In Maryland domestic violence is defined by statute as “abuse” which consists of any one or more of the following acts:
- One that causes serious bodily harm,
- One that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm,
- An assault,
- A rape or attempted rape,
- False imprisonment, or
A document known as a Petition For Protection From Domestic Violence must be filed in either the District Court or Circuit Court of the county in which the abuse occurred or in which either the abuser or victim resides, to request protection from the court.* A victim may also press criminal charges against the abuser. In a domestic violence case the victim is referred to as the “Petitioner” and the abuser is referred to as the “Respondent”. In order to file a petition the victim must be: a current or former spouse of the victim; a co-habitant of the abuser; related to the abuser by blood, marriage, or adoption; a parent, stepparent, child, or stepchild of the abuser; a person who lives with, or used to live with, the victim for at least 90 days within the year before the victim files paperwork with the court that asks a judge to protect them; a vulnerable adult; or an individual who has a child in common with the abuser.
The are two phases of the legal process involved in obtaining a restraining order, which is referred to as a Final Protective Order (FPO). The first is the Temporary Protective Order (TPO) phase that gives the victim an opportunity to go into court to ask a judge to sign a TPO. The hearing usually does not last more than 20 minutes. The abuser is rarely present or even knows the victim is in court. If the judge decides there is a reasonable ground to believe the victim has been abused, he/she will sign a TPO which will then be served on the abuser by a sheriff. The purpose of the TPO is to immediately remove an abuser from a home, bar them from contacting the victim, bar them from the victim’s place of work, bar them from going to a school or anywhere else the victim can convince a judge is necessary for safety. A TPO may also give custody of minor children to the victim until the FPO hearing.
The second phase occurs 7 days after the TPO hearing when another hearing is held which gives the victim an opportunity to tell the judge why they are asking for a FPO and what protections they need, have witnesses testify, and present other evidence to support their request for a restraining order. The abuser is given the same opportunity at this hearing to explain their version of the facts. At the second hearing a victim must prove to the judge by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged abuse occurred. If the judge signs a FPO it may last up to a year. However, the victim can later go back to court to ask a judge to extend the FPO for an additional 6 month period.
A judge can include language in a FPO that gives the victim custody of children, orders an abuser to stay away from the victim’s home, place of work or other locations, stay away from the minor children’s schools, etcetera. It may also give the victim exclusive use of their home, a car or other property necessary for the safety/care of minor children, as well as financial support. A victim can press severe criminal charges against an abuser who violates any aspect of a FPO.
This article presents a distilled explanation of Maryland’s domestic violence procedures and is not intended to provide legal advice to the reader. You must contact our law firm in order to obtain a broader explanation of the process and legal advice for your own set of circumstances. Oftentimes a victim, due to the emergency nature of this process, will not have an attorney represent them in the TPO phase. However, the victim and abuser should each be represented by an attorney at the FPO hearing. Our firm has over 15 years litigating domestic violence cases. David R. Bach, Esq., obtained a FPO for a client in landmark case in the State of Maryland.
*This article uses the terms “victim” and “abuser” to make it easier for the reader to follow the explanation of how the restraining order process works. It is ultimately up to a judge to decide whether a person is the victim of domestic violence.