In Maryland, there are two different ways to legally prevent unwanted contact and harassment: Protective Orders and Peace Orders.
A Maryland Protective Order is the legal, technical term for what most laypeople call a “restraining order.” It is a criminally enforceable, civil court order that protects certain victims of domestic violence from abuse. Among other provisions, protective order can contain provisions for an abuser to vacate the home, emergency custody of a child, no-contact language, emergency family maintenance funds, and no trespassing language for any applicable domicile, school, or workplace. A final protective order can last up to two years.
In order to be eligible for a protective order, a petitioner needs to fit the legal definition of a “person eligible for relief.” That means that your relationship must fall under the following categories:
- A current or former spouse of the respondent (the person whom you are trying to obtain the protective order against)
- A cohabitant of the respondent (“cohabitant” is defined as “a person who has had a sexual relationship with the respondent and resided with the respondent in the home for a period of at least 90 days, within 1 year before filing the petition”)
- A person related to the respondent by blood, marriage, or adoption
- A parent, stepparent, child, or stepchild of the respondent, or the petitioner, who lives or lived with the respondent or petitioner for at least 90 days –within one year of filing the petition (ex: two people in a romantic relationship reside in the same home. A child also lives in the home, but the child is only related to one of the adults. That child is also eligible for protection under a protective order).
- A vulnerable adult (an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for their own daily needs)
- An individual who has a child in common with the respondent
- An individual who has had a sexual relationship with the respondent within 1 year prior to filing the petition
An individual who alleges that the respondent committed, within 6 months prior to filing the petition any of the following acts against the individual:
- Rape or sexual offense
- Attempt rape or sexual offense in any degree
Additionally, abuse, or the imminent threat of abuse must have occurred prior to the petition being filed. “Abuse” is defined as:
- An act that causes serious bodily harm
- An act that places the petitioner in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- Rape or sexual offense
- False imprisonment
The application process has two steps: a temporary protective order, and a final protective order. A temporary protective order is the result of the initial request for a protective order. A temporary protective order can last anywhere from one week to 6 months, with good cause shown. Temporary orders can also be obtained without the respondent being present in court. Most courts in MD have a very quick process for obtaining a temporary protective order—it is seen as an emergency order to prevent immediate, imminent risk of harm. The standard of proof—the level of credibility you need to obtain a temporary protective order—is only “reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent has abused a person eligible for relief.” Once you obtain a temporary protective order, the courts work in conjunction with your local police or sheriff’s department to serve the respondent with the protective order. They can assist you by making sure that the respondent vacates the home, and may provide an escort to the respondent in order for the respondent to obtain personal belongings from the home.
The second step in obtaining a protective order is the final protective order hearing. At that hearing, there is a higher standard of proof—the court need to find that it is at least 51% likely the alleged abuse (or threat of abuse) occurred. At that hearing, you can and should bring witnesses and evidence to prove you case. Final protective orders generally last 1 to 2 years. In very special and limited cases, a final protective order can last indefinitely, until the victim requests termination. Final protective orders will enforce the same type of provisions as a temporary protective order (no contact, vacate the home, use and possession of cars and pets, child custody, no trespassing on school, work, or other domiciles frequented by the petitioner). Additionally, final protective orders can include emergency family maintenance provisions that require the respondent to pay for things like mortgages, car payments, utilities, and child support.
If a respondent violates a protective order, either temporary or final, that respondent can be arrested.
A Maryland peace order is a type of no-contact order that has similar protections to a protective order, but may be granted to a person without any sort of special relationship with the respondent. However, in order to obtain a peace order, the alleged incident of abuse must have occurred within 30 days of filing the petition, and you have to show that the abuse is likely to occur again. Acts that qualify as abuse are:
- Serious bodily harm
- an act that places the petition in fear of imminent serious bodily harm
- rape/sexual offense
- false imprisonment
- malicious destruction of property
A peace order notifies someone that they must abide by the court’s order to stop harassing, stalking, and otherwise bothering you. If the person fails to follow the peace order, they could be assigned penalties. Like a protective order, a peace order is a two step process involving a temporary peace order and a final peace order. However, a final peace order can only last for 6 months to a year.
The best way to ensure you don’t make mistakes that could harm your ability to secure a protective order or a peace order is to work through a Maryland family law attorney with experience helping clients obtain peace orders.