What are the legal definitions of domestic abuse, sexual assault, abuse of a child, and abuse of a vulnerable adult 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:
- assault in the 1st degree or 2nd degree;
- an act that places you in fear of immediate serious bodily harm or actually causes you serious bodily harm;
- rape in the 1st degree or 2nd degree;
- attempted rape (in any degree);
- sexual offense in the 3rd degree or 4th degree;
- attempted sexual offense (in any degree);
- false imprisonment (such as holding you somewhere against your will); or
- revenge porn.1
You can also file against anyone who committed or attempted to commit rape or a sexual offense against you within six months prior to filing the petition. Go to Selected Maryland Statutes, and read sections 3-303 through 3-308 for the definitions of rape and sexual offenses.2
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:
- sexual abuse of a child (by anyone), whether physical injuries are sustained or not; or
- the physical or mental injury of a child under circumstances that indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or at substantial risk of being harmed by:
- a parent;
- a household member or family member;
- a person who has permanent or temporary care or custody of the child;
- a person who has responsibility for supervision of the child; or
- a person who, because of the person’s position or occupation, has authority over the child.3
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.4
1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(b)(1)
2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-501(m)(8)
3 MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-501(b)(2); 5-701(b)
4 MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-501(b)(3); 14-101(b), (q)
What 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.1
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.2
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.3 A final protective order will generally last up to one year, unless otherwise stated. However, it can last for up to two years, if:
- 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
- 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.4
Final orders may also be extended and it may be possible in the future to request a permanent protective order that lasts forever if certain circumstances are met.5 See How do I change or extend my protective order? for more information.
1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-504.1(a), (b), (e)(1), (h)
2 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-505(a)(1), (b), (c)
3 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)(ii)
4 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(j)(1), (j)(2)
5 MD Code, Fam. Law §§ 4-507(a); 4-506(k)(1), (k)(3)
Where 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).1
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.2 Please visit our MD Courthouse Locations page to find courthouse contact information.
1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-504(a)(2)
2 See the Maryland Courts website
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.