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Rockville, MD 20850
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State's Attorney's Office

Protective and Peace Orders:


Basic information

What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in MD?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a protective order (also known as a "domestic violence protective order," or "DVPO").

Maryland law defines "abuse" as when someone you have a specific relationship with (see Am I eligible for a protective order?) commits one of the following against you:
Assault;
An act that places you in fear of immediate serious bodily harm or actually causes you serious bodily harm;
Attempted or actual rape or sexual offense; (go to MD Statutes, and read sections 3-303 through 3-308 for the definitions);
Stalking;
False imprisonment, such as holding you somewhere against your will.*
Note: If the petitioner is a child, domestic abuse can also include “abuse of a child.”  If protection is sought for a vulnerable adult,** "abuse" may also include "abuse of a vulnerable adult."*** 

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-501(b)(1)
** A "vulnerable adult" means an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for the adult's daily needs. See Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 14-101(q)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-501(b)(2),(3) 
 

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back to topWhat types of protective orders are there? How long do they last?

There are three types of protective orders:

Interim protective orders. If you wish to file for a protective order but the court clerk’s office is closed in both the circuit and district courts, you can file for an interim order by going to the nearest district court commissioner.  If the commissioner believes that you or someone you are filing for has been abused, s/he may issue an interim protective order.  An interim order goes into effect once the respondent is served by a law enforcement officer.  The interim order lasts until a judge holds a temporary hearing, which is usually within a couple of days unless the judge postpones it.  If the court is closed on the day on which the interim protective order is due to expire, the interim protective order will be effective until the next day on which the court is open, at which time the judge has to hold a temporary protective order hearing.*

Temporary protective orders. When you go to court during normal court hours to file for a final protective order, you can ask for a temporary protective order, which can be issued the same day.  This order can be issued “ex parte” (without the abuser present) and without a full court hearing.  If the abuser is not present in court, law enforcement is supposed to serve him/her “immediately” after it is issued. If the abuser was already served with an interim order and is present in court, s/he can be served in court or if s/he doesn’t show up to court, it will be served through the mail.  The temporary order is in effect for 7 days after service of the order, at which point a full court hearing will be held for a final protective order. If the court is closed on the day on which the temporary protective order is due to expire, the temporary protective order will be effective until the second day on which the court is open, by which time the judge has to hold a final protective order hearing. The judge may extend the temporary order as needed, but not to more than 6 months.*1

Final protective orders. A final protective order can be issued only after both sides have the opportunity to present their evidence and testimony at a full court hearing. If the judge believes that the abuse has occurred, or if the abuser agrees to you getting the protective order, the judge may grant a final protective order.*2  You must attend that hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order may expire and you will have to start the process over. A final protective order will generally last up to one year, unless otherwise stated. However, it can last for up to two years, if you had an order against the abuser before that lasted for at least 6 months, and the same person abused you again within 1 year of your old order expiring.*3   Lastly, an order can be permanent (last forever) if:
you had an order against the abuser in the past; and
s/he was convicted and served at least 5 years in prison for an incident of abuse against you that was the basis for your old order.
If you request a new protective order after the abuser is imprisoned for at least 5 years, this new order will be permanent (last forever) unless you (the petitioner) go to court to request that it be terminated.*4

One-year or two-year orders may also be extended.*5 See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information.

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-504.1(a),(b),(e)(1),(h)
*1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-505(a)(1),(b),(c)
*2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)(ii) 
*3 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(j)(1),(2)
*4 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(k)(1),(3)
*5 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)
 

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back to topHow can a protective order help me?

Each kind of protective order (interim, temporary, and final) can help you in different ways.  A judge may be able to order different things depending on what kind of order you get. There are certain things that all protective orders can help you with and other things that only certain orders can do.

