Whether you have been threatened with violence by a household member or have been falsely accused of committing a violent act against a member of your family, you should acquaint yourself with the Maryland Protective Order process.  A Maryland protective order is a type of restraining order which can be issued by a Judge in order to protect a victim from an alleged abuser. Here are ten steps for obtaining  a Protective Order:

1. Determine if your situation meets the criteria:

Protective orders may be filed at any time by the person abused or threatened with violence by a person who is either the spouse, ex-spouse, domestic partner, someone with whom he/she shares a child, someone, he/she, dated or had a sexual relationship with or is a current or ex-boyfriend or girlfriend of the person seeking protection from the court.  If the abuser is someone who doesn’t fit into any of those categories, such as a friend, acquaintance, neighbor, or a complete stranger, then you should file a “peace order,” not a “protective order.”

2. Determine where you file your Petition:

In most cases, you would file a petition for a Protective order either in the county where you live or the county where the other person lives.  The petition is filed in either the District Court of Maryland or the Circuit Court or with a commissioner during hours when the Courts are closed.

3. Complete the Petition:

The petition for a protective order is called a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence/Child Abuse/Vulnerable Adult Abuse.  You can obtain the form from the court or on the Maryland Court’s website at: https://www.courts.state.md.us.  There is no filing fee for protective orders.  The online petition is a writable PDF, and you must fill out the form completely and sign it.  On the form, you will be asked to check off various boxes to indicate the type(s) of abuse you are contending happened to you. Make sure that the boxes you have checked are truly accurate. In addition, make sure that your written description on the form of the incidents which have led to file is factually accurate and detailed since your statements may later be challenged in a court hearing by a lawyer representing the opposing side.  You may include with the petition any photographs or other evidence you have of the abuse.

4. File the Petition:

The petition must be completed, signed, and filed in person with the Clerk of the Court during the Court’s regular business hours.  In larger Courts, you would file it with the Civil or Family Law Clerk.  Due to the nature of this type of petition, it can also be filed with a Commissioner if it needs to be filed outside the Court’s normal hours of operation.

5. Appear for a Temporary Hearing:

When you file the petition, the clerk will ask you to wait to see the Judge or commissioner.  When you appear before the Judge or commissioner, he or she will ask you questions about your petition. If the Judge decides that you have offered “reasonable grounds” for the order, a temporary or interim order will be issued by the court.  Once the temporary order is issued, the court then gives it to local law enforcement to be served on the Respondent. The order becomes effective once it is served, and it prohibits the Respondent from contacting the Petitioner or anyone else listed in the order.

6. Appear for a Final Hearing:

A final hearing is scheduled usually about one week after the entry of the temporary protective order. This last hearing is called the “final protective order hearing”.  At the final hearing, the Judge hears from the Petitioner’s side first. The Petitioner and any witnesses called will testify. The Petitioner may have an attorney and the Respondent along with his or her attorney presents his or her case. You should expect to be cross examined by a lawyer representing the Respondent. The Respondent then presents his or her evidence. If the Judge finds by a preponderance (“is it more likely than not”) of evidence that the Respondent has committed acts entitling petitioner to relief, then a final order is issued.  If the Respondent has offered proof that he or she did not abuse the Petitioner, then the judge will deny the Petition.

7. Offer proof at the Hearing:

At the final hearing, you will need to provide the Court with proof that the abuse or threatening behavior has taken place.  You can provide this proof by testifying under oath about the abuse or threatening behavior, call witnesses who have observed the behavior, as well as provide the Court with photographs and/or medical reports of your injuries.  You should preserve any electronic evidence which is relevant to your case, such as text messages or emails that are abusive or threatening in nature and be prepared to show them to the judge as well.

8. Ask the Court for the specific relief you want:

If a judge decides to enter an order, the Judge will state-specific things that the Respondent is prohibited from doing for the duration of the Order.  Some of these stated prohibitions are standard to all protective orders.  However, depending on your particular circumstances, there may be other issues you may want or need the Court to also address.  These may include establishing temporary visitation with children, awarding you emergency family maintenance, awarding you use and possession of a jointly titled car, ordering counseling, and ordering the abuser to surrender all firearms.  The Petitioner should be prepared to raise these issues with the Court at the Final Protective Hearing so that the Court can tailor the Order to address his or her specific needs and circumstances.

9. Be prepared for a possible appeal:

In some cases, when a protective order is issued, the Respondent may file an appeal to the Circuit Court.  In this case, a de novo hearing is held, which means that you have to re-prove your case to the Circuit Court, which is normally done by repeating your testimony, calling the same witnesses to repeat their testimony, and providing the pictures, medical reports and other evidence that was used in the District Court.  If the case is appealed, you must show up for the hearing and bring your witnesses and other evidence to this hearing.

10. Ask the Court to enforce the Order:

If a Respondent violates any of the terms of a protective order, it can result in a criminal charge punishable up to 6 months in jail for each violation.  Be prepared to call local law enforcement if the person violates the protective order by continuing the prohibited abusive or threatening behavior, or by violating other terms of the Order such as continuing to possess a firearm.  If the person is charged criminally, you may be required to testify in Court as a witness for the State’s Attorney about the violation.