- A quick overview of the legal system
- What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in MD?
- What is a Protective Order (DVPO)? What types are there?
- Who can get a Protective Order?
- How can a Protective Order help me?
- How much does it cost?
- What are the steps for obtaining a Protective Order?
- What will I have to prove at the Protective Order Hearing?
- What should I do before the hearing to prepare my case?
- What should I do on the day of the hearing?
- What is the order of events in the courtroom?
- What should I do when I leave the Courthouse?
- I was not granted a Protective Order. What are my options?
- What can I do if the abuser violates the order?
- How do I change or extend my Protective Order?
- What happens if I move?
- What is a Peace Order, and how do I get one?
The Maryland legal system is divided into two areas: civil law and criminal law.
One of the most confusing things about the legal system is the difference between civil cases and criminal cases. In domestic violence situations, there may be both civil and criminal cases occurring at the same time as a result of the same violent act. The major differences have to do with who takes the case to court and the reason for the case.
Under civil law, one person sues another for a private wrong. In a civil domestic violence action, you are asking the court to resolve the conflict between you and your abuser. You are not asking the court to punish that person for committing a crime. Protective orders on this page are under the civil law system.
The criminal law system handles all cases that involve violations of criminal law such as harassment, assault, murder, and theft. A criminal complaint involves charging your abuser with a crime.
Maryland law defines "abuse" as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between "family or household members":
- An act that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- An act that causes serious bodily harm
- Rape or sexual offense
- Attempted rape or sexual offense
- False imprisonment, such as interference with freedom, physically keeping you from leaving your home or kidnapping you.
To read the exact wording of the law, please see the statute "§4-501. Definitions" on the MD Statutes page. ¹
A Protective Order is an order made by a civil court to protect a person from physical pain or injury or threat of physical pain or injury. There are three types of protective orders:
Interim protective orders: If you are in immediate danger of abuse and the court is closed, you may get an interim order by going to the nearest District Court commissioner. 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, within the first two days that the court reopens.
Temporary (ex parte) protective orders: When you go to court to file for a final protective order, you can also ask for a Temporary order. This can be done without a full court hearing and without your abuser present. Your abuser is notified via service that you have an order against him as soon as a Temporary order is issued. 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. The judge may extend the temporary order as needed, but not more than 30 days.
Final protective orders: A final protective order can be issued only after a full court hearing, where you and the abuser both tell your sides of the story to a judge. 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 last up to one year, unless otherwise stated. Orders may also be extended (See How do I change or extend a protective order?) ²
You are eligible for a Protective Order if you or your minor child has been the victim of abuse by:
- A parent, stepparent, child or stepchild of yours who currently lives with you or used to live with you for at least 90 days within 1 year before the filing for the protective order;
- Any person you are (or were) related to by blood, marriage, or adoption;
- Any person with whom you have a child; or
- Any person with whom you have had a sexual relationship with AND lived together with, for at least 90 days within one year before the filing of the petition.
Children and "vulnerable" adults are also eligible for protection if they are the victims of abuse. An adult guardian may have to file on behalf of the child or vulnerable adult. MD defines a vulnerable adult as an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for his or her own daily needs.
Note: 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. ³
Through a Protective Order, a judge may order your abuser to:
- Stay away from you and your children;
- Stay away from you and your children's residence, work place, school, day care, friends' homes, any place where you are seeking shelter, etc.;
- Stop threatening or hurting you;
- Stop contacting or harassing you;
- Move out of the house (if you shared it) and not return;
- Surrender to the sheriff's office any weapon the abuser possesses Note: If there are guns involved in your case, the National Center on Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) can provide you with information and help you find a lawyer to help you with your case, if you can't find one on your own; and/or
- Pay for your filing fees and legal fees
The Protective Order can also:
- Give you possession of shared property (such as a house or car) except for the abuser's personal property ;
- Award you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation;
- Order your abuser to help support you and your children financially;
- Order the abuser to attend treatment programs; and/or
- Oher reasonable requests that the judge believes are necessary in order for you to be free from the violence.
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.
Nothing. There is no filing fee to get a Protective Order.
Although you do not need a lawyer to file for a Protective Order, it may be to your advantage to seek legal counsel. This is especially important if your abuser has obtained a lawyer. Even if your abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer to make sure that 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 Links & Resources 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 and Info page. 5
(back to top)
Step 1: Go to Court to file and obtain the Petition.
As soon as possible after the abuse occurs, go to the Civil Clerk's desk in the District Court nearest to where you live or the Circuit Court in the county in which you live. You can file a Petition during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. To find the courthouse closest to you, go to the MD Courthouse Locations & Info page.
At the courthouse, tell the clerk of court that you want to file a domestic violence petition for a Final Protective Order. If you are in immediate danger, tell the clerk you also want a Petition for Protection, which would provide a temporary ("ex-parte") order.