ALL protective orders (interim, temporary, and final) can order any or all of the following:
Order the abuser to not abuse or threaten to abuse you or anyone else listed in the order;
Order the abuser to not contact, try to contact, or harass you or anyone else listed in the order;
Order the abuser to not enter your home;
Order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your child(ren)’s work place, school, temporary residence (such as a shelter), or other family members’ homes;
Order the abuser to move out of the house (if you shared it) and give you temporary use and possession of the home. (Note: If you are not married to the abuser, this can only happen if your name must is on the lease or deed to the home OR if you shared the home with the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before you filed for the protective order.* (See Can a DVPO make the abuser move out? for more information); and
Give you temporary possession of any pet owned by you or the respondent.*
In addition, an interim order can:
Do everything listed above; and
Give you temporary custody of any children you have with the abuser IF:
The child lived with you and the respondent when the abuse happened; OR
Child abuse is alleged in your petition regardless of whether or not you and the respondent lived together.*1
Note: If the other parent has the child, the judge can order that the child be returned to you and can order law enforcement to use reasonable and necessary force to return the child to you.*2 

A temporary order can:
Do everything listed above in the “ALL protection orders” list;
Order the abuser to stay away from your child(ren)’s child-care provider while the child is there;
Give you temporary custody of children you have with the abuser; (Note: If the other parent has the child, the judge can order that the child be returned to you and can order law enforcement to use reasonable and necessary force to return the child to you.)
Order the respondent to give to law enforcement any firearm in his/her possession and to not have/use any firearm while you have the temporary protective order if the abuse consisted of:
the use or threatened use of a firearm by the respondent against a you; or
serious bodily harm (or a threat to cause serious bodily harm) to you.*3
A final order can:
Do everything listed above in the “ALL protection orders” list;
Order the abuser to stay away from your child(ren)’s child-care provider while the child is there;
Give you temporary custody of children you have with the abuser;
Set up temporary visitation with children you and the abuser have together while keeping the safety of you and the child in mind – therefore, visits can be supervised or denied if the judge believes that is necessary to keep you and/or the child safe;
Order the abuser to pay you emergency family maintenance (child support and/or spousal support) and garnish the abuser’s wages if necessary;
Give you temporary use and possession of a vehicle jointly owned by you and the respondent if it’s necessary for your job or for caring for a child you and the respondent have;
Order you and/or the abuser to go to counseling or a domestic violence program;
Order the abuser to pay the filling fees and costs of your court case.*4
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law §§ 4-504.1(c), 4-505(a)(2), 4-506(d)
*1 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504.1(c)(4)(ii), (c)(5)
*2 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504.1(d)
*3 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(a)(2)(vi),(a)(2)(vii),(a)(3),(a)(2)(viii)
*4 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(d)
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back to topCan a DVPO make the abuser move out?

In some cases, yes.  If you lived in the same home or apartment as the abuser, a DVPO may be able to order the abuser to leave and give you temporary use and possession of the residence.  However, whether or not a judge can order the abuser to move out depends on several factors that the judge will consider:
The housing needs of any minor child living in the home;
How long your relationship with the abuser has lasted;
Whose name is on the title to the home;
The type of any criminal charges against the abuser and the status of the criminal case against him/her;
The history and severity of abuse in the relationship between you and the abuser;
Whether or not you and/or the abuser have anywhere else to stay; and
The financial resources of both you and the abuser.*
* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(h)
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back to topWhere can I file for a DVPO?

You can file for a DVPO in any district or circuit court in Maryland.  If the clerk’s office is open, you would file with the clerk.  If the clerk’s office is closed, you would file with a District Court commissioner.*  Please visit our MD Courthouse Locations page to find courthouse contact information.

* See the Maryland Courts website

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Who can get a protective order

back to topAm I eligible for a protective order?

You can be eligible for a protective order if you or your minor child has been the victim of abuse by:
Someone you are married to, or used to be married to;
Someone you had a sexual relationship with and lived with for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before you filed for the protective order (known as a “cohabitant”);*
Someone related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption;
Someone you have a child in common with;
Note: A parent, step-parent, child or step-child of you or the abuser can file for an order if s/he lived with the abuser currently or used to live with the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before you filed for the protective order.*1
You could also be eligible to file if you are a “vulnerable adult”,*1 which is an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide his/her daily needs*2
Minors (under 18)*3 are also eligible for protection if they are victims of abuse.   Any of the following people can file for a protective order for a minor child or vulnerable adult:
a person related to the child or vulnerable adult by blood, marriage or adoption;
an adult who lives with the child or vulnerable adult;
the state attorney (a lawyer working for the government) for the county where the child or vulnerable adult lives or where the abuse took place; or
the Department of Social Services in the county where the child or vulnerable adult lives or where the abuse took place.*4
Note: If you are NOT eligible for a protective order, but you have been the victim of abuse and need protection, you may be eligible to file for a peace order.

