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Know the Laws: Maryland

UPDATED February 1, 2017

Domestic Violence Protective Orders

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A domestic violence protective order is a civil order that protects: a victim of domestic abuse from harm by someone with whom s/he has a specific relationship; a vulnerable adult from abuse by any person regardless of their relationship; or a child who is sexually abused (by anyone) or physically or mentally injured by a parent/caretaker. 

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Maryland?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a protective order (also known as a "domestic violence protective order," or "DVPO"). 

Maryland law defines "abuse" as when someone with whom you have a specific relationship commits one of the following against you:

If the abused person is a child, s/he can also get a domestic violence protective order based on "abuse of a child," which is defined as:

  1. sexual abuse of a child (by anyone), whether physical injuries are sustained or not; or
  2. the physical or mental injury of a child by:
    • a parent;
    • a person who has permanent or temporary care or custody or responsibility for supervision of a child; 
    • any household or family member, under circumstances that indicate that the child's health or welfare is harmed or at substantial risk of being harmed.**

If the abused person is a vulnerable adult (someone who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for his/her daily needs), s/he can also get a domestic violence protective order based on "abuse of a vulnerable adult," which is defined as:

  • physical injury caused by any person (regardless of their relationship).  The physical injury can happen as the result of cruel or inhumane treatment or as the result of a malicious act.*** 

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(b)(1)
** MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-501(b)(2); 5-701(b)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-501(b)(3); 14-101(b),(q)

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back to topWhat types of protective orders are there? How long do they last?

There are three types of protective orders:

Interim protective orders - If you wish to file for a protective order but the court clerk’s office is closed in both the circuit and district courts, you can file for an interim order by going to the nearest district court commissioner.  An interim order goes into effect once the respondent is served by a law enforcement officer.  The interim order lasts until a judge holds a temporary hearing, which is usually within a couple of days unless the judge postpones it.  If the court is closed on the day on which the interim protective order is due to expire, the interim protective order will be effective until the next day on which the court is open, at which time the judge has to hold a temporary protective order hearing.*

Temporary protective orders - When you go to court during normal court hours to file for a final protective order, you can ask for a temporary protective order, which can be issued the same day.  This order can be issued “ex parte” (without the abuser present) and without a full court hearing.  If the abuser is not present in court, law enforcement is supposed to serve him/her “immediately” after it is issued.  If the abuser was already served with an interim order and is present in court, s/he can be served with the temporary order in court or if s/he doesn’t show up to court, it will be served through the mail.  The temporary order is in effect for 7 days after service of the order, at which point a full court hearing will be held for a final protective order.  If the court is closed on the day on which the temporary protective order is due to expire, the temporary protective order will be effective until the second day on which the court is open, by which time the judge has to hold a final protective order hearing. The judge may extend the temporary order as needed, but not to more than 6 months.*1

Final protective orders - A final protective order can be issued only after both sides have the opportunity to present their evidence and testimony at a full court hearing.  If the judge believes that the abuse has occurred, or if the abuser agrees to you getting the protective order, the judge may grant a final protective order.*2  A final protective order will generally last up to one year, unless otherwise stated. However, it can last for up to two years, if:

  1. you had an order against the abuser before that lasted for at least 6 months, and s/he abused you again within 1 year of your old order expiring; or
  2. if the abuser consents to the 2-year order within 1 year after the date that your prior final protective order issued against him/her expired.*3  

Final orders may also be extended and it may be possible in the future to request a final protective order that lasts forever if certain circumstances are met.*4  See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information.

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-504.1(a),(b),(e)(1),(h)
*1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-505(a)(1),(b),(c)
*2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)(ii)
*3 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(j)(1),(2)
*4 MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-507(a); 4-506(k)(1),(3)

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back to topWhere can I file for a domestic violence protective order?

You can file for an order in any district court or circuit court in Maryland.  You can file in Maryland if the abuse happened in Maryland or if you live in Maryland (even if the abuse happened in another state).*

If the clerk’s office is open, you would file with the clerk.  If the clerk’s office is closed, you would file with a district court commissioner.**  Please visit our MD Courthouse Locations page to find courthouse contact information.

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-504(a)(2)
** See the Maryland Courts website

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Who can get a protective order

back to topAm I eligible for a protective order? Who can file the petition?

