But that is not true.
You can and should remove yourself and your children from the abuser. And in Maryland, you have many tools at your disposal to make that happen. One is filing for a protective order.
We will explain exactly how.
In Maryland, the Courts have the power to order an abuser to stay away from you and your children. In this post, we will give you exact directions and step by step instructions on how to file for a protective order in Charles County, St. Mary’s County, Prince George’s County, and Calvert County.
In addition, there are no shortage of local and statewide organizations dedicated to providing abuse victims with guidance and assistance so you can get out of an abusive relationship. We will make a comprehensive list and provide their contact information in a second post coming soon.
We do realize there is a lot more to this situation than the legal aspects. There are emotional and social aspects that we simply are not equipped to analyze.
We are family law attorneys, and we can speak to the legal aspects of domestic violence. We have handled thousands of divorce, child custody, and domestic violence cases throughout Southern Maryland. We know the system and how to navigate it for our clients.
It is best to retain a lawyer if you can afford one. A lawyer can help you in so many ways if you need a protective order. See the end of this article for more about that.
But you should not be forced to retain a lawyer just to escape an abusive relationship. So, we created this guide to explain exactly how you can get court ordered protection from your abusive partner in Southern Maryland.
First, you have to have a case that meets the definition of “abuse.”
What is Abuse?
Maryland’s Protective Order and Peace Order laws define “abuse” as any of the following:
- An act that causes serious bodily harm
- An act that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- Assault in any degree
- Rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense
- False imprisonment
Whether or not your situation falls into one of those categories depends on the particular facts. You have to tell a Judge about your situation and he or she will decide if what happened to you meets those definitions.
What do I File to Start the Process?
The first step is to file a Petition for a Protective Order, or a Petition for a Peace Order. The “petition” is the paperwork you fill out asking the Court to grant you this protection.
These two types of orders are essentially the same thing, but cover separate situations – depending on your relationship to the abuser. The Peace Order has more restrictions and doesn’t last as long as the Protective Order.
The next section explains the differences and when you would use which Order.
Relationships Determine the Type of Order You Need
The type of order you are eligible for is determined by your relationship to the abuser.
To get a Protective Order, you must have a certain connection to the abuser or fall into one of the categories:
- Current or former spouse.
- Cohabitant – meaning you have had a sexual relationship, and have lived together for at least 90 days within the past 1 year.
- Related by blood marriage or adoption.
- Parent, stepparent, child, stepchild, or have lived with the abuser at least 90 days within the last year before filing for protection
- Vulnerable adult – which means you do not have the mental or physical capacity to care for your own needs alone.
- Have a child together.
- Had a sexual relationship within the last year before filing for protection.
If you are being abused by someone who does not fit in one of these categories you can file for a Peace Order. They cover most other types of relationships.
Protective Orders and Peace Orders are very similar. However, there are differences in the relief you can get, and the Peace Order won’t stay in place as long as a Protective Order.
For a Peace Order you also have to prove that the abuse has occurred in the last 30 days. The protective order has no such deadlines.
From this point on, we will reference the term “Protective Order,” but the information below applies to Peace Orders as well. If not, we will point that out.
For more on the differences see the People’s Law Library article Comparing Protective Orders and Peace Orders.
What Can the Court Do For Me?
The Court will pass an Order that has the full force of law – meaning anyone violating it can be arrested and thrown in jail. The judge will select the exact protections placed in the Order, after having a hearing where you will get to speak directly to the judge.
Here is what a Protective Order can do:
- Order the abuser to refrain from abusing or threatening to abuse you.
- Order the abuser to refrain from contacting or attempting to contact you.
- Order the abuser to refrain from coming to your house or place of employment, and if there are minor children involved, the daycare provider.
- Grant you temporary custody of any children involved.
- Order family maintenance payment and support.
- Order temporary use and possession of a vehicle you own with the abuser.
There are only certain things that a judge can order in a protective order. But you need to think about these before you go to Court. Have a plan for what you want to ask for. You don’t want to be making decisions on the spur of the moment while standing in the courtroom – especially if custody and visitation is an issue.
When & Where Can I File a Petition?
You may file a petition for a Protective Order of Peace Order at any time – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Keep this in mind – You can always call the police if you have been abused or believe you are in immediate danger of being abused. The police can help you collect your personal items, gather any children in your care, and get you into a safer environment, at which point you can file your petition for protection.
During normal court hours, you may file a Petition for Protection with the Clerk of the Circuit Court or the Clerk of the District Court in your county of residence. Your case will be heard by the judge that very day in open court.
When the Courts are closed, you may file Petition for Protection with the District Court Commissioner’s office. Someone at the office will have all the forms for you to fill out.
Here is where the Commissioner’s Offices are in the counties we normally serve:
- Charles County Commissioner’s Office
11 Washington Avenue
La Plata, MD 20646
- St. Mary’s County Commissioner’s Office
41880 Baldridge Street
Leonardtown, MD 20650-3808
- Prince George’s County Commissioner’s Offices
13400 Dille Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
301-952-5078 or 301-952-5079
4990 Rhode Island Avenue, Suite 100
Hyattsville, MD 20781-2008
- Calvert County Commissioner’s Office
District Court Multi-Service Center
200 Duke Street
Prince Frederick, MD 20678-4136
Contact information for the Commissioners can also be found on the District Court website. You can find your nearest courthouse at the Maryland Judiciary directory of Circuit Courts or District Courts.