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(d)
*1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(l)
*2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 14-101(q)
*3 MD Code art. 1, § 24
*4 MD Code Family Law § 4-501(n)(2)(ii)
 

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back to topCan I get a protective order against a same-sex partner?

Maybe. In Maryland, you can file a protective order against a person you have had, or are currently having, a sexual relationship with AND have lived with for at least 90 days within one year before the filing of the order as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements* explained in Who can get a protective order?

If you are not eligible for a protective order, but you have been the victim of abuse and need protection, then you may be eligible to file for a peace order. For more information, see our Peace Orders page.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-501(l)(2),(d)

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back to topHow much does it cost?

Nothing.  There is no fee to file for (or to serve) a protective order.*

You do not need a lawyer to file for a protective order, but it may be helpful to have one represent you. This is especially important if the abuser has a lawyer and/or if the case goes to trial.  Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, we suggest that you talk to a lawyer to make sure your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance and domestic violence organizations on the MD Where to Find Help page. In addition, the domestic violence organizations in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms. You will find contact information for courthouses on the MD Courthouse Locations page.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(c)

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Steps for getting a protective order

back to topStep 1: Get the petition.

You can get a “petition for protection,” as it is called, from the court clerk at any circuit or district court, or from a district court commissioner in your city/county during regular court hours.  District court commissioners are available anytime if the courts are closed.  If you want a temporary order, you may want to express this to the clerk when you get the forms.  To find the courthouse closest to you, go to the MD Courthouse Locations page. To find a district court commissioner in your area you can visit the District Court of MD Commissioner Directory.
    
Note: As of January 2010, there is a new law that directs the court clerk to provide you with a "notification request form" to fill out if you would like to be notified once the temporary order (and, later, the final order) is served on the abuser.* Law enforcement would notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services within two hours and that Department has one hour to notify you.** The clerk is supposed to provide this form to you*** so be sure to ask for this form if you want to be notified.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(1)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law, §§ 4-504.1(g)(3), 4-505(b)(1)(ii)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(3)

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back to topStep 2: Bring photo identification for yourself and information about the abuser.

It is sometimes helpful to bring the following information about the abuser:

a photo
addresses of residence and employment
phone numbers
a description and plate number of his/her car
history of drugs or gun ownership.
Remember to bring some form of photo identification for yourself since this may be necessary to have your petition notarized in court.
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back to topStep 3: Carefully fill out the necessary forms.

On the petition, you will be the “petitioner” and the abuser will be the “respondent.”  Write briefly about the most recent incident(s) of violence, using descriptive language - words like "slapping," "hitting," "grabbing," "threatening," "choking," etc. - that fits your situation.  Be specific. You may also have to include any previous court action you have taken against the abuser. 

When giving your address, you may want to give a safe mailing address and phone number or ask the clerk if you can keep this information confidential if you don’t want the abuser to know where you are staying. If you are staying at a shelter, give their post office Box, not the street address.

If you need assistance filling out the forms, you may be able to ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you.  Another option is to find help through a local domestic violence organization – see our MD State and Local Programs page. A clerk or advocate can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.  You will find links to the forms you will need at our MD Download Court Forms page or from the courthouse in your area.

Note: Be sure to sign the forms in front of a notary or a clerk.
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back to topStep 4: The ex parte hearing

When you are done filling out the forms, the clerk will take your completed file to a judge for your ex parte hearing.  This is a preliminary hearing that can grant you a petition for protection (a temporary protective order).  At this hearing, the judge will read your petition for protection and may ask you why you want a final protective order and some additional questions.

If the judge grants a temporary protective order, the court clerk will give you a copy of the order.  Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct.  If something is wrong or missing, you may be able to ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. The temporary order is good until you have your scheduled hearing for a final protective order.  The judge will also set a date for your final hearing, which is usually within 7 days.*

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)
 

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back to topStep 5: Service of process

The abuser must be "served," or given papers that tell him/her about the hearing date and your temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one).  Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.

The clerk will either send the order to the police, or have you bring it to the police yourself. The police will then find the abuser and serve him/her notice of the temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one) as well as the notice of the scheduled final protective order hearing. There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.*

Furthermore, you have the right to be notified within three hours after an interim, temporary or final protective order is served on the abuser.**  (Law enforcement has two hours to notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and that Department has one hour to notify you.)***  The court clerk is supposed to provide you with a notification request form to fill out when you file for your protective order.****  Be sure to ask for it if you want to be notified.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(b)(3)
** MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(1);
*** MD Code, Family Law, §§ 4-504.1(f)(3); 4-505(b)(1)(ii)
**** MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(3)

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back to topStep 6: What will I have to prove at the protective order hearing?