You can be eligible for a protective order if you or your minor child has been the victim of abuse by:

  • your current or former spouse;*
  • someone with whom you had a sexual relationship and with whom you lived for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before you filed for the protective order (known as a “cohabitant”);**
  • someone with whom you had a sexual relationship at some point in the 1-year period before the filing of the petition (even if you never lived together);
  • someone related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption; or
  • someone with whom you have a child in common.
  • Note: A parent, step-parent, child or step-child of you or the abuser can file for an order if s/he lived with you or the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before filing for the order.*

A “vulnerable adult,”* which is an adult who lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for his/her daily needs, can file for an order against any person (regardless of their relationship) who caused him/her physical injury as the result of cruel treatment or a malicious act.***

Any of the following people can file for a protective order for a minor child or vulnerable adult:

  • the minor or vulnerable adult himself/herself;
  • a person related to the child or vulnerable adult by blood, marriage or adoption;
  • an adult who lives with the child or vulnerable adult;
  • the state attorney (a lawyer working for the government) for the county where the child or vulnerable adult lives or where the abuse took place; or
  • the Department of Social Services in the county where the child or vulnerable adult lives or where the abuse took place.****

Note: If you are not eligible for a protective order, but you have been the victim of abuse and need protection, you may be eligible to file for a peace order.

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(m)
** MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-501(m); 4-501(d)
*** MD Code, Fam. Law § 14-101(b),(q)
**** MD Code Family Law § 4-501(o)

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back to topCan a minor file for an order?

The law says that any "person who is eligible for relief" can file for a protective order.*  Therefore, a minor who meets the criteria in explained in Am I eligible for a protective order? Who can file the petition? should be able to file his/her own petition. However, to be certain that the court in your county interprets the law in this way to allow a minor to file his/her own petition, you may want to ask the court clerk or a lawyer in your county ahead of time.  To find courthouse contact information and attorney referrals, you can go to our MD Where to Find Help page.  

In addition, the following people can file on the minor's behalf

  • a person related to the minor child by blood, marriage or adoption;
  • an adult who lives with the minor child;
  • the state attorney (a lawyer working for the government) for the county where the minor child lives or where the abuse took place; or
  • the Department of Social Services in the county where the minor child lives or where the abuse took place.**

* MD Code Family Law § 4-501(m),(o)(2)(i)
** MD Code Family Law § 4-501(o)(2)(ii)

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back to topCan I get a protective order against a same-sex partner?

In Maryland, you may apply for a protective order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible for a protective order? Who can file the petition? You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained here: What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Maryland?

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back to topHow much does it cost to get a protective order?

Nothing.  There is no fee to file for (or to serve) a protective order.*

You do not need a lawyer to file for a protective order, but it may be helpful to have one represent you. This is especially important if the abuser has a lawyer and/or if the case goes to trial.  Even if the abuser does not have a lawyer, we suggest that you talk to a lawyer to make sure your legal rights are protected.

If you cannot afford a lawyer but want one to help you with your case, you can find information on legal assistance and domestic violence organizations on the MD Where to Find Help page. In addition, the domestic violence organizations in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms. You will find contact information for courthouses on the MD Courthouse Locations page.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(c)

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The protections offered in each type of order

back to topHow can an interim protective order help me?

An interim protective order can do the following:

  • order the abuser to not abuse or threaten to abuse you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not contact, try to contact, or harass you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not enter your home;
  • order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your child(ren)’s work place, school, temporary residence (such as a shelter), or other family members’ homes;
  • order the abuser to move out of the house (if you shared it) and give you (the victim) temporary use and possession of the home -- if the victim is an abused child or vulnerable adult, the temporary use and possession of the home can be given to an adult living in the home. Note: This temporary use/possession of the home can only be granted to a non-spouse if his/her name is on the lease/deed or if s/he shared the home with the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before the protective order was filed;
  • give you temporary possession of any pet owned by you or the respondent; and
  • give you temporary custody of any children you have with the abuser.*

In addition, if the other parent has the child, the judge can order that the child be returned to you and can order law enforcement to use reasonable and necessary force to return the child to you.**

Note: Even without a protective order, if you have been the victim of abuse and you believe that you are in danger of immediate harm, you can request the help of local law enforcement to accompany you to the "family home" to remove the following items (regardless of who paid for the items):  

