnesses to testify and submitting evidence. The Respondent/Defendant presents his/her case next. The Petitioner/Plaintiff has the final response. You will have the opportunity to question, or cross-examine, the other party's witnesses, and the other party will have the same opportunity. There will then be the opportunity to re-direct questions to clarify any testimony given on cross-examination. Only ask questions, do not testify yourself.
How does the hearing conclude?
After the parties have presented all of the witnesses and evidence, each will be allowed to make a closing statement. This should only be a few sentences summarizing what you think your case has shown and what you are asking for.
When will I receive my decision from the Court?
Not all court decisions are issued at the time of the hearing. In devorce and / or custody cases you should hear from the Court in writing within the month after you appear. In cases of a Protective Order hearing, you will be told the decision that day.
Other things to remember when you are appearing in court?
DO NOT ARGUE WITH THE JUDGE, MASTER OR THE OPPOSING PARTY.
If you object to a witness, question or evidence, stand up and say "Objection" and the reason for your objection, such as irrelevant, hearsay etc. Speak loudly and clearly and do not interrupt while another person is speaking.
WEAR APPROPRIATE COURTROOM ATTIRE.
Appropriate courtroom attire is a dress or nice pants for women and long pants and a dress shirt for men. It is inappropriate to wear shorts, tank tops, t-shirts (especially ones with offensive messages) and caps, and to chew gum. Do not bring children to court. Do not bring cell phones or pagers to court.
THE MASTER OR JUDGE CANNOT GIVE EITHER PARTY LEGAL ADVICE.
If you have failed to file a document properly or otherwise not complied with the Rules of Procedure or Statutes, the hearing may be postponed. You should consult an attorney to assist you at this point.
(Prepared by: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Court House Advice Clinics)