By: Elisabeth Hellwig, Esquire
Domestic violence is a serious problem, and victims may wonder what sort of legal protection is available to them to keep their abusers away. In Maryland, a victim of domestic violence may be eligible to petition for a protective order. If a protective order is granted, typically the order will order the abuser to stay away from the petitioner’s home and workplace, and order the abuser not to contact, harass, threaten, and/or abuse the petitioner. If the abuser and petitioner live together, the abuser may be ordered to vacate the residence. If there are children involved, the order can encompass protection for the children, as well.
Any person who either experienced domestic violence in Maryland or who lives in Maryland may be eligible to file for a protective order. To be eligible for a protective order, the abuser must be a current or former spouse, a sexual partner, a relative, or a parent of a child in common of the victim. The form to file the petition may be filed with the District Court clerk during business hours or the District Court commissioner after hours.
After you file the petition for the protective order, you will have a hearing in front of a judge. This hearing may be done ex parte, which means it can be done without the abuser’s presence. At this hearing, if the judge finds that the abuse likely occurred, a temporary protective order may be granted. This order will normally be in place for seven days, after which a hearing for a final protective order will occur.
At the hearing for the final protective order, the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the abuse alleged occurred and the petitioner is in need of protection. This means that you have to show the judge it is more likely than not that you were a victim of domestic violence. Here, you are allowed to call witnesses who can help you prove your case. It is helpful to hire a lawyer to assist you at this hearing, as a lawyer will know the right questions to ask. The abuser will also have the opportunity to call and question witnesses.
If a final protective order is granted, it will usually remain in place for one year.
If you think you may be eligible for a protective order, file as soon as you are able. After you receive a temporary protective order, consult an attorney who can help you navigate the hearing for the final order. Take pictures of any bruising you may have from the abuse, gather any related police reports, and contact any witnesses who can attest to any abuse they saw occur.
This process can be understandably emotionally challenging and can feel embarrassing, but you should not feel embarrassed for seeking help. Domestic abuse is never the victim’s fault. A good attorney understands this and can help you through the final protective order hearing.
Maryland Attorney Jobeth Bowers is the founder of Bowers Law and a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law