  • the personal clothing of you and of any child in your care; and
  • the personal belongings, including medicine or medical devices, of you and of any child in your care.***

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504.1(c)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504.1(d)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-502(a)(2)

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back to topHow can a temporary protective order help me?

temporary protective order can do the following:

  • order the abuser to not abuse or threaten to abuse you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not contact, try to contact, or harass you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not enter your home;
  • order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your child(ren)’s work place, school, temporary residence (such as a shelter), or other family members’ homes;
  • order the abuser to stay away from your child(ren)’s child-care provider while the child is there;
  • order the abuser to move out of the house (if you shared it) and give you (the victim) temporary use and possession of the home -- if the victim is an abused child or vulnerable adult, the temporary use and possession of the home can be given to an adult living in the home. Note: This temporary use/possession of the home can only be granted to a non-spouse if his/her name is on the lease/deed or if s/he shared the home with the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before the protective order was filed. (See Can a DVPO make the abuser move out? for more information); 
  • give you temporary possession of any pet owned by you or the respondent;
  • give you temporary custody of children you have with the abuser; (Note: If the other parent has the child, the judge can order that the child be returned to you and can order law enforcement to use reasonable and necessary force to return the child to you); and
  • order the respondent to give to law enforcement any firearms in his/her possession and to not have/use any firearms while you have the temporary protective order if the abuse consisted of:
    • the use or threatened use of a firearm by the respondent against a you; or
    • serious bodily harm (or a threat to cause serious bodily harm) to you.*

Note: Even without a protective order, if you have been the victim of abuse and you believe that you are in danger of immediate harm, you can request the help of local law enforcement to accompany you to the "family home" to remove the following items (regardless of who paid for the items):

  • the personal clothing of you and of any child in your care; and
  • the personal belongings, including medicine or medical devices, of you and of any child in your care.**

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(a)(2)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-502(a)(2)

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back to topHow can a final protective order help me?

A final protective order can do the following:

  • order the abuser to not abuse or threaten to abuse you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not contact, try to contact, or harass you or anyone else listed in the order;
  • order the abuser to not enter your home;
  • order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your child(ren)’s work place, school, temporary residence (such as a shelter), or other family members’ homes;
  • order the abuser to stay away from your child(ren)’s child-care provider while the child is there;
  • order the abuser to move out of the house (if you shared it) and give you (the victim) temporary use and possession of the home -- if the victim is an abused child or vulnerable adult, the temporary use and possession of the home can be given to an adult living in the home. Note: This temporary use/possession of the home can only be granted to a non-spouse if his/her name is on the lease/deed or if s/he shared the home with the abuser for at least 90 days during the 1-year period before the protective order was filed. (See Can a DVPO make the abuser move out? for more information); 
  • give you temporary possession of any pet owned by you or the respondent;
  • give you temporary custody of any children you have with the abuser;
  • set up temporary visitation with children you and the abuser have together while keeping the safety of you and the child in mind – therefore, visits can be supervised or denied if the judge believes that is necessary to keep you and/or the child safe;
  • order the abuser to pay you emergency family maintenance (child support and/or spousal support) and garnish the abuser’s wages if necessary;
  • give you temporary use and possession of a vehicle jointly owned by you and the respondent if it’s necessary for your job or for caring for a child you and the respondent have;
  • order you and/or the abuser to go to counseling or a domestic violence program; 
  • order the abuser to pay the filling fees and costs of your court case; and
  • order any other relief that the judge believes is necessary to protect you.*

Note: Even without a protective order, if you have been the victim of abuse and you believe that you are in danger of immediate harm, you can request the help of local law enforcement to accompany you to the "family home" to remove the following items (regardless of who paid for the items):

  • the personal clothing of you and of any child in your care; and
  • the personal belongings, including medicine or medical devices, of you and of any child in your care.**

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(d)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-502(a)(2)

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back to topWhat factors will a judge look at when deciding whether or not the abuser should be removed from the home?

When deciding whether or not to order that the abuser be removed from the home under a temporary or final protective order, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • the housing needs of any minor child living in the home;
  • how long your relationship with the abuser has lasted;
  • whose name is on the title to the home;
  • the type of any criminal charges against the abuser and the status of the criminal case against him/her;
  • the history and severity of abuse in the relationship between you and the abuser;
  • whether or not you and/or the abuser have anywhere else to stay; and
  • the financial resources of both you and the abuser.*

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(h)

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Steps for getting a protective order

back to topStep 1: Get the petition.