As the petitioner requesting a protective order, you may have to:
Prove that the respondent has committed abuse (as defined by the law) against you and/or your children; and
Convince a judge that you need protection and the specific things you asked for in the petition (such as custody or for the abuser to stay away from your work).
See the Preparing Your Case section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused.
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back to topStep 7: The final hearing

The judge will set a final hearing date usually within 7 days of when you filed your petition.*

You must go to the hearing if you want to keep your protective order. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary protective order will expire and you will have to start the process over again. If you do not show up at the hearing, it may even possibly be harder for you to get protective orders in the future.

If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge may continue with the hearing anyway.**  The temporary order will usually only last until the hearing, but it may be extended in some situations.  For example, if the abuser has not received notice of the hearing and does not show up, the judge may order a new hearing date and extend your temporary restraining order for a period of up to 6 months to allow for service.***  

Note: A case can be continued (postponed) if there is “good cause” to do so.****  If the court does issue a continuance, the court should also reissue or extend your temporary order since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.

Generally, it is a good idea to have a lawyer represent you, especially if you think the abuser will have one.  Go to our MD Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. 

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(c)(2)
**** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii) 

 

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After the hearing

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some ideas for things that you may want to do when leaving court – you will have to decide which ones work for you: 
Make several copies of the protective order as soon as possible.
Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the protective order.  If they have not, you may want to ask if you can deliver a copy to them.
Take steps to safety plan, including possibly changing your locks and your phone number.
Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many batterers obey protective orders, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  For more information please visit the Staying Safe page.  Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.
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back to topI was not granted a protective order. How can I stay safe?

If you are not granted protective order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need.  For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Staying Safe page. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit the MD State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

If you were not granted protective order because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify, you may be able to seek protection through a "peace order." See What types of peace orders are there? How long do they last? 

You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to someone at a domestic violence organization or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. See our Filing Appeals page for general info on appeals. 

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back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

You can call the police and/or file a petition for contempt in court even if you think it is a minor violation.  It could be a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order.*  A judge can punish someone for being in contempt of court.  In addition, the police can arrest him/her depending on the violation.  If the police witnessed the violation or have probable cause to believe the violation occurred, the police are supposed to arrest him/her.**  If the police are not involved or do not arrest him/her or file a criminal complaint against him/her, you still may be able to file a contempt complaint against him/her in court.***

If the police do respond to your call, it might be a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case.

* See MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-508 
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-509
*** MD Rule 15-206(b)(2)

 

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back to topHow do I change or extend my protective order?

Extending your order
You may apply to the court to have your order extended and the judge could grant this after the abuser is given notice and after a hearing in front of a judge.  At the hearing, you may have to explain to the judge why you believe it is necessary to extend the order.  

A judge may extend the protective order (without any new incidents of abuse) for 6 months beyond the time it is supposed to end if you can show "good cause" (a good reason) why it should be extended.*  

The order can be extended for up to 2 years if you can prove that during the term of your protective order, the abuser committed a new act of abuse against you.**   To determine how long this extension based on new abuse should be, the judge will consider the following factors:
what the new abusive act was and how severe (serious) it was;
the history and severity of abuse in the relationship between the abuser and you (or anyone named in your order);
the type of any pending criminal charges against the respondent; and
the nature and seriousness of any injury or risk of injury caused by the respondent.**
Changing your order
You can file to change or withdraw your order.  The judge could grant this after the abuser is given notice and after a hearing in front of a judge.***

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(2)
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(3)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(1)
 

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back to topWhat happens if I move?

If you move within Maryland, your order will still be valid (good).  You may want to consider whether you want to give your new address to the court in case the court needs to contact you for any reason.   Also, if you move to Maryland from another state and you have a valid protective order from a court in that state (or from a Native American tribal court), you may be able to have that order enforced in Maryland.*  Please see our Moving with a Restraining Order page for more information.

Additionally, the federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protective order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. Territories and tribal lands.**  Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders. You can find out about your state’s policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor (district attorney) in your area.

If you are moving out of state, you may want to call the domestic violence program in the state where you are going to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders.

If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111 x 2) for information on enforcing your order in the new state.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-508.1(b)
** 18 USC § 2265

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