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Protective Orders in a Divorce

Whether a relationship has been abusive or not, the end can often bring out bad behavior in one or both of the parties. This can put the other person in danger, and it calls for proactive steps to set boundaries and deescalate the situation. A Civil Protective Order (CPO) is the procedure that allows a person to protect themselves. In Maryland, if a CPO is issued in the context of a divorce, it can have a major impact on the proceedings. Here is some critical information about CPOs under Maryland law.


Obtaining a CPO

Where appropriate, there are numerous steps to obtaining a CPO. A person who is feeling in danger starts by seeking a Temporary Protection Order (TPO) through the Maryland District Court. This TPO needs to be sought in the county where the divorce is pending. The person seeking protection, aka the “Petitioner,” first must swear out a Petition for Protection. The Petition form can be found here. Next, this needs to be presented to a District Court judge, or, if during non-business hours, a commissioner. The judge or commissioner will listen to the Petitioner explain why they need protection and may either grant or deny the request for a TPO.  The other party, called the Respondent, will not be present at this initial hearing. If the matter is brought before a commissioner, the commissioner can only grant an Interim Protection Order which is immediately effective, but a District Court judge will review it on the next court day to decide whether or not to issue a TPO. If or when the matter is brought before the District Court judge, there will be a trial approximately one week later. The TPO can cover a range of issues and behavior, including:

  • Stopping the abuse;
  • Requiring the abuser to stay away from the victim’s home, work or school;
  • Ordering the abuser to move out; or
  • Awarding temporary custody of children and family pet.

As its name implies, a TPO will be reviewed in a hearing within 7-10 days to decide about a Final Protection Order (CPO.) This will be the first time the alleged abuser has an opportunity to dispute the claims. The local Sheriff’s department will hand serve the Petition for Protection and the TPO on the Respondent.  If the Respondent is served timely, there will be a final hearing, if not, the final hearing may be continued to a later date.  At the hearing on the CPO, the District Court judge can decide on the terms of the CPO, which can last up to a year. If there is already a divorce or custody case open in the Circuit Court, then the Final Protection Order hearing will be “bumped up” to Circuit Court.

The Petitioner must present evidence and must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the CPO is necessary to prevent further abuse.  If the Respondent attends the hearing, they can present evidence to refute the claims or enter a consent order. Without a consent order, the judge looks at the evidence to decide whether to issue the CPO. On top of the terms of TPO, the CPO can order the abuser to pay support, turn a vehicle over to a victim or other longer-term solutions that the judge decides are appropriate.


Considerations and Consequences

A protective order is not something to take lightly. For the victim, it can be a source of safety, but it requires involving the courts and the police. A victim will need to bring their private life into the public eye to obtain protection. This can be painful, and it may not succeed if the evidence of abuse is not considered sufficient by the court. In addition, the terms of a CPO can significantly affect what happens in the divorce case, especially in the early stages.  For both parties, the protective order is decided on by the judge, who may issue terms that satisfy no one.  Before pursuing or defending against a protective order, it is important to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer to understand the implications and consider working with the other party to obtain a consent order instead.

If you are in fear of imminent danger and need assistance, contact the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence for help in your location.

Malech Law is located in downtown Bethesda, Maryland. For more than 25 years, Mr. Malech has provided aggressive and effective representation for his clients in Maryland and the District of Columbia. This year, he was selected as the Best of Bethesda 2022 Readers’ Pick for Best Family Law Practitioner. He has also been given the Lawyers of Distinction Award Recognizing Excellence in the Area of Divorce and Family Law for the past three consecutive years and has just been recognized as a Family Law Top 10 Attorney for 2021 by “Attorney and Practice Magazine.”

Visit Malechlaw.com or call (202) 441-2107.

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