You can get a “petition for protection,” as it is called, from the court clerk at any circuit or district court, or from a district court commissioner in your city/county during regular court hours.  District court commissioners are available anytime if the courts are closed.  If you want a temporary order, you may want to express this to the clerk when you get the forms.  To find the courthouse closest to you, go to the MD Courthouse Locations page.  To find a district court commissioner in your area you can visit the District Court of MD Commissioner Directory.
   
You can ask the court clerk to provide you with a "notification request form" to fill out if you would like to be notified once the temporary order (and, later, the final order) is served on the abuser.*  (By law, the clerk is supposed to provide this form to you.**) If you complete this form, law enforcement would notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services within two hours of serving the abuser and the Department has one hour to notify you of the service.***

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(1)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(3)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law, §§ 4-504.1(g)(3); 4-505(b)(1)(ii)

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back to topStep 2: Carefully fill out the necessary forms.

On the petition, you are the “petitioner” and the abuser is the “respondent.”  Write briefly about the most recent incident(s) of violence, using descriptive language - words like "slapping," "hitting," "grabbing," "threatening," "choking," etc. - that fits your situation.  Be specific.  

When giving your address, you may want to give a safe mailing address and phone number or ask the clerk if you can keep this information confidential if you don’t want the abuser to know where you are staying.  

If you need assistance filling out the forms, you may be able to ask the clerk for help.  Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you.  Another option is to find help through a local domestic violence organization – see our MD State and Local Programs page.  A clerk or advocate can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.  You will find links to the forms you will need at our MD Download Court Forms page or from the courthouse in your area.

Be sure to sign the forms in front of a notary or a clerk.  Remember to bring some form of photo identification since this may be necessary to have your petition notarized in court.

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back to topStep 3: The ex parte hearing

When you are done filling out the forms, the clerk will take your completed file to a judge for your ex parte hearing.  This is a preliminary hearing that can grant you a petition for protection (a temporary protective order).  At this hearing, the judge will read your petition for protection and may ask you why you want a final protective order and some additional questions.

If the judge grants a temporary protective order, the court clerk will give you a copy of the order.  Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct.  If something is wrong or missing, you may be able to ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. The temporary order is good until you have your scheduled hearing for a final protective order.  The judge will also set a date for your final hearing, which is usually within 7 days.*

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)

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back to topStep 4: Service of process

The abuser must be "served," or given papers that tell him/her about the hearing date and your temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one).  Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.

The clerk will either send the order to the police, or have you bring it to the police yourself.  The police will then find the abuser and serve him/her notice of the temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one) as well as the notice of the scheduled final protective order hearing. There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.*

Furthermore, you have the right to be notified within three hours after an interim, temporary or final protective order is served on the abuser.**  (Law enforcement has two hours to notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and that Department has one hour to notify you.***)  The court clerk is supposed to provide you with a notification request form to fill out when you file for your protective order.****  Be sure to ask for it if you want to be notified.

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(b)(3)
** MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(1)
*** MD Code, Family Law, §§ 4-504.1(f)(3); 4-505(b)(1)(ii)
**** MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(3)

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back to topStep 5: The final hearing

The judge will set a final hearing date usually within 7 days of when you filed your petition.*  You must go to the hearing if you want to keep your protective order.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary protective order will expire and you will have to start the process over again.  

If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge may continue with the hearing anyway.**  The temporary order will usually only last until the hearing, but it may be extended in some situations.  For example, if the abuser has not received notice of the hearing and does not show up, the judge may order a new hearing date and extend your temporary restraining order for a period of up to 6 months to allow for service.*** 

Note: A case can be continued (postponed) if there is “good cause” to do so.*  If the court does issue a continuance, the judge should also reissue or extend your temporary order since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.

Generally, it is a good idea to have a lawyer represent you, especially if you think the abuser will have one.  Go to our MD Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.  If you are going to be representing yourself, see the Preparing Your Case page for tips. 

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)
** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)
*** MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(c)(2)

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After the hearing

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some ideas for things that you may want to do when leaving court – you will have to decide which ones work for you:

  • Make several copies of the protective order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children’s school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the protective order.  If they have not, you may want to ask if you can deliver a copy to them.
  • Take steps to safety plan, including possibly changing your locks and your phone number.