By filing for a Petition of Protection, you are asking the court for a temporary order that will be granted immediately if the judge has reasonable grounds to believe that you have been abused. If a Petition for Protection is issued, it takes effect the same day that you apply for it. It will last until you have a hearing for the Protective Order, which usually is seven days later. The clerk will give you the forms.
If you are in immediate danger of abuse and the court is closed, you may get an emergency order by going to the nearest District Court commissioner. If you are issued this order, it will only be good until the close of the next day that the court is open. For the protection to remain in effect, you must go to court before the close of the next business day to request a Final Protective Order.
Step 2: Bring identification and information about your abuser. It is sometimes helpful to bring the following information about your abuser:
- a photo
- addresses of residence and employment
- phone numbers
- a description and plate number of your abuser's car
- history of drugs or gun ownership
Remember to bring some form of identification (a driver's license or other identification that includes your picture).
Step 3: Carefully fill out the necessary forms. On the Petition, you will be the "petitioner" and your 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. It will also be important to write any previous court action you have taken against your abuser.
Be sure to write your name and a safe mailing address and phone number. If you are staying at a shelter, give a Post Office Box, not a street address.
If you need assistance filling out the form, 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 (MD Links & Resources). Clerks, magistrates, Victim's Assistance, court advocates, etc. 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 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.
Step 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 ask you why you want a Final Protective Order.
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, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. Be sure to keep it with you at all times. You may want to keep copies in your car, workplace, or daycare. This 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.
If the judge does not grant you a temporary protective order at the ex-parte hearing, you will not be given a court date for a final protective order hearing. If any future incidents occur, you can try filing again.
Step 5: Service of Process. Your abuser must be "served", or given papers that tell him about the hearing date and your temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one).
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 notice of the temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one) as well as the scheduled Final Protective Order hearing. There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.
For your safety, do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.
Step 6: The Hearing. The judge will set a hearing date usually within 7 days of filing your petition.
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 at the hearing, it may be harder for you to get protective orders in the future.
If your abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge will continue with the hearing. The temporary order will remain in effect and you will continue to be protected by it until the expiration date of the order. 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.
Continuance. You have the right to bring a lawyer to represent you at the hearing. If you show up to court and your abuser has a lawyer and you do not, you may ask the judge for a "continuance" to set a later court date so you can have time to find a lawyer for yourself. You may also ask for a continuance if you cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time.
It is a good idea to see a lawyer if you think your abuser will challenge custody or child support, or if you have been severely injured or expect to an injury to last a long time. 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.
As the Petitioner requesting a Protective Order, you must:
- Prove that the Respondent has committed acts of domestic violence (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 your abuser to stay away from your work)
Contact witnesses who saw the abuse or your injuries.
Anyone can be a witness, including a friend, a family member, an emergency room nurse, a doctor, a stranger who saw or heard the abuse take place, and/or a law enforcement officer.
Some witnesses may not come to court unless they are given a subpoena, which is a document that commands them to appear and testify. Ask the court clerk about the subpoena process. If the people you subpoenaed do not come to the hearing, immediately tell the judge.
The judge may choose not to hear from a witness because of the short amount of time given to each hearing.
Get evidence to help you prove your case. Evidence can include:
- your statements or a witness's statements about the incident(s) of domestic abuse
- medical reports
- police reports
- dated pictures of your injuries Note: If the police took photos during their investigation, you may be able to request copies of those photos from the police photo lab. You may have to pay for those copies. You should consider taking your own series of photos to document the progress of any bruising or other injuries you sustained.
- household objects torn or broken by your abuser
- pictures of your household in disarray after an episode of domestic violence
- weapons used Note: If there are guns involved in your case, the National Center on Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) can help you find a lawyer to help you with your case.
- tapes of calls you may have made to 911
- certified copies of the abuser's criminal record
- anything else to help you convince the judge you have suffered acts of domestic violence and need certain relief and protection
The more evidence you have, the greater your chances of being granted a protection order. However, the judge will listen to your story even if you have no physical evidence or witnesses.
Practice telling your story. You may want to make an outline or notes of the history of violence between you and the defendant (your abuser). You may take notes to court with you to look at if you forget something, but if you read straight from them, the judge may order that the defendant be allowed to see them.
Tell your story in your own words, but leave out details that have nothing to do with the violence or threats of violence. Also, rather than saying, "he or she hit me," tell the judge how you were hit, where on your body you were hit, and how many times. Be specific.
You may want to mention:
- The last two incidents of violence
- The worst two incidents of violence
- Whether the defendant has a gun or other weapons
- Whether the defendant has threatened to physically hurt or kill you.
