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Protect Yourself: Understanding Protective Orders

In Maryland, both the District Court and the Circuit Court have the power to issue a protective order.  This order is designed to protect you from harm by another person. There are several elements to a protective order, which we discuss below.  Readers should be aware, however, that if they do not meet the elements necessary to obtain a protective order, this should not be the end of the process.  If you don’t qualify for a protective order, you may qualify for a peace order under the law.

Conduct with Qualifies as “Abuse”

Protective orders are designed to protect people from abuse of another person.  Thus, in order to qualify for a protective order, you must be the victim of some form of abuse by the perpetrator.  There are a number of different types of conduct which qualify as abuse under the law in  Maryland.  This conduct includes:

  • False Imprisonment
  • Stalking
  • Rape
  • Attempted rape
  • Other forms of sexual assault
  • Attempted sexual assault
  • Assault
  • Acts which place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
  • Threats of imminent serious bodily harm
  • Acts that cause serious bodily harm, including, but not limited to:
    • Biting
    • Choking
    • Hitting with an object
    • Kicking
    • Punching
    • Shoving
    • Stabbing as well as
    • Strangulation or
  • Mental injury to a minor child.

Other conduct may also rise to the level of abuse under the statute.  If you think your experience is abuse, it is a good idea to speak with a professional about your situation.

People Eligible for a Protective Order

Not everyone qualifies for a protective order from the court, even if they have experienced abuse as detailed above.  (Again, there may be another remedy, called a peace order, if you do not qualify for a protective order under the law.)

To be eligible to apply for a protective order, you must fit into at least one of the following categories of people:

  • Current spouse of the abuser
  • Former spouse of the abuser
  • Cohabitant of the abuser if you are:
    • In a sexual relationship with the abuser and
    • Have lived with the abuser for at least 90 days within the past 12 months before filing for a protective order
  • A parent, stepparent, or step child of the abuser, provided you have lived with the abuser in the same home for at least 90 days during the 12 months prior to filing for the protective order
  • In a sexual relationship with the abuser for one year or longer before filing for a protective order
  • Related to the abuser by either marriage, blood, or adoption
  • A vulnerable adult or
  • Someone who shares parentage of a child with the abuser.

Special Rules for Current or Former Spouses

If you are a current or former spouse of the abuser, there is no requirement you be living together.  Former spouses are eligible for protective orders regardless of how long they have been separated or divorced from the abuser.  Further, remarriage does not impact a former spouse’s ability to obtain a protective order.

Understanding the “90 Day” Rule

Where there is a requirement that people live with the abuser for 90 days, there is no requirement these 90 days be consecutive to each other.  For example, if John lives with Sally, the abuser from January 1 through April 3, this meets the 90 day requirement.  However, if Susan lives with Angel, the abuser, from January 1 – January 30, then again from March 1 – March 30, and finally, from June 1 – June 30, this, too, meets the 90 day requirement.

Obtaining a Protective Order

In many cases, the decision to obtain a protective order is predicated on a specific act of abuse after a period of abusive conduct.  This may or may not happen during regular business hours when the courts are in session.  A person can seek a protective order 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the District Court Commissioner’s office.  If one seeks a protective order at night or on a weekend, this is called an interim protective order.  This order will be followed by a temporary protective order.

In cases where the courts are open during the time of the application, the process starts with the temporary protective order.  Finally, applicants must attend a hearing for a final protective order to be issued.  The court will hear from both sides.  The petitioner (the person seeking the protective order) must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the abuse alleged actually occurred and that the petitioner qualifies for and is entitled to relief.

Relief a Court May Order

The court is limited to what relief they may order.  However, if you meet the legal requirements of proving your case, you may request, and the court has to power to order any or all of the following:

  • Order the abuser stop abusing you
  • Order the abuser stop threatening to abuse you
  • Prohibit the abuser from contacting you or harassing you
  • Prohibit the abuser from coming to your home
  • If you are married to the abuser and you were living together before the request for a protective order, order the abuser to leave the home the two of you share
  • If you are not married to the abuser, but have been living together for at least 90 days in the past year, order the abuser to leave the home
  • Alternatively, if you are not married to the abuser, but were living together at the time of the abuse, and, in addition, your name is on the deed to the home or the lease, order the abuser to leave the home
  • Order the abuser stay away from places you regularly go, such as:
    • Your place of employment
    • Your school
    • The place you are staying (such as a friend’s house)
    • Your family member’s homes
    • Your children’s school or your children’s daycare
  • Grant you temporary custody of the children
  • Limit visitation of the children
  • Grant temporary custody of the pets to either you or the abuser
  • Order the abuser pay temporary support for you or the children
  • Order the abuser attend counseling for domestic violence or chemical dependency
  • Force the abuser to surrender any firearms
  • Any other order the court deems necessary to keep you safe.

Are You Experiencing Abuse?

If you are being abused, or are otherwise considering divorce or legal separation, contact our office.  At Fait & DiLima, we focus our practice on family law and divorce law.  We can help you during this difficult time.  Call today at (301) 888-6384.

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