Ongoing safety planning is important after receiving the order. People can do a number of things to increase their safety during violent incidents, when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, and when they are at home, work, and school.  Many batterers obey protective orders, but some do not.  It is important to build on the things you have already been doing to keep yourself safe.  For more information please visit the Staying Safe page.  Advocates at local resource centers can assist you in designing a safety plan and can provide other forms of support.

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back to topI was not granted a protective order. How can I stay safe?

If you are not granted protective order, there are still some things you can do to stay safe.  It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic violence resource centers in your area to get help, support, and advice. They can help you develop a safety plan and help connect you with the resources you need.  For safety planning help, ideas, and information, go to our Staying Safe page. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit our MD State and Local Programs page.

Even without a protective order, if you have been the victim of abuse and you believe that you are in danger of immediate harm, you can request the help of local law enforcement to accompany you to the "family home" to remove the following items (regardless of who paid for the items):

  • the personal clothing of you and of any child in your care; and
  • the personal belongings, including medicine or medical devices, of you and of any child in your care.*

If you were not granted protective order because your relationship with the abuser does not qualify, you may be able to seek protection through a peace order.  You may also be able to reapply for a protective order if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to someone at a domestic violence organization or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer. See our Filing Appeals page for general info on appeals. 

* MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-502(a)(2)

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back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

You can call the police and/or file a petition for contempt in court even if you think it is a minor violation.  It could be a crime and contempt of court if the abuser knowingly violates the order.*  A judge can punish someone for being in contempt of court.  In addition, the police can arrest him/her depending on the violation.  If the police witnessed the violation or have probable cause to believe the violation occurred, the police are supposed to arrest him/her.**  If the police are not involved or do not arrest him/her or file a criminal complaint against him/her, you still may be able to file a contempt complaint against him/her in court.***

If the police do respond to your call, it might be a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge number in case you want to follow up on your case.

* See MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-508
** MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-509
*** MD Rule 15-206(b)(2)

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back to topHow do I change or extend my protective order?

Extending your order
You may apply to the court to have your order extended and the judge could grant this after the abuser is given notice and after a hearing in front of a judge.  The hearing must take place within 30 days after you file the motion.  If the hearing is scheduled after the original expiration date of the final protective order, the order will be extended until the hearing.*  A judge can extend the protective order (without any new incidents of abuse) for 6 months beyond the time it is supposed to end if you can show "good cause" (a good reason) why it should be extended.*1  The order can be extended for up to 2 years if you can prove that during the term of your protective order, the abuser committed a new act of abuse against you or if the abuser consents to the extension.*2  To determine how long this extension based on new abuse should be, the judge will consider the following factors:

  • what the new abusive act was and how severe (serious) it was;
  • the history and severity of abuse in the relationship between the abuser and you (or anyone named in your order);
  • the type of any pending criminal charges against the respondent; and
  • the nature and seriousness of any injury or risk of injury caused by the respondent.*2

Lastly, you can petition for a new final protective order with no end date (lasts forever) if:

  • you had a final protective order against the abuser; and
  • s/he was convicted and sentenced to serve at least 5 years in prison (and actually served at least 12 months of that sentence) for an incident of abuse against you that was the basis for that prior final protective order or for conspiracy or solicitation to commit murder.*3  For example, let's say you get an ex parte and then a final protective order in 2013.  A few months later, the abuser is convicted of aggravated assault based on the same incident that you included in your protective order petition and s/he serves 3 years in prison of a 5-year sentence.  When the abuser is being released from prison, you may decide to apply for this final protective order with no end date at that point.

Changing your order
You can file to change or withdraw your order.  The judge could grant this after the abuser is given notice and after a hearing in front of a judge.*4

* MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(2),(a)(4)
*1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(2)
*2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(3)
*3 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(k)(1),(3)
*4 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-507(a)(1)

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back to topWhat happens to my protective order if I move?

If you move within Maryland, your order will still be valid (good).  Additionally, the federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protective order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. Territories and tribal lands.*  See our Moving to Another State with a Protective Order page for more information.

You may want to consider whether you want to give your new address to the court in case the court needs to contact you for any reason.  

* 18 USC § 2265

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