By Anita M. Bailey, Legal Assistance Attorney
Confronting Domestic Violence: How to Obtain a Civil Protective Order in Maryland
Victims of abuse in the State of Maryland may seek court intervention to help protect themselves from further abuse by obtaining a civil protective order. Most people think of this as a “restraining order,” but the court can provide a variety of relief to a victim of abuse aside from an order that prohibits an alleged abuser from contacting the victim.
Through a protective order, the court can make decisions that impact the family and marital property, including prohibiting the accused from abusing and/or contacting the victim, ordering the accused to vacate the home, ordering an alleged abuser to participate in domestic violence counseling, awarding temporary custody or visitation of the parties’ children, awarding temporary financial support to a victim, awarding temporary use and possession of a jointly owned vehicle and even awarding temporary possession of a pet! A final protective order will also require the alleged abuser to surrender any firearms to law enforcement authorities and refrain from possessing any firearms until the protective order expires. Although it is called a final protective order, the relief is temporary in the sense that a final protective order is generally only granted for up to one year. It is important that, once obtained, a victim strictly enforces the protective order and reports any violations to law enforcement authorities or the court. Violations of a civil protective order could result in criminal charges or civil contempt which may result in jail or other confinement restrictions. Violations may also result in a protective order being extended for two years or permanently.
Who Can File for a Protective Order and How Is “Abuse” Defined?
In order to obtain a protective order, the petitioning victim (hereafter: “Petitioner”) must demonstrate that they lived with and/or had a specific relationship with the alleged abuser. The parties must be related by blood, marriage, or adoption, have a child in common, or have had a recent sexual relationship. A petitioner may also be a vulnerable adult or have been recently raped by the alleged abuser.
In order to obtain a protective order, a petitioner must persuade a court that they have been the victim of an act of “abuse.” Abuse is defined, by statute, as: an assault, an act that causes serious bodily harm, an act that places a person in fear of imminent seriously bodily harm, rape or a sexual offense, false imprisonment, stalking or revenge porn. If the petitioner is seeking to protect a child younger than 18, the definition of abuse is expanded to include: sexual abuse (whether or not there are physical injuries) or physical or mental injuries that place the child’s health or welfare at substantial risk of harm by a parent, household/family member, or another individual who is responsible for custody or supervision of the child.
Where Do I File For a Protective Order?
A protective order may be obtained from either of Maryland’s two general trial courts -- the District Court (the “small claims” court handling less complex criminal and civil cases); or the Circuit Court (the general trial court handling more complex civil and criminal cases and jury trials). Each of Maryland’s twenty-three counties and Baltimore City have one Circuit Court but may have more than one District Court per jurisdiction. In Anne Arundel County where Fort Meade is located, you will find the Circuit Court at 8 Church Circle in Annapolis, and the two District Courts at 7500 Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie and 251 Rowe Boulevard in Annapolis.
When making the choice about which court to file your petition in, it is important to consider that when a protective order is granted or denied by a District Court, the parties have the right to appeal the decision within 30 days to the Circuit Court. This appeal is de novo, meaning that a new full judge only trial will take place and the parties are not limited by the evidence presented in the District Court. However, a decision from the Circuit Court may only be appealed, on the record, to the Court of Special Appeals, and will only be altered if the Circuit Court made significant errors in reaching its decision. If a petitioner selects the District Court, that court may transfer the case to the Circuit Court in the interests of justice or if there is a related case pending there. A transfer is likely to occur in protective order cases involving significant child custody issues, since the Circuit Court has more expertise with custody issues (because only the Circuit Court can hear custody and divorce cases).
Interim, Temporary and Final Protective Orders
A petitioner begins the process by filing a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence (the form is available on the Maryland Judiciary’s website at https://www.courts.state.md.us/district/forms or at the respective court clerk’s offices). In some courthouses, victims’ advocates are available to assist with filing a petition. The petition is generally filed with the court clerk’s office. There are no costs associated with the filing or service of a protective order. The court will review the petition and hold an ex parte hearing (meaning that the court will only hear from the petitioner without the presence of, or notification to, the alleged abuser) on the same day. However, if the District and Circuit Court clerk’s offices are closed, such as during evenings, weekends or holidays, a petition may be filed with the District Court Commissioner (who may issue an interim order, to be served on the alleged abuser, and effective until the District Court can hold a hearing for a temporary order).
If there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that the petitioner has been abused, the District or Circuit Court will issue a temporary protective order and schedule a hearing for the final protective order in approximately seven (7) days, when both parties and their witnesses have the opportunity to be present. A temporary order may be extended, up to six months, in order to allow the alleged abuser to be served with the petition and temporary order.
In order to obtain a final protective order, a petitioner must persuade a court by a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not, or in percentage terms, by 51%), that abuse has occurred. A petitioner should be prepared to testify and present witnesses, photographs, documents or any other evidence to make their case. If the court is convinced that abuse has occurred, it may grant a final protective order for up to one year. However, if the original protective order is granted for at least six months and an additional act of abuse occurs (or the parties agree) within one year after the date of the final protective order, the protective order may be effective for up to two years. The court may issue a permanent protective order if the victim requests one and, during the issuance of an interim, temporary, or permanent protective order, the alleged abuser is convicted of a related crime and serves at least twelve (12) months of the sentence.
It should be noted that subsequent Circuit Court orders pertaining to any of the provisions included in the final protective order, such as child custody or visitation awarded in connection with a custody or divorce case, will override any of those decisions included in the final protective order. The court may grant both parties protective orders against each other only where both parties filed petitions and acted as aggressors towards each other.
As you can see, the process for obtaining a Civil Protective Order includes several legal requirements that must be fulfilled before one can be granted. It is therefore recommended that you speak with an attorney before pursuing one.
The Fort Meade Legal Assistance Division is now representing some clients seeking Civil Protective Orders in Anne Arundel County courts. If you would like to request an attorney consultation with the Fort Meade Legal Assistance Division: please call 301-677-9504/9536 or complete and submit an intake form:
 Petitioners who are victims of abuse but do not share a specific relationship with their alleged abuser may instead apply for a peace order through the District Court of Maryland, which may be granted for up to six months.