A victim of domestic violence can access a Commissioner either by going to any on-duty Commissioner’s office or by telephoning an on-call Commissioner to make an appointment to come in to file the petition.
First Step – The Temporary Protective Order
If the judge or commissioner finds that there are reasonable grounds to believe you have been abused, they may issue a “temporary protective order” to protect you. This is a short term order pending an opportunity for a real hearing in front of a judge.
If the courts are closed when you apply, you may get an “interim protective order.” This is a very short term order designed to cover you until the courts are open, when you will get the “temporary protective order.”
A temporary protective order provides you with the full protection allowed under the law, but it only lasts for 7 days. This gives time for the other party to be served with the order, and to allow for a full hearing where both sides have the opportunity to show up.
How Long Does the Protective Order Last?
The various orders allowed last for various time periods. The point of these multiple orders is to give you temporary relief while the court serves the abuser, and allows for a real hearing in open court where the parties can tell their story.
Any interim or temporary protective orders will set the date and time for the hearing on the full protective order. After a full hearing you can get long lasting protection.
It goes like this:
- Interim Protective Order – lasts only until the temporary protective order hearing, or until the end of the second business day the Clerk of Court’s office is open, whichever is sooner. This is meant to be a very short time period, but also cover any weekends or holiday weekends.
- Temporary Protective Order – lasts until the hearing for the final protective order, or for a maximum of 7 days. Your final protective order hearing will be set within that 7 day window.
- Final Protective Order – this can last for a year (or 6 months if it is a Peace Order). Both can be extended for an additional 6 months if they run out. So you can get up to 18 months in a Protective Order, and 12 months for a Peace Order.
How Does the Abuser Find Out?
The abuser must be personally served with the Order. The appropriate law enforcement agency will serve the abuser. You don’t have to do that. This is true for interim orders, temporary orders, and the final protective order.
Which Court Should I File In?
You should file in the county of your residence.
Generally, it does not matter if you choose Circuit Court or District Court. However, you should file your petition in the Circuit Court if you already have a pending divorce or custody case there – simply because the District Court will probably transfer your case to the Circuit Court if you do.
If you are filing for a Peace Order you will need to file in the District Court.
There will be a hearing. A Judge or Commissioner will need to hear testimony about the abuse. You will have to tell your story. You will have to allege an abusive act that meets the definition of “abuse” we spoke about at the very beginning of this article.
This is difficult, but necessary.
The Court will hear testimony from both sides before making findings and issuing the protective order.
The abuser may be there, but it is not mandatory. If the abuser does not show up, the court will go forward based on your testimony alone.
One special note if you are seeking child custody: Please read our Free Legal Guide to Child Custody so you know the factors the Court will consider when awarding custody.
What Should I Say?
At this hearing you need to be ready to present your case and have your witnesses present. You should also be ready present any documents such as police reports, medical records and photographs. The more evidence you have – the better it is for your case.
Appearing before a judge is bad enough. Having to do that with your abuser present is even worse. Trying be your own lawyer and make decisions about what to say and what evidence to present is nearly impossible.
You need a lawyer. If you can’t afford one make sure to reach out to an organization that can help you find a lawyer or at least provide you with a victim advocate. They will assist you in this difficult process.
The Decision of the Judge
The Judge has to make some findings after the hearing. There are different legal standards for when an Order can be granted, depending on the type of order. Here are the differences:
- Temporary Protective Orders – the Judge must find there are “reasonable grounds” to believe you have been abused. That is a pretty low standard, as legal standards go. You just have to present some credible evidence the abuse did occur like you claim it did.
- Final Protective Order – the Judge must find that the abuse occurred by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a stronger legal standard. The Judge has to feel it is more likely so than not so. This is often described as 51%. If the Judge is 51% on your side, you have met your “burden of proof” and will win your protective order.
The Future & How A Lawyer Can Help
It should be obvious that a lawyer can be of great help in obtaining a Protective Order or Peace Order. If you have the means to retain a lawyer – you should do that. There will be less risk and more certainty of a good outcome if you do that.
Of course, this entire process doesn’t end with a protective order or peace order. The purpose of these orders is simply to separate the parties and keep any abuse from occurring.
You will still have to decide how to move on with your life and make some more permanent legal arrangements. Often, that means a divorce or child custody dispute. The protective order gives you a chance to get your affairs in order so you can make more permanent arrangements.
Most often, this means you will need to file formal divorce or child custody actions in court. You probably should consult a lawyer before making these arrangements. There are serious, long term ramifications you have to consider. A lawyer can help you out with that.
If you are in this situation, you should at least read our Free Legal Guide to Divorce and our Free Legal Guide to Child Custody. Both of them give valuable advice and guidance on what happens in Divorce and Child Custody cases, and what you need to consider if you are involved in either.
And if you need to retain an attorney for your divorce, child custody or domestic violence case, we would be happy to represent you. Contact our offices for a consultation today.
We hope this guide has been of help to you. And we sincerely wish you good luck in your new life ahead – free from abuse.