What is a Protective Order?

A protective order is one of Maryland’s versions of a restraining order.

How Do I Know If I Qualify?

In order to get a protective order, you need to qualify for it. People who qualify for it are related to that person, typically by blood or by marriage. It can also include people who have kids with someone, or someone who has had a sexual relationship with someone within the last year.

So, if you are related to someone by blood or marriage, you have kids with them or you’ve had a sexual relationship with them within the last year, you qualify for a protective order.

Domestic Violence and Protective Orders

Now, the reason that people get protection orders is typically because of domestic violence. If abuse is happening in the household, you may qualify for a protective order. Abuse is statutorily defined.

So, when we say abuse in everyday conversation, we can mean a wide range of things. And the definitions of domestic violence have grown to include not just physical abuse or not just sexual abuse, but emotional abuse and/or financial abuse.

However, for the purposes of the protective order, statute abuse is pretty much only physical. It’s physical acts of harm or threats of physical acts of harm that constitute abuse in the case of kids. It’s also statutorily defined as child abuse, which can include severe cases of neglect.

But for purposes of abuse, for anyone that’s not a kid, it’s pretty much just physical harm.

What To Do If You Have Been Abused and Want to File a Protective Order

If you’ve been abused under the statutory definition, you can do one of two things.

Option #1 – During Normal Court Business Hours

If it’s during normal court business hours, what you do is you can go down to the courthouse and fill out a form requesting a protective order. It’s called a petition.

Where to file for a petition:

You can do that at either the district court or the circuit court for whichever county you’re in. In fact, what’s most important is where you live. You can get a protective order in any county where you live or in any county where the abuse has taken place. So, if you are a Maryland resident, you can get a protective order in Maryland.

Once you go down to the courthouse, you fill out the petition, and in the petition, you’re going to say who you want protection from, what your relationship is to that person who you want protection for.

By this, I mean, are you asking for protection for just yourself? Do you have kids that you believe also need protection? Are you filing on behalf of another person, a vulnerable adult that you can file on behalf of? And then you need to document the abuse itself.

I’ll give a short summary of what happened that you believe constitutes abuse. Now, abuse does not have to be necessarily recent. It can include things that are older, but it does need to be relatively recent, it must be something that’s happened within the last year. Once you fill all that out, you provide some identifying characteristics, and you’ll go in front of the judge that same day.

Now, sometimes it may take a little while and people who go there in the morning might end up there all day, but you will be in front of a judge that same day.

Option #2 – Outside of Normal Court Business Hours

If it is after court business hours, you can still go request a protective order but the process is slightly different. In order to do that, you go to a district court commissioner. Every district court in Maryland has a commissioner’s office there, and they’re located at some other locations as well.

You go in, you fill out basically the same paperwork and you get what’s called an interim protective order. That protective order will typically last until the next business day. And then you go in front of the court and the exact same thing happens as it would as if you had gone during the day. You’re only allowed to get that interim protective order if it is after court hours.

Next Steps After You Fill Out the Petition

However, once you’re in front of the court for that first appearance, what you’re trying to get at that stage is what’s called a temporary protective order (TPO). A temporary order is an order that’ll last until the final order hearing happens. In order to get that temporary order, what you need to do is you need to convince the judge that you have reasonable grounds to get a protective order. That is not a high threshold at all.

Basically, if you tell the court some abuse has happened, they will probably grant you a temporary protective order. So, if you’ve been abused, you tell the judge that you’ve been abused, they will probably grant you that temporary protective order.

The respondent might get notice of that hearing, that temporary hearing, but not necessarily, and the respondent does not have to be there. And in fact, if the respondent, which is the person that you have filed the protective order against, if the respondent is there, they’re not allowed to talk at a temporary hearing. The temporary hearing is just you talking to the judge. That’s it.

After the temporary hearing, if you get the protective order, it will list some conditions. Those are things that the respondent is not allowed to do. Typically, it will involve no contact to stay away from your residence, employment, school. It can be to stay away from your kids’ schools. And it can include any other specific requests that you are making for your own safety. That will last for usually about a week, sometimes a little bit more, but usually about a week.

Technically, the final hearing must be within six months of that temporary hearing, but it’s very, very rare for the hearing to be that far out. So, a week later during the intervening week, the sheriff’s office will have to serve the respondent without the protective order.

Now, if he’s in court that day, they’ll serve him that day, but if he’s not, they must go find him and they have to serve him. If they haven’t served him by the final protective order hearing date, which is that hearing I was talking about that’s about a week later, then your hearing might get postponed, and it can be postponed multiple times until he is finally served with that protective order or with a temporary protective order.

At that final protective order hearing, that is a full evidentiary hearing. You must prove to the court that it is more likely than not. The standard is called a preponderance of the evidence, and that means that it’s more likely than not that the abuse that you were describing happened at that hearing.

What is a Preponderance of Evidence?

What typically happens is you testify, the respondent will have the opportunity to cross-examine you either through his attorney if he’s hired one or on his own, if he hasn’t, and then he’ll have the opportunity to address the court, and you’ll have the opportunity to cross-examine him either through your attorney if you have one or on your own, if you don’t. And then the court will decide. And if he determines that it is more likely than not that the abuse occurred, then he will grant the protective order instead of having a hearing.

Sometimes respondents choose to consent to a protective order. Consenting has some advantages to both parties. For one, it means that you don’t have to have a hearing by consenting. What the respondent is saying is not that he’s agreeing that what you’re saying is true. He’s agreeing that you want protection from him, that you want him to stay away from you, and he’s agreeing to do that.

If he consents, you still have a protective order against him. Either way, if you go through a hearing and the judge finds that it’s more likely than not that the abuse happened or the respondent consents to a protective order, you end up with your protective order. Protective orders last by default for one year. They can be shorter, usually on your own request, or they can be longer if you file the appropriate paperwork to extend the violation of a protective order.

Violation of a Protective Order

Any violation of any protective order – either an interim order, a temporary order, or a final order – is a crime. And someone who commits that violation can go to jail. In addition, violation of a protective order is typically what’s called a must arrest offense. If police see someone violating a protective order, they usually have no discretion of the matter and will arrest that person immediately. The protective order is a powerful piece of paper.

You want to make sure that you are presenting your evidence in the best way possible. As I said that final protective order hearing is a full evidentiary hearing. If you’ve acquired evidence, you want to make sure the judge sees that evidence. You’ve got witnesses, we want to make sure the judge hears from those witnesses. And most people don’t do evidentiary hearings every day or all the time.

With all that said, hiring an attorney can be extremely helpful. An attorney can certainly help you with filing the petition or doing the temporary hearing as well, though they’re less necessary for those two things. But at a final protective order hearing, often you want to make sure that you have legal representation.

If you or someone you know is being abused and need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or contact the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence at https://www.mnadv.org/.

If you are in immediate danger or fear for your physical safety, please call 911.