Think of a restraining order as a line in the sand. The purpose of this court order is to stop someone close to you from abusing you. These court orders are also called protective orders or orders of protection, since the parallel intention is to use the authority of the justice system to shield you from domestic abuse. Every state, including Maryland, has some type of procedure allowing you to get an order of protection in place when you need one so that the police can step in if your abuser crosses the line in the sand. Getting a restraining order can feel reassuring and it may be helpful, but the orders aren't always effective in preventing abuse.
What Is a Restraining Order?
A restraining order warns someone not to take abusive action against another person who is close to you or has been close to you in a domestic situation. It commands a domestic abuser to stop hitting, hurting, yelling, intimidating, insulting, scaring, pushing, shoving, assaulting, harassing, following, calling, texting or otherwise threatening you. Unfortunately, the general idea is not all that different from a mother warning a stronger sibling not to hit his brother again, or else. The benefit is that the warning may frighten the kid into behaving. The downside is that the authority figure has to be present to enforce the threatened consequences.
Do You Qualify for a Restraining Order?
One may suffer from many different types of abuse in this modern world, and not all of it qualifies you for a domestic violence protective order in Maryland or anywhere else. If you get assaulted by a stranger on the subway, it might be a crime, but no protective order will ensue. If someone screams at you for taking a parking spot, picks the flowers in your front yard or bombards you with texts about a candidate you never heard of, you cannot seek the protection of a restraining order.
An order of protection in Maryland (and most other states) is also termed a domestic violence protective order (DVPO). In order to qualify for this order, you must have suffered abuse at the hands of someone you are or have been in a domestic relationship with. Let's take the relationship first. The person abusing you must be someone you know intimately. It can be someone with whom you are having or have had a sexual relationship with in the past year, but other intimate relationships qualify, too. The abuser can be someone you cohabited with and shared a dwelling with for at least 90 days within the year before filing for a protective order. (Note that the 90 days do not have to be consecutive, and you just have to live together for 90 days, not have a sexual relationship for 90 days.) It can be someone you had a child with.
The abuser can also be anyone related to you by blood, marriage or adoption. You may be eligible for protection if you are the son, daughter, niece, or nephew of your abuser, a parent, stepparent, child or stepchild of the abuser, or the current or former spouse of the abuser. You are also eligible if you don't fit into any of these categories but you are a vulnerable adult, one who lacks the necessary mental or physical capacity to provide for your daily needs. Children can also be protected with a restraining order if they are being injured or abused by someone with authority over them or someone in the family or household.
Does the Type of Abuse Qualify for a Restraining Order?
The Maryland domestic abuse statutes, like all restraining order laws, defines the type of behavior that qualifies you to apply for the order. Domestic abuse in Maryland includes any of the acts listed in the statute committed by someone with whom you have a specific intimate or familial relationship.
The law does not encompass all types of abuse, but many types are included. Maryland Code, Family Law § 4-501, defines "abuse" for the purposes of an order of protection, as any act that causes serious harm or places a person eligible for relief in fear of imminent serious bodily harm. It includes any behavior that qualifies as assault in the state, any rape or sexual offense including attempted rape or assault. Behavior qualifying as false imprisonment or stalking can be the subject of a restraining order as well.
A child can also get a protective order in Maryland, and a parent or guardian can bring the petition on her behalf. You can get a protective order for a child when she has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of any person, regardless of whether the person was a member of the family and irrespective of whether the child is otherwise injured physically. A child is also eligible for an order of protection if someone physically or mentally injured her. The circumstances must suggest that she has been harmed or is at risk of being harmed by a parent, any member of her family or household, anyone who has care or custody of her, who is responsible for supervising her or has authority over her. This can include a teacher, a worker in a daycare center or a babysitter or nanny.
How to Get a Restraining Order in Maryland
Maryland law provides a several step process you must follow to get a domestic violence protection order against your abuser. You usually will find someone available at court to assist you, since many courts in Maryland have facilitators to help with the forms and the procedure. Alternatively, you can contact a domestic violence agency for help and support. You don't need to be represented by an attorney to get a domestic violence restraining order in Maryland, but some of the domestic violence agencies provide free or reduced fee legal representation. They also offer shelters where you and your children will be safe while you get the order.
To get the ball rolling, you either need to apply for an Interim Protective Order (IPO) or a Temporary Protective Order (TPO). Your first step is an IPO (from a commissioner) if you need immediate protection from your abuser at a moment when the courts are not open. If the courts are open, the first step is the TPO from a judge.
In Maryland, a victim of domestic violence can get help when courts are closed by filing a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence with the District Court Commissioner’s office. These offices are open round the clock throughout the state. If you need help at night or on weekends, you can file a petition there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Go to any office where a commissioner is on duty, or just place a call to an on-call commissioner. You'll find the phone contacts and locations on the Maryland District Court website.
When you go to the commissioner's office, you will be given a petition to file in which you have to provide information about the domestic abuse. Be sure to give every single example of physical abuse and threats you can remember, including past abuse and other court actions between you and the abuser. Outline the type of help you are seeking from the commissioner. You may also be able to ask for financial support if the abuser supports you. You don't need to put your address if you are afraid the abuser will learn your location and come there to hurt you.
After you turn in the petition, you are taken in to see the commissioner and explain what is going on. You have to give the commissioner reasonable grounds to believe that the person is abusing you, so bring police reports, medical records and witnesses if you have any. The commissioner can issue an order telling the abuser to stop abusing or threatening you. She can also order the abuser to keep away from you and your children, from your home, your family member's home and your kids' schools. She can also give you temporary custody of any children you have with the abuser, temporary possession of your household pets (belonging to you or to the abuser) and any other relief necessary.
Once the commissioner issues the Interim Protective Order, it is forwarded to law enforcement who serves it on the person you allege has abused you. The order provides the day, time and place of a hearing for a Temporary Protective Order, and also the day, time and place of a final hearing for a Final Protective Order. The IPO expires on the second business day after it is issued or when the TPO hearing is held, whichever comes first.
In order to keep the IPO protection in place in Maryland, you have to go to the TPO hearing. Note that you can make the TPO hearing your first step if you first need a protective order at a time the court is open. If so, go to the District or Circuit Court in your county on weekdays between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Tell the clerk you want to file a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence. Complete the Petition and talk to the judge about the abuse.
But if you already have an IPO, you already have a petition on file and a scheduled hearing. Just go to the assigned courtroom and wait for your case to be called.
Whether you have already got an IPO or not, you will appear before a judge to explain your circumstances. The judge can make the same types of orders that the commissioner could make. If you already got an IPO and it was served on the abuser, he may show up. If he does, the court can turn the hearing into a Final Protective Order hearing then and there. If he doesn't show up, the TPO is served on him with the time and date of the Final Protective Order hearing. The TPO remains in effect for one week after that service or until the court holds a Final Protective Order hearing.
The third step in the process is the Final Protective Order hearing. You must appear and present your case. If you are successful, the court will issue a protective order that lasts a year and can be extended. If the abuser violates the order and keeps harassing or abusing you, call the police. The abuser can be arrested on a misdemeanor charge and, if convicted, go to jail for three months and be given a fine of $500. Every subsequent offense brings increased punishment.
What Is a Peace Order?
In Maryland, a peace order is an order of protection for people who do not qualify for a domestic violence protective order. If you are eligible to file for a domestic violence protective order, you cannot file a peace order and vice versa. You might get a peace order against a boyfriend or girlfriend you don't live with or have a child with, a coworker, a stranger, or a family member you don't live with.