- Dress neatly
- Be on time.
- Have your witnesses there and ready. If you have subpoenaed witnesses and they do not come, tell the judge.
- Speak directly to the judge; he or she will understand if you feel nervous. Always address the judge as Your Honor.
- Be prepared to spend all day in court. (There may be hearings before yours.)
- If your abuser comes to court with a lawyer and you do not have one, ask the judge for a continuance so you can look for a lawyer. A continuance reschedules your court hearing for a later date.
- If your abuser does not appear at the scheduled court hearing, the temporary order will remain in effect and you will continue to be protected by it until the expiration date of the order.
- Once your case is called, enter the courtroom and find a seat. If the abuser sits next to you, it is your right to take another seat and to receive help from court staff in keeping the abuser away from you.
- Stand when the judge enters and sit when the judge or bailiff asks you to.
- Relax and remain calm. Take deep breaths if you feel yourself getting tense. Never lose your temper in the courtroom.
- Always tell the truth.
- If you don't understand a question, just say so.
- If you don't know the answer to a question, just say so. Never make up an answer.
- Tell the judge if you want custody of your children, if you own joint property with the abuser (including your home), and what you will need to financially support youself and your children.
- At the hearing, everyone who will testify will swear or affirm to tell the truth.
- You will tell your side of the story first.
- The judge and your abuser (or your abuser's lawyer, if he has one) may ask you questions. If you are scared to answer any of the questions, tell the judge.
- When you are done, your witnesses will take the stand. You (or your lawyer, if you have one) may ask them questions, and then the judge and the defendant (your abuser) or his lawyer (if he has one) will have a turn to ask them questions.
- After all of your witnesses are finished, the defendant will tell his or her side. It may be very different from yours. The judge will ask questions, and you (or your lawyer) may also.
- The judge will make a decision after hearing both sides and considering the evidence.
- If the judge decides in your favor, s/he will sign your Final Protection Order.
- You will be given a copy of the Final Protective Order. Review it carefully before you leave the courthouse. If you have ANY questions about it, or you believe something is wrong or missing, be sure to ask the judge or court clerk before you leave.
- 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.
- Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
- If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them. One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the Protective Order.
- Take steps to safety plan, including changing your locks and your phone number.
Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. Women 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. Click on the following link for suggestions on Safety Planning. (You can access the safety planning information any time from the WomensLaw.org Home page.) Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.
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 Safety Planning page. You will find a list of Iowa resources on our MD Links & Resources 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 is a Peace Order, and how do I get one?
You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if you have new evidence to show the court that domestic abuse did occur, or 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.
It is important to recognize the limitations of a Protective Order. You must be vigilant in enforcing the order by reporting every violation to the police or the court.
Call the police immediately, even if you think it is a minor violation. It is a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order in any way. A judge can punish someone for being in contempt of court. In addition, the police can arrest him. If they witnessed the violation or have probable cause to believe the violation occurred, they must arrest him. If the police are not involved or do not arrest him or file a criminal complaint against him, you still have the right to go to the District Court and take out a criminal complaint against him.
It is 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. 8
About a month before the Protective Order expires, you may apply to the court to have your order extended. You will have to go to a short hearing to tell the judge why you believe it is necessary to extend the order.
For any other changes, call the clerk of court to find out how you can include them on your order. You can find this contact information on the MD Courthouse Locations and Info page. 9
If you move within Maryland, your order will still be valid and good. It is a good idea to call the clerk to change your address.
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 should 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 Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) for information on enforcing your order there.
Note: Civil protective orders may not be enforceable on military bases, and military protective orders may not be enforceable off base. Please check with your local police department, court clerk, and/or domestic violence advocate for more details. Please see our Military Info page for more information. 10
If you are not eligible for a Final Protective Order, but you have been the victim of abuse by a dating partner you have never lived together with, a neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, or stranger, then you may be eligible to file for a Peace Order.
Peace Orders may order your abuser to:
- stop threatening or committing abuse
- stay away from your home, place of employment or school
- have no contact with you
You must file for a Peace Order in District Court. The order typically lasts for up to six months. To locate the nearest Court in your area, look on our MD Courthouse Locations and Info page. 11
1 Maryland Code 4-501 Definitions
2. Maryland Code 4-506 Protective Orders
3 Maryland Code 4-501 Defintions
4 Maryland Code 4-506 Protective Orders
5 Maryland Code 4-504 Petition for Relief From Abuse
6 Maryland Code 4-506(c) Protective Orders
7 Maryland Code 3-1504 Peace Orders
8 Maryland Code 4-508 Sanctions for Violating Order
9 Maryland Code 4-507 Modification or Rescission of Orders
10 Maryland Code 4-508.1 Out of State Protective Orders
11 Maryland Code 3-1504 Peace Orders